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Stories from Science – The Fermi Paradox

June 16, 2008 Comments off

The Fermi Paradox is an interesting problem from science. In the 1950s the scientist Enrico Fermi simply asked “where is everybody?” The question and the resulting paradox are simple enough. Given the age of our own galaxy, using conservative estimates, even one self-sustaining, expansionist alien civilization should have colonised the entire galaxy by now. But it hasn’t happened. Not only that, but there is no sign of it having happened anywhere else either. No observations of this or any other galaxy have found anything artificial.

So, where is everybody? If the aliens existed we would be able to see them. We can’t see them, therefore they don’t exist. And yet…

The universe is so vast, so immense that it is unthinkable that no advanced species other than ourselves could exist. Earth is not especially noticeable to anyone other than our near neighbours who happen to be listening on the correct radio frequencies. We’ve never detected anyone else.

There are several posited answers to the paradox, and here is where stories step in to help us understand a mysterious universe.

One possible answer is that all civilizations self destruct. Pessimistic, but also note it would only take one, somewhere, anywhere to survive and expand, and we would be able to detect them. This answer also notes that outside influence may be responsible for the destruction. Gamma ray bursts, for one.

Another is that the universe is filled with killer robots, extinguishing life wherever it is to be found. Well, I’ve not yet been murdered by killer robots from space, how about you?

Of science fiction books, Space by Stephen Baxter takes the Gamma Ray Burst theory forward. If a GRB is periodically responsible for eliminating all life in a given region, then presumably life would re-emerge in that region at around the same time. In Space, the aliens come to us, not to bring knowledge, but to seek answers, before it is too late.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds takes an interesting look at the Killer Robot scenario. If such beings did exist, they might live in hibernation, emerging only when life, spacefaring life, appears. So these robots would set clever traps to force this life to reveal itself to them…

I happily recommend both the above books, though be aware Revelation Space is the first in a trilogy.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

June 16, 2008 Comments off

I had never read this book before. I’ve seen the BBC TV series, I’ve seen the movie. I’ve read the third and fourth books in the series, but never the first two. I can’t explain why, it just worked out that way.

The Hitchhikers Guide is a lot more serious than I had expected from the other media adaptations. Especially the character of Zaphod. The man who is an enigma, even to himself. That really didn’t come through in television or movie. Funnily enough the Zaphod who did come through was the same as the one I encountered in Life, The Universe and Everything, and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

Not here, though. In the first book, the character of Zaphod… jarred. Jarred with my understanding of who this character was. It was odd to be surprised in this way. Zaphod – serious and introspective.

On the other hand, Marvin had a lot less time in the book than I had expected. Maybe there is more of him in the second? I don’t know, I’ve not read that one either. One day I will remedy that too, no doubt.

For now… this is odd. I find it difficult to recommend this book. The others, no hesitation. This one… I’m not so sure.

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