archive: SETI NASA Watch review of Andreadis' To Seek Out New Life

SETI NASA Watch review of Andreadis' To Seek Out New Life

Larry Klaes ( lklaes@bbn.com )
Tue, 01 Jun 1999 12:56:49 -0400

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http://www.reston.com/astro/book.month.html

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<fontfamily><param>Geneva</param>I am not certain if I can ever recall
anyone I worked with during my years at NASA who was not a Star Trek fan.
I am sure there are some, but I do not think I ever met one. I could
not even begin to count the number of times that Star Trek references
were used at work, often in frustration at our current level of
technology. Moreover, as a space biologist, I was constantly asked
questions about what life might be like elsewhere, often with a reference
to a specific alien species that had appeared in a Star Trek episode. My
point? Star Trek has had a profound impact upon the way many people view
life in the universe - including the very people who are exploring the
universe right now.

Sadly, those perceptions are often in violation with the laws of physics.

In this marvelous book, "To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek"
, author Athena Andreadis takes on the daunting task of examining the
biology that has developed within the Star Trek universe. I use the
term "daunting" because she, despite being an overt fan of Star Trek,
risks the wrath of the faithful by questioning some of the core precepts
of Star Trek biology.

Andreadis takes on virtually every facet of Star Trek biology - from mind
transfer and shape shifters to transporters and interspecies mating. In
so doing, she is careful to separate art from science thus allowing you
to enjoy your favorite episode again even if you know that one of the
core plot details is improbable - even impossible.

It would be easy for just about any competent biologist to run through a
list of things that have appeared in Star Trek and debunk them.
Andreadis doesn't do that. If there is a shred of a chance that
something could happen she eagerly addresses the issue teasing out the
possible from the improbable. Again, you leave this book with a balanced
view - one respectful of both the myths and the facts.

The writing style is similar to that of Stephen Jay Gould - one wherein
each page often contains a dry pun, a cogent observation on biology, a
bit of pop culture, and a provocative thought you'll find yourself
thinking about after you have put down the book. Moreover, Andreadis
clearly knows her biology and it shows. She uses language that allows
even the least biology-savy to fully appreciate the concepts she is
discussing. That alone makes this book worth reading inasmuch as it is
crammed with a number of quick and painless introductions to the basic
principles of biology.

To me, the most important thing Star Trek has done is to spur millions of
people to ponder the structure of the cosmos - with a yearning to
actually go out there and see things for themselves. This book is a
frank critique of both the flaws and strengths of the underlying science
in Star Trek. In so doing, however, this book allows the reader to look
at Star Trek armed with a fresh scientific perspective and revel anew in
the inspiration one gets from pondering all of the amazing things we'll
find out there. That alone makes this book worth reading.

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