Non-Fiction Reviews

Where is everybody? -- The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

(1997) Edward Ashpole, Sigma Press, 6.95, pbk, pp216. ISBN 1 85058 576 8

There is so much purportedly fact which could pass for animal detritus on alien intelligence, especially by someone who has written about UFOs, that there are enough good ideas for a block-buster fiction TV series on the subject. ("Scully, this is odd. Are they referring to us?") But just because UFOs are unlikely to be the manifestation of alien intelligence (more likely the manifestation of human intelligence) does not mean that alien life, or indeed alien intelligence, does not exist. Indeed the body of circumstantial scientific evidence that we do have, though certainly inconclusive, does point to the likelihood of both alien life and intelligence. Which of course brings us to Fermi.

Back in 1943 the great physicist argued that, given the age of the galaxy, and given its size (which is easily traversable at sub-light speeds within a fraction of its age), alien intelligence would have already been here. Yet we see no fossilised TV sets. No remains of space craft on the Moon. Nothing save sporadic vague lights in the sky that could be anything. Consequently, if alien intelligence exists, should be here and is not, then alien intelligence does not exist in the first place. This argument is Fermi's paradox. So where are the aliens? This is the question that Edward Ashpole sets out to answer.

Unlike most other books on the subject Concatenation has previously reviewed which have been written by scientists, predominantly for graduates, Ashpole's book is written for the layman but is nonetheless jam-packed with the pertinent points raised by scientists over the years. In fact it is a whirlwind tour of the thinking on the subject: such a whirlwind that a number of interesting points are overlooked or not given their full due; one example being that as scientific technology has existed for a few hundred billionths of the history of this world, with space-going technology for even less, that the chances are that life bearing worlds are exceedingly common compared to ones with technological intelligence which are vanishingly rare. Yet there is so much packed into this little tome that all is forgiven. The writing is easy to read, and the science on the whole very good with only the unwarranted sympathy given to the UFO case spoiling it (here the author is at the 'very kind' end of the scientifically reasonable spectrum). Non-scientist SF enthusiasts seriously interested in the question of alien life will find this a most useful and solid an introduction to the real evidence for, and meaningful discussion, on alien intelligence.

Jonathan Cowie

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