January 15, 2016
If you are the guest speaker at a luncheon, or at a library event, or at a college, or wherever, there is no way more effective to annoy the audience than to tell them that you not only do not believe that UFO's exist, but that in all probability, we are alone in the universe. It doesn't matter how many billions of goldilocks worlds are out there, with gleaming oceans and gentle winds and warm sunlight, they are almost all certainly empty. Sure, there's an outside chance someone else may exist somewhere. But it's unlikely. And if there really is another planet with intelligent life, we have a better chance of winning the lottery than of ever finding it. Tell that to your audience and they will grow quiet, and a few will shake their heads and roll their eyes, and any enthusiasm that might have existed in the room will drain off.
And I'm not talking about an audience necessarily composed of SF enthusiasts. If that were the case, the reaction would undoubtedly be even more negative. Which I'm sure doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. I grew up enthusiastic about traveling to Mars and saying hello to those guys who lived by the canals. And I was disappointed when the canals went away. When Bradbury's brilliant work morphed from science fiction to fantasy. And I've never understood why I felt that way. When the UFO's took over the news stories during the 1950's, I would have given anything to see one descend onto the vacant lot at the north end of the street I lived on. And sure, I realized they could be dangerous, but that didn't seem to matter. Maybe I didn't really accept the possibility of hostile space travelers. If someone was smart enough to come in from Alpha Centauri (which had replaced Mars as the nearby habitat for visitors), surely they weren't going to be like Nazis. Or even like Damon Knight's visitors in "To Serve Man."
But nobody ever came.
Why do we care so much? I've been trying for years to figure out a way to do a short story in which we discover that we are indeed alone. That the universe, save for us, is completely empty. I haven't been able to find a way to do it, so I leave it out there for anyone who wants to try. Manage it legitimately, and I guarantee you will have a story with an impact. Maybe even a classic.
Ten years ago, I was invited to a NASA/SETI event on the west coast, where the prime topic, as best I can remember, was the Fermi Paradox. If there are aliens, where are they? Why the unbroken silence? During the course of that weekend I had the opportunity to meet Paul Davies, a cosmologist currently at Arizona State University. I'd read his book The Mind of God, which was a brilliant discussion of the nature of the universe, theories on how it may have come into existence, and how intelligent life might have arrived. He is also the author of other mind-bending books like The Ghost in the Atom, about quantum physics; How To Build a Time Machine; and Are We Alone?
In 2010 he published Eerie Silence. In this one, he argues that we are all there is. In the entire universe, across trillions of worlds, there is not one single place where two beings are seated in a living room enjoying the local equivalent of a pizza.
Which means we are safe from any outside threat. We have only ourselves to fear. Why is that so depressing?