Non-Fiction Review


Worlds Without End

The Historic Search for Extraterrestial Life

(1999) R. A. S. Hennessey, Tempus, 18.99, hdbk, pp160, ISBN 0-7524-1450-X

Unfortunately it has taken me a couple of years to get around to reviewing this one and for that many sincere apologies. Hennessey has given all those into the prospect of alien life a little gem in reviewing the history of this topic. Now the easy option would have been to skip over ancient Greece, the philosophical issues, medieval pluralism, the renaissance and so forth and instead to concentrate on beginning with Lowell and Martian canals, following the rise of science fiction and the new astronomy. However if the author had done that then you guys would not need to get the book. Science-loving SF buffs, and scientists who read SF know much of the current astronomical advances. The recent boom in extra-solar planet finding, proposals for Europa and Mars and so forth. And of course contemporary SF is, to us, familiar territory. Hennessey has therefore concentrated on all the right bits, and in the process has not only reviewed who we thought of alien life in centuries, even millennia, gone by but also inadvertently provided a small window on to proto-SF. Including reasonable, but not-overly sprinkled with, black and white line illustrations and photos The Historic Search for Extraterrestrial Life is a fine production. This is a scholarly work but, unlike all too many products from academe (and especially the arts side) is well written and easily accessible. My one gripe is that at 160 pages is it is a little small, especially for the price. I would certainly have liked to have read more. For instance. for instance when did weightlessness in space first appear as a concept? We are not told (though I understand the answer to be in the 17th century). I certainly could have done with more, and there is certainly more ground to cover. Mini synopsis of proto-SF works would have been interesting. However balance the small page count against information that you will not easily find, especially in one volume, as to how we considered alien life before the rise in science and technology, then on balance the book is worth it. A proverbial must for anyone into the perceptions of exobiology and certainly worth considering for the rest of us treading the line between science fact and fiction.

Jonathan Cowie


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