What Does a Martian Look Like?: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life

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9780091886165: What Does a Martian Look Like?: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life

Most books about alien life are by astrophysicists, and spend their time arguing whether other planets and solar systems are habitable. This one is different. The authors point out that aqueous planets are common and where water exists life is likely. The test here is to find those features of life and evolution that are universal, and then to work out how they might have operated to produce life in other worlds. Along the way, the authors use examples of the aliens on offer via films, books and TV. Many have entirely reasonable biologies, others - cuddlies like ET, or dragons like the Alien - fail to measure up to the tests the authors set, but help narrow the search for the 'scientific alien'. The authors conclude that humans are not alone as intelligent entities, and that many others have appeared, and will appear, on other planets. And now, they argue, we can even surmise what they will look like and why.

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From the Publisher:

"A fascinating and useful handbook to both the science and science fiction of extraterrestrial life. Cohen and Stewart are amusing, opinionated, and expert guides. I found it a terrific and informative piece of work nothing else like it! (Greg Bear)

"I loved it." (Larry Niven)

"Ever wonder about what aliens could be like? The world authority is Jack Cohen, a professional biologist who has thought long and hard about the vast realm of possibilities. This is an engaging, swiftly moving study of alien biology, a subject with bounds and constraints these authors plumb with verve and intelligence." (Gregory Benford)

"A celebration of life off Earth. A hearteningly optimistic book, giving a much-needed antidote to the pessimism of astrobiologists who maintain that we are alone in the universe a stance based on a very narrow view of what could constitute life. A triumph of speculative non-fiction." (Dougal Dixon, author of After Man: A Zoology of the Future)

From the Inside Flap:

Since H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds startled Victorian sensibilities with the outlandish notion of an invasion from Mars, we have become increasingly obsessed with the possibility of extraterrestrial life. From Klingons to Ewoks to giant blobs of goo, we have imagined space aliens in every conceivable form. But if aliens do exist (and they probably do), what do they really look like? Would we recognize alien life if we saw it? Given the rules that science has devised for life on earth, can we predict how evolution might proceed in environments quite different from our comfortable air-and-water world?

In What Does a Martian Look Like?, two respected scientists and authors combine real science with the creations of some of the world’s most inventive science fiction writers to imagine how life may have evolved elsewhere in the universe. They show that the universe is not populated with countless variations on the humanoid form or horrifying creatures drawn from your worst nightmares. Instead, they demonstrate how universal principles of life might produce amazingly diverse outcomes when applied in different environments.

You’ll learn the difference between astrobiology and xenoscience, find out how scientists model alien ecosystems, and discover the real trouble with tribbles. You may be disappointed that some of your favorite fantasy aliens are dismissed as scientifically impossible, but they are replaced with a galaxy of fascinating creatures, including Cain and Abel, the mentally adroit millipede and the sentient spray of mist whose explorations of earth introduce the theme for each chapter.

You’ll also find lively and enlightening discussions of the life forms and environments created by celebrated science fiction authors such as Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison, Hal Clement, Larry Niven, Philip K. Dick, and many more. Using the works of these and other renowned authors as points of departure, you’ll take off for the stars and discover the vast opportunities for alien life that actually exist throughout the universe.

Whether you’re a die-hard science fiction fan or a skeptical scientist, What Does a Martian Look Like? will challenge your preconceptions and open your eyes to the real possibilities for extraterrestrial life.

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Ian Stewart; Jack Cohen
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