Thursday, December 26, 2013

Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter--Review

Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: The First Encounter is a collection of articles and essays edited by James L. Christian and published in 1976.  The articles were drafted in the shadow of the lunar landings and while the preparations for the Viking mission to Mars were well under way.  People had long looked up at the sky at night and wondered what was out there--but now astronauts were making the first steps into space to find out.  So, of course, speculation on what kind of life might exist on other worlds began to grow...particularly speculation about the possibility of intelligent life.  These articles from eminent scientists and science fiction writers (and some, like Isaac Asimov, who were both) consider what the discover of intelligent interstellar life might mean to the human race--in philosophy and in practice; to our thoughts on religion and science.  We even have a word from one of science fiction's favorite aliens--Mr. Spock of Vulcan.

Some of these essays are quite good and interesting--those by Asimov, Ray Bradbury, James L Christian, Kendrick Frazier, and Michael Tooley are all thought-provoking and written in terms that a layperson can understand.  The "conversation" between Leonard Nimoy and his alter-ego Mr. Spock is charming and allows questions about interaction with aliens to be addressed in an entertaining way.  The rest of the book goes quite over my head--lots of detailed scientific discussion about the probability of life-supporting planets and how many of those might generate intelligent life and the odds of that life trying to contact us (or sitting out there listening to our efforts to contact them) all makes my head spin.  And, of course, this bit of non-fiction from 1976 is sadly out of date and out of touch.  Unfortunately, our space program hasn't really progressed in the ways predicted by the scientists and science fiction writers of the '70s.  We're not colonizing space; we're not making great efforts to explore much further than our backyard in the solar system.   And if there are intelligent civilizations out there...I wouldn't be surprised if they have marked our planet as the insane asylum of the galaxy.  We seem rather intent on doing ourselves in--if not through wars, then through pollution or disastrous climate or environmental effects.  Why would they want to get in touch with those crazy Terrans?

An interesting read--if only for Asimov, Bradbury, and Nimoy--but not quite the stuff that three star books are made of.  Two and a half stars.

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