October 25, 2002
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 entertaining 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 diehard 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.
Jack Cowan is an internationally known reproductive biologist and the coauthor, with Ian Stewart, of The Collapse of Chaos and Figments of Reality.
Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at Warwick University in the United Kingdom. Among his sixty published books are The Magical Maze and Life’s Other Secret, both from Wiley.