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Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligenceby Seth Shostak
Synopses & Reviews
Aliens are big in America. Whether theyve arrived via rocket, flying saucer, or plain old teleportation, theyve been invading, infiltrating, or inspiring us for decades, and theyve fascinated moviegoers and television watchers for more than fifty years. About half of us believe that aliens really exist, and millions are convinced theyve visited Earth.
For twenty-five years, SETI has been looking for the proof, and as the programs senior astronomer, Seth Shostak explains in this engrossing book, its entirely possible that before long conclusive evidence will be found.
His informative, entertaining report offers an insiders view of what we might realistically expect to discover light-years away among the stars. Neither humanoids nor monsters, says Shostak; in fact, biological intelligence is probably just a precursor to machine beings, enormously advanced artificial sentients whose capabilities and accomplishments may have developed over billions of years and far exceed our own.
As he explores what, if anything, they would tell us and what their existence would portend for humankind and the cosmos, he introduces a colorful cast of characters and provides a vivid, state-of-the-art account of the past, present, and future of our search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
"Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, chronicles the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life in a venture that covers history, politics and funding, interviews with believers and non-believers (in both the religious and scientific sense), equipment and science, as well as typical sci-fi scenarios, all salted liberally with humor: 'In most stories, space is just the Wild West without the dust... where the bad guys are just like us, except for their obvious need of remedial plastic surgery.' Shostak also discusses the beginnings of life on earth, how this knowledge impacts what astronomers search for in other galaxies, and the growing consortium of scientific voices who believe 'it would be offensively self-centered to imagine that what has happened on Earth has only happened on Earth.' Written in clear, logical prose, with many analogies to everyday life that simplify the discussion (reverse-engineering technology 'from a society several centuries in advance of us is like giving your laptop to Ben Franklin'). From crop circles to abductions, he discusses and debunks common alien encounter myths ('wheat fields are poor memory storage devices'), while remaining hopeful that continued exploration will yield discoveries. Covering topics from signal processing to feature films, should entertain a broad audience." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
As senior astronomer of the S.E.T.I. Institute in California, Seth Shostak has been at the center of the sometimes admired, sometimes dismissed effort to pick up extraterrestrial radio communication. Shostak joined S.E.T.I. (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in 1990 and has struggled with two overriding issues: trying to detect those alien communications with increasingly more sophisticated... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) methods and explaining to the public why the almost 50-year effort has so far found nothing. He takes on both issues in "Confessions of an Alien Hunter": explaining with inside knowledge the rocky history of the scientific enterprise and then making the case for why the effort to date has been dwarfed by the vastness of the universe. So far, he writes, S.E.T.I. has focused seriously on only 0.0000005 percent of one galaxy (our Milky Way), which is comparable to testing one glass of water out of the entirety of the Earth's oceans. The pace will pick up as the Allen Telescope Array in California — a privately funded collection of as many as 350 radio receivers — comes on line. Even so, the challenge is enormous. Shostak is at his best when he writes about practical questions: Would alien societies communicate via radio or something more advanced? If they were more advanced, how could we understand what they're saying? Would it be safe and proper to reply, and who would decide what to say back? Might aliens have evolved into something akin to computerized machines? All this, of course, presupposes that intelligent beings are out there, and Shostak makes a strong case that they are. He writes that with S.E.T.I.'s new technology, we should make contact within 20 years. The word "Confessions" in the title promises damaging revelations, rather than the almost uniformly supportive report Shostak presents. But as an insight into what is either one of the world's great scientific endeavors or one of its big follies, this book is compelling and thought-provoking. Reviewed by Marc Kaufman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Book News Annotation:
Shostak is senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California, which runs the world's most sensitive search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and he contributes frequently to radio and print media. He describes his work, that of the Institute, and that of many others--mostly amateurs but some astronomy professionals working during their off-hours--to find evidence of other intelligence in the universe. His topics include news that would change the world, whether anyone would believe, whether they could be here already, turning ears to the skies, and beyond gray and hairless aliens. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Seth Shostak is a scientist, author, and frequent commentator on TV and radio. He writes a monthly column on SPACE.com, and often lectures on his work at SETI. He lives in Palo Alto, California.
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