Skip to main content

Why Aren’t They Here? – Surendra Verma ***

The universe is packed full of mysteries, but one of them has to be the question asked by Surendra Verma’s book – why aren’t they here? “They” in this case, is little green men, or at least aliens of some kind. Given the scale of the universe, it seems to some people that it’s inevitable that there are aliens out there somewhere… only you’d think they would be more obvious than they are.
Of course, UFO fans would say they are pretty obvious – yet we aren’t exactly overwhelmed with aliens landing on the White House lawn, science fiction movie style. Surendra Verma sets out to show just what the chances are of aliens being out there, whether they are like to visit us, and what we can make of claims that they already have.
Along the way, Verma neatly brings in snippets of information, giving historical context to some of the science behind the discussion of aliens existing, whether it’s Aristotle’s ideas of just what the universe is, or Gauss’s idea to use banks of mirrors to signal to the inhabitants of the moon.
It should be a really interesting book, and in places Verma injects a lot of enthusiasm and energy, but often it rather sags. I think in part this is because it doesn’t have a cohesive slant on the topic. It’s more a list of “this person says this, but that person says that”, so you get bombarded with opposing views without any real help in sorting it all out. There’s no doubting that there’s a lot in here, whether it’s Drake’s equation for working out the probability of alien life existing, or details of the (often worryingly obscure) messages we have sent into space in an attempt to catch an alien’s attention.
One particularly irritating thing is the way Verma tends to start his many (many) little sections with a statement that seems to be saying something is true, then he modifies this to be just someone else’s theory. So he says, for instance, “Extraterrestrial intelligent life is widespread. Their reluctance to interact with us can be explained by the hypothesis that they have set aside our planet as part of a wilderness area or zoo.” Our attention is grabbed. Is there some amazing new breakthrough about to be announced? No, because next we hear this is a “controversial and demoralizing hypothesis” posited way back in 1973. The result of this repeatedly using this technique is irritation for the reader.
Not a bad summary of many different theories of alien life, plus our attempts to communicate, with some often entertaining historical context thrown in – but not a particularly exciting read.
Paperback:  
Review by Jo Reed

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Dialogues - Clifford Johnson ***

The authors of science books are always trying to find new ways to get the message across to their audiences. In Dialogues, Clifford Johnson combines a very modern technique - the graphic novel or comic strip - with an approach that goes back to Ancient Greece - using a dialogue to add life to what might seem a dry message.

We have seen the comic strip approach trying to put across quite detailed science before in Mysteries of the Quantum Universe. As with that book, Dialogues manages to cover a fair amount of actual physics, but I still feel that the medium just wastes vast acres of page to say very little at all. This is brought home here because quite a lot of the sections of Dialogues start with several pages with no text on at all, just setting up the scenario.

As for using a discussion between two people to put a message across, Johnson makes the point that, for instance, Galileo's very readable masterpiece Two New Sciences is in the form of a dialogue (more accurately a discu…

On the Moor - Richard Carter ****

There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.

Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.

I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland…

Liam Drew - Four Way Interview

Liam Drew is a writer and former neurobiologist. he has a PhD in sensory biology from University College, London and spent 12 years researching schizophrenia, pain and the birth of new neurons in the adult mammalian brain. His writing has appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Slate and the Guardian. He lives in Kent with his wife and two daughters. His new book is I, Mammal.

Why science?

As hackneyed as it is to say, I think I owe my fascination with science to a great teacher – in my case, Ian West, my A-level biology teacher.  Before sixth form, I had a real passion for the elegance and logic of maths, from which a basic competence at science at school arose.  But I feel like I mainly enjoyed school science in the way a schoolkid enjoys being good at stuff, rather than it being a passion.

Ian was a revelation to me.  He was a stern and divisive character, but I loved the way he taught.  He began every lesson by providing us with a series of observations and fact, then, gradually, between …