Book Review: Is Anybody Out There? ed. Nick Gevers & Marty Halpern (Spoilers!)

This anthology mulls over the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox is the apparent contradiction between the high probability extraterrestrial civilizations’ existence and the lack of contact with such civilizations. In other words, why has no one come by for a chat? or have they and we didn’t recognize it? I will keep the spoilers to a minimum so you can get a good idea of the stories without knowing how any of them end.

HERE COMES EVERYONE by Paul McAuley. This introduction explains the paradox in a way that anyone could understand. It occurred to me while reading it, it would make a great introduction to a “Universe” episode on the Science Channel.

THE WORD HE WAS LOOKING FOR WAS HELLO by Alex Irvine. The distinction between the worlds writers create and those they live in can be a bit blurry. Here an author comes face to face with one of his best known characters and addresses the different solutions posed to the paradox. It is a beautiful story of heartache and longing with a line I had to write down, “I like the books better when I don’t know anything about the people who write them.” The line refers to convention goers confusing the writers for their most popular characters. Very enjoyable story.

RESIDUE by Michael Arsenault. This was a fascinating conversation to read. A couple discusses the paradox in a lively way, with science injected with humor. It was like being a fly on the wall during a lively debate.

GOOD NEWS FROM ANTARES by Yves Meynard. This story was very interesting. A story of a writers journey through his career and the relationship with a beloved character. It begs the question, would any of us accept a gift from a character in a dream? Would even the creator of the character take that chance? You need to read the story to find out, but you can feel the relationship between the writer and his character change during their conversation.

REPORT FROM THE FIELD by Mike Resnick & Lezli Robyn. This is a very funny story. If you have ever wondered what our society looks like from an objective third party, this is your answer. Maybe this is why no one visits? Seeing our sports, entertainment, figures we admire (twiggy-like models), sexual habits, and integrating our movies figures as cultural icons; you can see by the end of the story why anyone might be a little hesitant to come by and say hello!

PERMANENT FATAL ERRORS by Jay Lake. I love a good spaceship story. His descriptions of the craft itself are necessary to the story, but they blend in so well I barely noticed I had a good mental map of the ship. A story of curiosity, scientific curiosity, and the chances the main character will take to find out just what it was that he saw outside. His determination to ensure all of humanity is alerted to this discovery includes placing himself in danger. A noble individual places the good of the species above that of the individual.

GALAXY OF MIRRORS by Paul Di Filippo. The spark has gone out of the main character. Well known writer and lecturer appears to have lost something. And it appears he is not the only one with a changed perception. On a ship, way out there he encounters an anomaly. One that ignites his curiosity, gets him fired up, and pairs him with a lover who is just as passionate. They attempt to figure out what is causing these phenomena together. The answer is fascinating from a science fiction view. A wonderful story!

WHERE TWO OR THREE by Sheila Finch. Teenage penance at a hospice leads to an encounter that changes her life. From being in trouble and bored with her existence, her fascination with music and its relation to the cosmos is ignited by an astronaut. Are we listening? really listening? Our astronaut divulges his experience on an asteroid and passes down the mission to the teenage girl.

GRAFFITI IN THE LIBRARY OF BABEL by David Langford. As a certifiable word nerd, I loved this story! Messages in electronic texts. They tap into our complete database of knowledge and use phrases, both literally and figuratively, to send a message. I was fascinated by this story from the first lines.

THE DARK MAN by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Beautiful descriptions of Italy. I could see the buildings, shops, and steps very clearly. Is the figure on the steps a shadow? a play of light? a man? something alien? The possibilities posed in the story all seem plausible. Our intrepid reporter is out to disprove anything she can, with a gorgeous man following her everywhere, she is determined to disprove any extraterrestrial explanation. A lovely story with intrigue, romance, and a hint of real danger.

ONE BIG MONKEY by Ray Vukcevich. Some of you whom read this blog know I (Graylin) make my living as a psychologist. This story felt like I had fallen into a story with a psychotic narrator. I could not stop reading it but I cannot explain it to you at all. Just that it’s a literary psychedelic trip to Mars.

THE TASTE OF NIGHT by Pat Cadigan. Synesthesia is a phenomena we barely understand. Yet, there are people who see sounds and taste colors. It is not mental illness, there is no diagnosis for it, and yet for years there were considered psychotic. Here the author mixes synesthesia with mental illness to ask if we would recognize a message if one arrived. Would the person who got the message be believed?

TIMMY, COME HOME by Matthew Hughes. A lovely story of regressing to before birth. Our main character follows his memories prior to conception to find the source of the voices  he hears. His struggle was to anchor the messages he knew he was getting to a source he could not reach without assistance. I’m a sucker for happy endings!

A WATERFALL OF LIGHTS by Ian Watson. It’s a wonderful story of five friends in England. They get together regularly for some odd conversation. Until one of them appears to have gone off the rails. He believes communication with aliens occurs regularly, within our existing senses, and sets out to create an experiment to begin to receive messages.

RARE EARTH by Felicity Shoulders & Leslie What. This story actually has aliens in it. Bulbs of light returning to their place of origin. Intertwined is the story of a family, a young man, his pregnant mother, and maternal grandmother. Along the way he grows up in his mother’s eyes, understands his grandmother better, and finds a girlfriend. The aliens drive the story and provide a poignant point about survival and family at the end.

THE VAMPIRES OF PARADOX by James Morrow. This story explains the paradox in context with other paradoxes. Reading this story I felt smarter than I am because the information is explained in such an accessible way. Imagine vampires that feed on paradoxes and the need to find ever more complex ones to stay a step ahead. This is a wonderful story that I will reread often!

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories. While the theme was relatively constant throughout, each story was very different and entertaining. I highly recommend this collection. Even if you have no interest in the Fermi Paradox, the stories will engage your mind with questions you didn’t know needed answers.

Graylin

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