The long lost Farscape is still my favorite science fiction series. It’s not just the humor, but the existence of a wider variety of alien life. There are lots of aliens who are not hominids. There’s Maia, the leviathan, there’s that fabulous praying mantis like diagnosan doctor, there’s the Hinerians who are amphibians, and the crustacean Pilot. Sure, most species were hominids, because after all it was relatively low-budget, but they at least made an effort to break form.
If only science fiction writers read The Aliens Are Coming by Ben Miller. I thought I was clever and discerning by objecting to all the bipeds and hominids, but he points out all the other variations in possible alien beings that might make even perception difficult, let alone communication. What if they are not carbon-based? What if they are incorporeal, a gaseous creature? What is they operate in a faster time frame than we do, making them imperceptible to us and vice versa? Our ability to search for and identify intelligent life can be limited by our assumptions, so we should look for intelligent life without uncertainty about how it will present itself.
Before I begin this review I must confess my bias. I volunteered my computer’s idle time to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) since I first learned I could back in 1999 or 2000. I would leave my computer on, with SETI running and proudly pasted by certificates on the wall at work, even if some of my colleagues rolled their eyes. I am fairly certain that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. I am also pretty certain that we have not met any yet.
The Aliens Are Coming is an insouciant, enjoyable and downright funny science book. Ben Miller is not just a science geek, he’s also an actor, a comedian and is thus able to make physics and cosmology amusing. This is a fabulous book for someone who wants an introduction to the science of the search for life and to the ideas that are driving that search, the physics that are the foundation on which many of those ideas lie.
You can’t help but enjoy this book. It cracks me up at times, for example, when talking about dark matter, he wrote, “Whatever dark matter is, it’s definitely the boss of you.” Yup.
Much of The Aliens Are Coming may be surprising in its focus on life on Earth, but it’s what we know about life here that informs our ideas of life out there. For example, we used to think there were far more narrow limits for the kinds of environments in which we can find life. Now, having found life at the deep bottom of the sea and in the deadly heat of Yellowstone, we know there are forms of weird life, of extremophiles, that can take the heat or the lack of light.
Because of what we know about evolution on Earth, we can make some assumptions about evolution elsewhere. Because we know about gravity, chemistry, biology, language and so on, we can make solid guesses about what kind of planets we need to look for to find life.
This is solid science in The Aliens Are Coming, even some math, but it’s explained clearly and logically so that it is not difficult to follow. If you’re a physics/astronomy enthusiast, some of the time spent in explanation may set your mind wandering, but this is a foundation-building book–one that lays the groundwork for a solid and science-based understanding of the search for life in the universe – and a powerful antidote to the UFO/Roswell/alien abduction kind of mythology.
I liked The Aliens Are Coming a lot. It’s smart, witty and fun. It does not oversimplify or talk down to readers. It does start with the assumption that readers are new to much of the science and walks through the assumptions researchers are making so readers understand that SETI, for example, is not some weirdos waiting for E.T. but serious science searching for signals that may reveal there is someone somewhere out there. And like us, they may be listening.
The Aliens Are Coming will be published October 4th, 2016. I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley.