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Saturday, 10 June 2023


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If I were an alien that visited earth in the current day, I'd probably come across the comments on some youtube videos. Maybe a video of a song by Neil Young or somebody. By about the 20th or 30th comment, people would be insulting and threatening each other. I'd make an entry in the log book and leave. Wouldn't you?

A great read is the “Three body problem” Triology regarding alien interests and consequences for earth.

Anything by Ted Chiang is excellent (one of his short stories inspired Arrival, one of my favorite movies of the decade).

Kindles are horrible ereaders, and have horrible software. For the books mentioned in the public domain (Time Machine, Frankenstein, and Journey to the Center of the Earth, contribute to Mike's Patreon instead and get a proper ebook from standardebooks.org.

I'd love to know what sent you off on this particular tangent.

In my youth, I devoured sci-fi novels. In a collection of short stories, I recall one in which humans "magically" explored the galaxies looking for other sentient beings, and finally concluded that ... "we are alone."

For SciFi from the last few years, try anything by:

Octavia Butler or
N.K. Jamison (her Stone Sky series is marvelous). Although authors of fiction, neither of them ever wrote an untrue word.

If you like "hard" SciFi, try the "Leviathan" series by the pseudonymous team who call themselves S. A. Corey. In the tradition of Issac Asimov, I suppose.

For "free" stuff that is out of copyright, I can heartily recommend _20,000 Leagues Under The Sea_. You'd be amazed how many modern technologies are foreshadowed/foretold in it. Before I read it, I assumed the 20,000 leagues were "down" under the sea -- which is comical when you consider the distance of an actual league. How surprised and delighted I was to discover that the leagues were lateral.

On a note for your list: _Brave New World_ and _1984_ make a remarkable set of bookends. One imagines a world ruled and ruined by pleasure and hedonism, the other by pain and fascism. When you think of our current politics and entertainment, both Huxley and Orwell have both turned out to be prescient to a terrifying degree.

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the better contemporary science fiction writers, in my opinion. His most recent work, The Ministry For The Future, imagines a near-future world where we are forced to take climate change seriously, or follow the dinosaurs. He is hopeful, which is nice.

I wonder what the crossover between photographers who read this, and science fiction readers? I suspect we're about to find out.

Great recent science fiction? Depends on how you define great, and recent. Let's just bang out a few titles and see what people think. Dune, Ringworld, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Childhood's End, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Handmaid's Tale, Steel Beach. I could go on.

Once you start thinking about aliens travelling here, that almost immediately generates the question of how. One fun thing about science fiction is all the different methods. Star Trek warp drive, various forms of jumping from point to point, worm holes, various kinds of sub-space, and all sorts of named drives where the exact mechanism is not named.

But holy doodle you need a fast FTL drive to get around the galaxy in reasonable time. Assume you have a drive that's 365 times faster than the speed of light, so one light year takes a day. (Not quite warp 6 in Star Trek) Getting from the centre of the galaxy to our solar system is 72 years. Maybe the aliens are really long lived.

And then there's all the time dilation effects. But as my friends say as I'm watching some movies, "there you go, bringing reality into it again."

Mike, First, My personal belief is that the “aliens” are time travelers from a later earth, or other human-inhabited planet, moon or wherever. They are already here, so no need to travel a gazillion light years.

Second, I recommend the book “Rare Earth” by Ward and Brownlee, scientist-authors who explain why earth-like life elsewhere in the cosmos would be very rare due to a host of factors and variables that were needed to form our galaxy, the solar system, earth and establish life here, then produce Homo sapiens. The book came out in 2000, so some of its science is outdated. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating read. Highly recommended.

Here are two great recent(ish) speculative fiction novels:

1. Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. In addition to being a tight, well-written story, it raises fascinating questions about gender, hierarchy, tribalism, and the possibilities of friendship. I've heard of graduate school literature classes reading this novel.

2. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. This is really 4 novels that were republished as two novels (Shadow and Claw, Sword and Citadel). Set in a crumbling civilization far, far, far into the future, it's a complex narrative of memory and identity. One thing I love about Wolfe is that he doesn't explain things--you just sort of pick it up as you go along. Wolfe is a writer's writer. (Side note: he died in Peoria, IL just a few years ago.)

If you want recent, spectacularly good speculative fiction, read "The Three Body Problem" by Liu Cixin. So good.

For relatively recent s/f, try Dr Robert L. Forward (now deceased, unfortunately). I'm currently re-reading Dragon's Egg, about life on the surface of a neutron star. Fascinating stuff.

The other contemporary s/f writer I like is Stephen Baxter PhD, another cosmologist who can write. All good science and not bad fiction.

Re the question by Enrico Fermi, "Where is everybody?", imagine the age of the Earth as a strip of paper laid out. We, the current life forms, are a tiny, microscopic, infinitesimally small mark at the end of this strip.

Now imagine the same for the tiny, infinitesimally small number of likely planets in other galaxies laid out alongside ours. The chances of our tiny flash coinciding with other "civilisations" tiny flashes are incredibly small. It might happen, but not for a long time.

In other words, patience Earthlings. It might happen, that detection of an alien signal or visitation, but it might take several dinosaur lifetimes before it comes, which will be completely normal for the universe.

All good points, Mike, but possibly travel time to visit other planets, even in out own galaxy, would seem like an impossible obstacle.

Assuming that speed of light is a real limit (as it seems to be) and that the lifetime of an advanced civilization for many possible reasons is limited to, say, thousands of years, and that the lifetime of the inhabitants is not measured in the thuousands of years, and that they don't mind waiting for many centuries - travel by intellegent beings between star systems, beyond the nearest, in the numbers you imply would seem to be out of the question. Or at least HIGHLY improbable.

Also, if we do assume that advanced civilizations don't last forever, the probability of two such civilizations establish contact during their mutual flouishing would be close to 0.

I'm pretty sure that Neil DeGrasse Tyson has made these points in more detail, but I'm not sure of a good reference.

Hi Mike! Actually 100 Billion or more stars per galaxy which ups the odds considerably.

Talking of intergalactic survey trips and humans self interest, you should add ‘The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’ to your reading list. It includes the destruction of earth for the construction of a hyperspace by-pass. Some of the humour may be a little too British, but it is worth the read.


I think "The Three Body Problem" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three-Body_Problem_(novel)) would qualify. Although I have enjoyed "Ender's game" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ender%27s_Game) more.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series by the late, great, Douglas Adams should also be on everyone’s reading list. I re-read one of them regularly, and they still make me laugh out loud!

Flowers for Algernon! Thank you for including that. In my opinion you could cut down your list by removing 3 or maybe even 4 of them at random, but Algernon should still stay on the list. A true unknown classic that I have used several times to change someone's dismissive opinion of science fiction.

Thoughtful article Mike.

I'm very open minded. And I love pure logic. So for me, this is a no-brainer.

I'd bet we're in the minority here though. Aliens, as a conversation item, stand apart, like death and politics. I think the notion of our species potentially not being on the top of the food chain has a part in that, on some subconscious level.

An interesting subject Mike and one I find fascinating. On a practical level I find it hard to believe that visitations could be frequent due to the vast distances between solar systems. The time, resources and technology needed to complete a trip to Earth by an alien race is just hard to fathom. On the other hand there are a lot of reported sightings of craft sometimes moving in a way that defy our understanding of physics.

A related topic is inter-dimensionality. Again unproven and theoretical but who or what is to say that other forms of consciousness could not exist in a frequency different that our own? If humanity can survive it’s foolish behaviors what we learn in the years to come could be quite fascinating.

Works by Kurt Vonnegut and Arthur C Clark would be good additions to your reading list.
When I was reading a lot of sci-fi I inhaled Charles Sheffields Heritage Universe series.
Lots of fun.

The alien illustrated even has a tailpipe spewing toxins. That seems to be a defining feature of humans.

I would add a short story by Arthur C, Clarke - "The Star". It's very short and very poignant. Synopsis at Wikipedia:


Ursula K. Le Guin, amazing author who happened to fall within the broad bounds of science fiction. I was a bit shocked she wasn’t on that list. Several of her protagonists are aliens investigating other worlds (but the humanoids are all descended from one race who colonized the heck out of the galaxy ages ago). Fits your subject several ways, recommended reading.

I don't read as much SF as I used and tried to think of more recent things I've read that I liked. Instead I made a list of mostly old things and one new thing. Oh well.

The Left Hand of Darkness - Le Guin. Really anything by Le Guin is good.

The Murderbot Diaries - Martha Wells. This is the only new thing I've recently really enjoyed. 🙂

More Than Human - Ted Sturgeon (Alternatively, pick up and read the various extensive short story collections by Sturgeon ... short stories were really his wheelhouse).

The Cyberiad - Stanislaw Lem. Again, short stories.

The Culture Novels, Iain Banks. Newer (at least into this century!), but still old.

'I wish I could name a handful of great recent speculative fiction titles, but alas, I can't.'

'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell ( two of the six stories are set in the future ).

'Oryx & Crake' by Margaret Atwood.

A baker's dozen of excellent science or speculative fiction. Degree of modernity depends on your perspective -- they're all modern compared to Frankenstein. There should be something for everyone on this list:

Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam Trilogy
Becky Chambers, To Be Taught, If Fortunate
James S. A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes (9 volumes)
Ursula LeGuin, Left Hand of Darkness
Stanislaw Lem, Tales of Pirx the Pilot
Jonathan Letham, Girl in Landscape
Frederik Pohl, Gateway
Mary Doria Russel, The Sparrow
Clifford D. Simak, City
Dan Simmons, Hyperion
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic
Peter Watts, Blindsight
Andy Weir, The Martian

We would probably not have a much in common with them. The only two areas of science that we would share with them is physics theories (and some math to support it) and the theory of natural selection. Most everything else is human invention, culture, feelings and biology. Art would not translate in a meaningful way (they may not even have the concept), not our music or visual art. Out visual system and colour is made in our brains.

We can have more meaningful conversations with any mammal, than an alien, because we share more with mammals.

But finding aliens would be big news for a while, then it would be boring after the exchange of physics and natural selection theories. If we could communicate with them at all. :-)

A recent blockbuster work of speculative fiction that arguably epitomizes your characterization (a dialog between fiction and science), and apropos your "aliens" topic, to boot, is Andy Weir's The Martian. It began as a troubleshooting exercise for an earnest Mars mission workup. Quite entertaining, too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_(Weir_novel)


The movie's good but I thought the book was much better. Also apropos: Amazon's Kindle market is an amusing part of its unlikely backstory.

A less recent work but unfortunately significant both culturally and politically today (at least in the US) is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. https://www.amazon.com/Handmaids-Tale-Margaret-Atwood-ebook/dp/B003JFJHTS

And while Emily St. John Mandell's 2014 novel Station Eleven was celebrated in its own right, some critics think the HBO TV miniseries based on it is even better. Also somewhat topical.



And speaking of recently topical, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke introduced the most infamous AI of them all back in 1968, with 2001: A Space Odyssey as both a movie and a novel. Hal 9000 became an instant icon, and has returned as Silicon Valley's bogeyman of the hour.

Actually, most galaxies contain about 200 Billion stars. And that may be a low end estimate, based on NASA's recent discoveries in sections of our own galaxy that were previously considered devoid of stars.

The Kepler probe results suggests that planetary formation is natural occurrence among stars.

The Drake Equation is an interesting thought experiment, and when I've run through it, I generally get about 10,000 current alien civilizations in our galaxy alone.

So we're not alone. But I doubt more than a few alien representatives have ever visited here.

The rest of these sightings are hoaxes, confusion, or hopefully, the gearheads at Area 51 having a good time. Because if any of these physics-defying craft belong to some other nation, we are screwed.

Time is vast in the universe, there is surely other life in the universe, but whether or not it is existing as the same time as our life, that is another question. I think it probably is unlikely. But nothing is certain, the vastness of the universe is humbling, and a reminder of how little we really know.

As a side note, it would be nice if we could take better care of our one humble little planet that provides life for us.

Thank you for articulating my posture on this issue!

Not much of one who reads the Sci-Fi genre, but I've read a few. Among my favorites is "The Mote in God's Eye" The Mote in God's Eye is a science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, first published in 1974. The story is set in a distant future of Pournelle's CoDominium universe, and charts the first contact between humanity and an alien species.
What makes the contact very interesting is the contact does not lead to a fire-fight.

Fermi's Paradox (yes, *that* Fermi) covers a similar argument about aliens and our likelihood of encountering them.

Another interesting question is how alien species might interpret human civilization. For example, - would they properly distinguish between us and our artifacts?

The great Stanislaw Lem tackles this very well in his book "Fiasco" from the 1980's, written decades later than his more well known works. I think Fiasco is the best of what he's written.

In general, any fan of "speculative fiction" of any type should try some Lem in their reading diet. There are very few who write the way Lem does or with the perspective he has.

Don't judge his most well known work, "Solaris" by the George Clooney movie - though that had its high points as well.

'Actually, the best reason that "intelligent" life may be so hard to detect on any planet is probably that it effloresces for such a short time and then winks out.'

Brilliant. And a reminder that the further we look beyond our own system, the further back in time we see. If aliens are bound by the same laws of physics that we are, then by the time they detect any sign of our civilization, we'll likely be long gone. That goes both ways.

Even if they're not so constrained, I'm not sure why we're so certain that we'd recognize alien life or intelligence that didn't smack us in the face (or even one that did, in their own way).

And now that we've crossed the threshold of fantasy, I think my questions about potential visitors would go in another direction from yours, Mike. Like, why a civilization with the will, the resources and longevity to travel the distances (and times!) between habitable star systems (assuming that those are the only places where life might exist) would even need to visit physically to see that this system isn't worth bothering with, and perhaps should be quarantined until we run our course.

TBF, plenty of tourists visit Florida, to which similar reasoning applies.

Yes of course, with all that real estate available “others” exist and that
makes us aliens, so yes aliens exist.

About aliens, the best proof of the existence of intelligents extraterrestrials beings is that they did not try to contact us.

About recent sci-fi, I really enjoyed the Mars Trilogy of Kim Stanley Robinson (but it may be more social fiction than science fiction).

The best explanation I've encountered about intelligent life on other planets is contained in this song:


Estimation models exist for life in the Milky Way, but scientists differ widely on the assumptions and data…


By the way, Hubble has revised the broader estimates for number of galaxies in the observable universe to 2 TRILLION.

I believe the writings of the late, great Douglas Adams explained much about why the creation of the universe was a bad move. He also had an answer about alien visitation here on earth:

“Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets that haven’t made interstellar contact yet and buzz them.” “Buzz them?” Arthur began to feel that Ford was enjoying making life difficult for him. “Yeah,” said Ford, “they buzz them. They find some isolated spot with very few people around, then land right by some poor unsuspecting soul whom no one’s ever going to believe and then strut up and down in front of him wearing silly antennas on their head and making beep beep noises.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Mike, I assume this post was related to an article in the NY Times yesterday (June 11) titled"Does the U.S. Government Want You to Believe in U.F.O.s?" (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/10/opinion/ufos-government.html?searchResultPosition=1).

Knowing you like to read, I suggest "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base" by Annie Jacobsen (available on Amazon). She debunks the alien UFOs bits quite well, but her story, assisted by an Uncle who was involved, is also a bit far-fetched.

Back to other life forms on planets. First, the makeup of the universe is quite similar; the same elements make up the whole shebang. Then consider the variety of life forms on earth now, from humans to organisms that can live around heat vents under the deepest oceans. It's easy to assume that given time, life evolves and more time, intelligence. Of course to link to UFOs, could an octopus or whale build a spaceship?

Evolution of life takes time too. The first billion years or so after the big bang is spent letting radiation dissipate and creating elements, then a billion or more to allow accretion to create stars, another billion for planets, then we can get to work creating life. That goes fast. Humans evolved in less than 5 million years, but it's only taken a couple millennia to develop civilizations that cause giant wars and only of hundred years to overpopulate the planet and mess up the air and water with industrialization. Then we developed nuclear weapons less than a century ago, just to prepare for our quick demise. (Sorry, hope everyone gets sarcasm.)

So how long does a civilization last? Long enough to figure out how to not destroy itself? Then long enough to understand a higher level of physics to develop faster than light communications and travel?

I'd bet that process has been repeated billions of times in the universe.

All this reminds me of the corner table in Rand Hall at Vandy during my undergraduate days in the mod-60s. A group of us would gather that for lunch and debate topics like this. (PS - I had enough hours in Philosophy for a minor to go along with my major in Physics/Astronomy.)

This an interesting read, especially with the featured comments added in. As far as flat earth, that sounds like a Dali painting. I believe in aliens as much as reindeer can fly, but that Santa guy shares a lovely set of values for all humankind. It has always been hard for me to believe we are the only lifeforms in our universe, so I have an open mind. I very much enjoy hearing from others on such topics. Thank Mike for putting this all together.

The problem with this topic is that we always approach it from... a human perspective, a very limited, very naive, barely educated or informed human perspective. Just think how we have progressed in science in the last 100 years- now, imagine a civilization that started oh, say... a few million years before us and reached our level so long, long ago; they would seem as gods.

But they are so far away, there's no way... not if you can bend space time, then it's a hop, skip and jump away! Again, we limit our perspective to even think clearly by our own human limitations- not to mention that of our own fledgling science. And it's particularly infuriating when scientists disregard their own scientific method to bend over backwards concocting the most ridiculous of scenarios to explain away legitimate sightings. Astrophysicist and head investigator for Project Bluebook, Dr. Allen Hyneck, who quit in disgust after he constantly had to explain away legitimate extraterrestrial evidence on behalf of the US Air Force, forever had to rue the day he concocted the term "swamp gas" as some form of nonsensical, quasi-legitimate excuse to explain away a particular sighting.

Most people are unaware of how many commercial and military pilots (incl astronauts) have clearly witnessed UFO's. Are they, some of our most highly trained of observers, people we entrust our lives and security to, all... "whackos?" Most people don't realize how many sightings there have been involving: ground and air radar in conjunction with multiple ground and air eyewitnesses, or that UFO's have repeatedly shut down nuclear missile outposts. Captain Robert Salas was a missile launch officer who has recounted how he lost control of ten of his land based nuclear ICBM's after a UFO hovering over the missile silo shut them down.

Yes, there are more stars (each with their own planets) than grains of sand in all the beaches on earth... absolutely, 100% mind blowing! But rest assured we got it all figured out- you can't (humanly) get anymore ignorant nor arrogant! There's so much more to say on this topic- once you remove the purposely, well promoted "giggle factor." Could your impetus for writing this piece be the recent US government whistleblower (whose credentials all check out BTW) who is openly acknowledging that we have both alien aircraft and bodies in our possession?

Interesting post, and perhaps it was a response to the recent claims by David Grusch that alien technology has been known of for decades.

My personal feeling is that the distances between stars preclude us from travelling the vast distances required. Bear in mind that Voyager 1 is only 22 light HOURS from Earth after 45 years of travel.

I do believe that alien life exists, but I agree with the notion that it was "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."

Tangentially, I’ve been watching a video link to a pair of Ospreys raising a chick in Scotland. They are probably not the brainiest of birds but what has struck me is how limited they are by their anatomical equipment. Often they seem to know just where they want to place a branch to make the nest more secure but manoeuvring it into position is nearly impossible using only their clumsy feet and a beak.
Now, given that dinosaurs ‘ruled’ for such a long period one might wonder why an analogue of a primate with opposable thumbs etc did not arise and start to manipulate its environment as we do. Perhaps their body plan was an evolutionary dead end and if that meteorite hadn’t wiped out the non-avian dinos they would still be here in much the same form today, suppressing any wider development in the mammals.
If my “dead end” hypothesis were correct it could be that, assuming the existence of life in many planets, it is similarly ‘blocked’ in many, or most, cases by the development of dominant forms that have body plans or metabolisms that mitigate against the development of technology.

I’m afraid I can’t remember the source, but I recently read an article about how aliens are always manifesting just beyond our technical ability to get a good sharp image: in the forties and fifties they flew their flying saucers pretty close to the ground, but at the time the pictures we got were shaky and blurred. As cameras got better, those pesky aliens flew further away.

Now almost every single person on this earth is carrying a great camera during every waking moment of their lives, wouldn’t you know it, those sneaky creatures are only visible to cameras fitted to fighter-jets that can capture a blurry dot a hundred miles over the horizon.
So inconvenient.

I think that if aliens have visited us or are visiting us they are travelling inter dimensionally in a way we cannot understand. Imagine if there is an alien civilisation that knows about us. Suppose we are the only other technological civilisation they know of. Suppose also that they are much more advanced than us (they would have to be to be able to reach us). They would certainly be interested in us. There is evidence that something has been monitoring and even interfering with our nuclear installations, in particular the Minuteman ICBM system in the US. I should admit that I am bit biased because of sightings by family members, especially by my daughter and her friend, which was at relatively close quarters.

I think the important issue is that we have no mental scope of how "big" time is, and how short a time this "virus" of life will exist on this planet. So the real question is what are the odds of life in two places "at the same time."

It's interesting to think that, even if we haven't been visited by aliens, we might soon have created our own in the form of AGI.

Mike: Yes, given the size of the universe it is inevitable that there will be a planet like ours somewhere with intelligent beings on it. I was trying to point out that that such planets will be very uncommon (gas giants, on the other hand, seem to be universal). Then you need to consider that if that planet is on the other side of the observable universe, which is 93 billion light years across, we’re never going to hear from them, or they from us - just too distant. In practice, it seems likely that we live in a lonely neighbourhood.

A long series (30 episodes) is excellent in exploring this issue. Chinese with English subtitles, based on the novels of China's best sci-fi writer, Liu Cixin. I couldn't make it through the novel with all the Chinese names, but the movie is excellent. Don't want to give too much away, but Nano Wires play a big part at the end!


Rumor has it the Netflix will adapt it sometime in 2023. Good chance that they'll ruin it, too. lol!


If aliens ever visit planet earth I doubt they will see us humans as the most interesting form of life up here. It also seems very unlikely that they will look like us themselves or even like some kind of animal. Look at the Phylogenetic Tree of Life by Carl Woese. We are an unimportant sub species of the Animalia.
Fungi for example are much more successful and an intelligent alien will most likely be much more interested in them than in us.

Also recommended reading: Entangled Life by Melvin Sheldrake.

Fermi Paradox.

You may be aware of the Drake equation, which is the commonly-used formula for figuring out how many exo-planets are out there that contain intelligent life. Article about it here, talking about how recent exo-planet discoveries have caused some rethinking of the assumptions that go into each of its 7 variables: https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/1350/are-we-alone-in-the-universe-revisiting-the-drake-equation/

Fairly recent speculative fiction I like very much,

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.

Blindsight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts

Any of the Culture Series by Iain M. Banks

I used to read science fiction to a fault then lost interest. In the past ten years or so I have reentered the field and discovered some really good work.

A warning, Peter Watts is hard, hard science fiction with a very bleak view of human behavior. But his books are based on extrapolations of existing scientific knowledge. Each of these books have postscripts with footnotes of real published research papers. It's fascinating to see where his crazy ideas came from.


A coupla UFO Whackos: Capt. Robert Salas- air traffic controller, missile launch officer, engineer on Titan 3 missiles; Right Stuff astronaut, Gordon Cooper...



On the topic of alien visitation and UFO’s, it would be interesting to consider the locations where these things are most commonly noted.

Annecdotely, it seems the deserts around Area 51 in the US are a common sighting ground, Woomera in Australia seems to get similar attention. What do these areas have in common? Test sites for classified military equipment. The military probably love all the alien speculation as a cover story, although they may be a little less excited by espionage activities which are the things they can’t explain.

This ties in nicely with the comment about Teasers from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the fact so much of this sort of thing happens in remote locations.

Another vote for Ursula K Le Guin.

Most recently, Andy Weir’s two novels are both outstanding reads, and deviate from known science extrapolations to the minimum.

Finally, I think the reason often given for aliens suddenly showing an interest in modern man post 1930’s, is that once man started beaming electromagnetic program transmissions into space, it might be picked up by aliens with monitoring equipment. The typical sci-fi joke being that the first data seen by aliens would include Hitler’s propaganda and newsreels. Which might bring them here in a certain frame of mind.


Why we exist, Kurt Vonnegut The Sirens of Titan

Tourist season has begun as evidenced by the recent UFO buzz going around.

Most popular science fiction is supported by very aptly named “Wantum Physics” FTL would have to be VERY FTL for them to get here.

a.) Asimov believed in off-world life, but not travel between worlds. He would suggest how much energy would be spent, just going to and fro, from the nearest starts. You'd, basically, have to burn up all of Jupiter to get any of the half-dozen nearest stars.

b.) You would absolutely **LOVE** William Gibson's "Neuromancer Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive... also known as "The Sprawl Trilogy"). Like Asimov's work, Gibson writes about Trends and Human Nature in Challenging Times.

Recent SciFi:

I'll concur with Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. Each one is standalone, but they're in the same universe.

Neal Stephenson has written a lot novels, ranging from almost-realistic (Cryptonomicon), through Alternate History (The Baroque trilogy), through to current events (ReamDe) (yes, that's right, 'ReamDe', not 'ReadMe'). There is one very good hard SF book, 'Seven Eves' that I would recommend.

Finally, William Gibson is famous as the writer who coined the term 'cyberspace'. He's written a number of excellent books, in linked sets of three. Not exactly trilogies; each book can stand alone, but the universe and in some case the characters recur. His current series (two books in) is being called the Jackpot series, and begins with The Peripheral. (This was recently made into a TV series that was frankly unsatisfying on many levels.) I'd recommend that as well, though it's not an encouraging read.

Space is the place.” — Sun Ra and his Arkestra

And Now For Something Completely Different

I think it likely that you have mixed up two separate phenomena:

Actual visits from ETs.

Reported visuals and/or experiences of ET visits.

Carl Jung's slim book, Flying Saucers : A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies is, to me, illuminating on this.

His thoughts on the timing of upsurges is spottings, written in 1958, seem rather prescient today.

100 Billion? I cannot understand why people waste time counting mere trivia. Don't we have enough problems and headaches on one planet already?

I've seen things in the sky I couldn't identify, making them "unidentified flying objects". What makes people wackos is when they think they do know what they are, just from seeing them at a distance.

I'm very afraid that technological civilizations having a short half-life is the reason we haven't noted signs of any others at a distance. It may well be that it really is impossible to travel faster than light, and that may be an additional factor in why we haven't seen signs of any close up.

This latest idiot pushing alien conspiracy theories has absolutely nothing new, he's just regurgitating the same old nonsense.

At least nobody has suggested any SF authors or books I haven't heard of :-) or even, that I remember, one I don't think is a reasonable suggestion. But nobody has mentioned Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, pretty clearly his best book and arguably the best SF novel ever. (Niven & Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye, already suggested, is another on my personal top-5 list and a serious candidate for best SF novel ever.)

Good article. Another second recommendation for Ted Chiang. I made the mistake of watching him speak on YouTube and got the wrong impression. He’s the only SF writer I’ve been able to read recently. I’m not a fan of that genre but it was easy to make an exception for Chiang.

And this is covered by Even Stevens in his entertaining song "I'm from Outer Space".

Actually, worth a listen.

I love good sci-fi, but why would we (humans) assume any other life forms in the universe, even if they exist, would be in a form that we can comprehend and recognize? For all we know, alien life forms could be based on other materials (perhaps something not found or rare on earth) or aliens may look to us like rocks or random pebbles, or be in some sort of a liquid or other flexible form?

I have no idea, but there is absolutely no reason why they would be carbon-based critters dependent on water and air and containing limbs and orifices.

And they may also use different modes of communication and transportation than anything we can wrap our heads around (if they even use transportation).

Finally, there may be intelligent life forms in some way but not a way that we can comprehend. It is like the human hubris that decides whether other animals are intelligent based on if they meet *our* ideas of what intelligent animals should be able to do.

If aliens do exist, they would probably be eco-tourists. Once in a while, one or two alien crafts run into trouble and the tourist crafts crash. That would explain area 51 :-)

I wonder what types of cameras they would carry to capture the images of the strange occupants of the zoo, Earth. Would they be using medium format because they are so advanced? Would they view it as "street photography" or maybe alien photo-journalism? Maybe they prefer black and white? Would they be digital or analogue? The questions are endless!

I'm sure trumps Space Patrol is looking into this.

Your post generated much feedback.
I think it shows how much we as humans want to get away from this rock known as Earth. Hope against hope that it is even possible in a future of unknown possible calamities that might befall our space shop Earth.

The Star by Arthur C. Clarke was mentioned above. It is a wonderful short sci-fi story and the ending is great. You can read it here.


I love your Open Mike posts. Keep it up.

Regarding the use of numbers, consider the Drake Equation (see wikipedia for a good discussion). It attempts to estimate the number of civilizations within communications range. Depending on estimates of the component factors, results range from zero to millions. Note repeated use of the term ‘estimates’. That’s fancy for in some cases pure guesses.

Re: more recent scifi.
If you want to get your dystopia on in a big way
John Brunner: Stand On Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up , Shockwave Rider.
Anything by William Gibson widely known for Neuromancer
Similarly Neal Stephenson.
Ursula Leguin : The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed

Debate over the number of planets, stars, galaxies and the size of the universe is - I imagine - just like counting jumping spiders. How can you do it? I found a little spider (and most of them are little, very extremely little, pronounced tiny!) on my pillow the other day (I was long since out of bed and up and dressed) and as soon as I got near it, it jumped. Wanted to take it to the garden but it was impossible to pick up. How do you count jumping spiders? There are said to be 5,000 of them on our planet but I'm sure there's a few, like actors and pop stars, just waiting to be discovered.

[I will concede that counting is often a matter of estimating, but I am positive there are more than 5,000 jumping spiders on Earth! --Mike]

If you decide to continue with your SF reading, an exquisite modern trilogy that explores fascinating depths of language and gender, pick up “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie
The next two are “Ancillary Sword” and “Ancillary Mercy”. Easily the finest SF I read since Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy in the mid-80’s.

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