First encounter…final contact?

October 30, 2015 § Leave a comment


“Historians will tell you that first contact between industrial civilizations and indigenous people does not go well.”

This comment was made in an interview with BBC News by David Brin, notable science fiction writer and opponent of a plan proposed at a meeting of the American Association for Advancing Science to seriously pursue contact of extraterrestrial life. The leader of this project and director of the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute, Dr. Seth Shostak, believes that there may be life beyond the Milky Way, and that there’s a respectable chance that it’s friendly. If intelligent life had wanted to destroy us, he says, they would have certainly done so by now. While Dr. Shostak is eager to hear from aliens and inform them of our culture, others are quite hesitant and believe the ramifications of such communications might be disastrous. Brin believes that, at the very least, a preliminary risk assessment is necessary; sending messages into space without conducting such an assessment beforehand only displays our “arrogance.”

This made me wonder, would aliens think that humans are arrogant or selfish? If they understood the history of our civilizations, would they consider us to be benevolent at all? We have not been very kind to our own species; many believe we will lead ourselves to our own demises simply by our self- serving nature. This is why I find it difficult to believe that humans would ever be able to happily trade information or technology with an alien species for mutual benefit if any contact was ever to be made. No, it’s not as simple as that. We, as a species, seem to taint most of what we touch—whether it be land, air, animal, or sea. Shostak made it clear that he expects the destruction and violence to come from the extraterrestrials, that it would be their intention to eliminate us first. I disagree; it’s not the aliens we have to worry about. Even if we allow ourselves to believe that our noble purpose is only to learn and discover more about the cosmos, we are an inherently ambitious and power-hungry race. Brin’s comment about “civilizations” versus “indigenous people” demonstrates our self-centered tendencies and our desire to control, colonize, and own. Even though I doubt we would take it to that extreme, this mindset is certainly not a solid basis upon which to form a functioning friendship or partnership. So while Brin definitely has reason to be concerned about the fate of future human generations in the wake of extraterrestrial communication, I think the aliens have just as much to worry about on their end. Though Dr. Shostak thinks ET life that knows of our existence may not want to “obliterate” our planet, we haven’t met them yet to extend the same hospitality.


The Arecibo Message (below) was broadcast from the Arecibo Observatory (above) in 1974. This telescope has been used by the SETI program to search for alien life and technology.


This is not the first time scientists have attempted to contact alien life; in 1974, the Arecibo Message was sent into deep space in an attempt to relay information about humankind to potential intelligent life. With programs like the one proposed by the SETI institute, we can rest assured that contact attempts will continue to be made. Even though this program may not seem to be addressing an urgent need of mankind, I guess it can’t hurt to be prepared. What remains to be seen, however, is whether our first meeting with space life will be our final encounter intelligence ever simply because of human nature.

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-Bushra Rahman



October 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

“Your Majesty, have you had a chance to look through the etiquette handbook that the Kadarowo so kindly sent to us?”

“Hmm..I may have flipped through a couple pages.”

“Your Majesty! We are meeting with the Kadarowoan Prime Minister tomorrow! This is the first time that any species from Mars has agreed to make contact with us. If you offend him, the entire race may just decide to ignore us and do business with the Americans instead!”

“The Americans? Heavens forbid… Alright, just give me some of the key pointers so that I don’t have to read through the entire stupid thing. It’s over five hundred pages long!”

“Very well Your Majesty, we can start with the greeting process first. When meeting a Kadarowo for the first time, you must never look him in the eyes.”

“Well where the hell am I supposed to look?”

“At his seventy-fifth ear Your Majesty, it is considered to be polite.”

“How in the world am I supposed to find his seventy-fifth ear?”

“You count, Your Majesty. Using your eyes.”

“Don’t get snarky with me, Oxford. I will exile you to Russia.”

“My apologies, Your Majesty. Moving on, you greet the Kadarowos by rotating your left foot in a counter-clockwise motion in their direction. When exchanging hellos, you must never speak above a whisper. Their hearing is extremely sensitive because of their three-hundred and twenty nine ears.” “When the Kadarowo has acknowledged your presence, you are allowed to grasp his antennae, located next to the fifty-second ear, as a symbol of shared trust and unity.”

“That sounds…oddly sexual, Oxford.”

“Your Majesty, don’t be ridiculous! This is all common Kadarowoan custom. I am told that their dinner parties last for several days because of the introduction process.”

“All right, let’s just finish this. I have a pizza party to attend to at six o’clock.”

“We may now move on to the sacrificing of the turtle.”

“What the- Why would we sacrifice a freaking turtle?”

“Your Majesty, I see that you have not looked through the handbook at all. The Kadarowos believe that every introduction to someone new is considered to be a blessing from their Goddess, Shakira.”

“Shakira? Isn’t that the sing-”

“The name is merely a coincidence, Your Majesty. They thank Shakira by sacrificing in her name her least favorite animal, the turtle.” “After we sacrifice the turtle, we must paint it’s shell with the colors of the Kadarowoan flag: Cerulean, Razzmatazz, Pewter, and Yellow.”

“I don’t even know what a Razzmatazz is, Oxford.”

“After we have painted the turtle, we may move on to the process of ‘The Fire Dance.'”

“Okay Oxford, you know what? This is ridiculous! We don’t need those Kadarowos and their stupid customs; they’re too different from us. Also, it’s 6:10. There’s probably no cheese pizza left. I have to go, Oxford. ”

“Your Majesty! But the Prime Minister-”

“Goodbye Oxford!”

“Hello Mr. President, this is Oxford. Yes, as we expected, the King believed the “Kadarowoan customs” and has run away. You are now free to continue negotiations with the Kadarowoan people. I expect the money we discussed to be deposited into my bank account by the end of this week.” “It was a pleasure working with you, sir.”


Travel Through Space and Time is Lonely for Everyone (Except Andre 3000)

September 18, 2015 § 1 Comment

It isn’t easy being a protagonist in science-fiction literature about time or space travel; loneliness often seems to be a precondition to their lives.

Sometimes, this loneliness is unavoidable: a solitary ten-year-long spaceship ride will probably make you miss other people, and it’s always difficult to develop a robust social rapport with people thousands of years in the future, with their unrecognizable languages and inexplicable habits. Frequently, however, these lonely types are surrounded by people like them as they hurtle through space and/or time – they feel they way they do because of some distinct characteristic or internal bent, something that sets them apart from the others.

Now, these lonely characters aren’t a distinctive trait of science fiction; fiction writ large is full of lonesome brooding adventurers – Ishmael immediately comes to mind, from what many consider to be the Great American Novel. So don’t take this acknowledgement as a critique or judgment of value. Besides, prose fiction naturally invites a certain degree of internality and solitariness – the very act of reading is about silently constructing an internal world to which someone who is sitting a few feet from you would have no access.

However, science fiction doesn’t just exist as prose literature, so we can look at other artistic forms of science fiction to determine if the genre is actually more lonesome. To my mind, the most obvious alternative form to consider is popular music: not only does a fruitful history of science fiction music exist, the artistic form of music is fundamentally oriented toward communal interaction in way that literature isn’t. Music almost begs to be heard alongside others, which is one of the reasons why many concerts can outdraw even the most popular book reading.

But, upon a quick glance at some of the “classics” of the science fiction musical genre, the sense of loneliness found in the literature is still present. David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity” tells the unnerving story of an actual severing of connection between an astronaut and ground control, and, in doing so, actively creates a scene of inescapable solitude, soundtracked by distant instrumentation that reiterates that lonely void. The narrator of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” explicitly talks about missing his wife and kids while on a “long, long” trip to Mars. Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” tells of a time traveler who, because of his inability to communicate with other people, brings about mass-scale destruction.

So, perhaps the genre of science fiction simply invites this solitude – this wouldn’t necessarily be that surprising. Space and time are both inconceivable massive expanses that can’t help but make a person feel somewhat insignificant and alone. Additionally, the core demographic for science fiction is often thought to be primarily composed of socially uncomfortable – regardless of the accuracy of this notion, it has at least been a prevalent stereotype.

However, a notable exception to the loneliness of science fiction music can be found in Outkast’s “Prototype” and its corresponding (and hilarious) music video. The song and its video depict and alien version of Andre 3000, who looks just like the regular ‘Dre 3K except with a terrible blond wig, landing on what seems to be Earth with his crew of shipmates; within minutes, Andre and an earthling woman have seemingly fallen into passionate love. While video is ridiculous and only really enjoyable for its absurd kitschiness, “Prototype” serves as an interesting departure from the loneliness of space travel. Everything in the video is utopian; Andre, his crew, and the Earth woman are existing peacefully and lovingly as a community only moments after arrival, a significant departure from the paranoid loneliness elsewhere seen. This apparent love is the opposite of traditional loneliness.

While extrapolating from a single case is dangerous, I think it is worth pointing out that Outkast is a hip-hop duo, while the previously cited musicians were classic rockers. Arguably, diverse participation in science fiction could allow for such shifts in tone and subject from classical models to new iterations. This theory of a shift from lonely, exceptional protagonists being propelled by diverse participation is further supported by artists such as Janelle Monae, an R&B singer who has produced some fascinating love songs within a science fiction framework.

Therefore, by enabling more diverse participation within the genre, the music of science fiction is perhaps finally being utilized to exhibit an imagination of communal connection across space and time. Whether or not the literature of science fiction has enacted (or should enact) such a broad shift away from loneliness, however, I’ll leave that up for debate.

— Lucas Hilliard

Intelligent life in the universe? Phone home, dammit!

June 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

Read Professor Robert Scherrer’s animated discussion of whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe:

In Silence and Solitude

November 15, 2012 § 3 Comments

Silence. And darkness.

They say that space is a vacuum, an absence of light. An absence of sound. An absence of life.

They say that nothing is out there, that a man could go crazy. They say that the silence kills sanity. They say that once you go, you never come back.


Day 1: And so, my journey begins. I am skeptical. What can possibly be out here, in this loneliness? What can there be to see, in this empty blackness, devoid of all emotion?

Day 2: This is a very important mission, they said. I have trained many years for to become a deep space explorer, yet this is the first assignment they give me? To find extraterrestrial life? I don’t even believe it exists.

Day 3: I don’t know why I am still writing in this journal. Nothing new has happened. Nothing new ever happens. When they sent me on this journey, they explained that it would be boring and lonely. I came prepared. I have always been a loner. This is nothing different.

Day 15: Still nothing. Yet I still continue to write in this journal. It’s the only thing that keeps me company out here in this desolate wasteland.

Day 27: Controls are running smoothly. All radar systems detect nothing. I truly am alone out here. I have too much time to think. Too much quiet. I don’t want to think anymore, to feel. All I feel is the pervasive loneliness. I thought I could handle this.

Day 45: I am suddenly and inexplicably reminded of the director’s parting words to me. He gripped me by my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Son, don’t get tricked by manatees.” I realized that he meant for me not to be fooled into thinking things were signs of alien life when they really weren’t. I can see how easy it would be to do so, out here. After so much isolation, a man could go crazy. It’s certainly plausible.

Day 204: Not much to say. I eat and sleep as I normally do, but out of routine and necessity rather than desire. I have nothing to look forward to. There is nothing out here. I sometimes regret even coming on this mission. It seems as if I am slowly losing my mental facilities. Even planets are starting to look like alien spaceships, though I know that they are much too large. I even forgot about this journal until I found it while cleaning around my rest compartment.

Day 400: The ship’s calculations tell me that this is the four hundredth day of my journey, my quest to find alien life. Happy anniversary to me. I have not found anything. Space is barren. There is no life. There is no one but me. I am no one. I have no reason to live. I have failed in my quest.

Day 405: Finally, I believe I have sighted an alien spaceship! I am headed in its direction. It is rather asymmetrical and globular, with a few bulges here and there. I am setting my engines to take me there to meet it. What will they look like? How will they communicate? For the first time in over a year, I have felt true excitement. Finally, finally, there is life. There is intelligence. I will have someone to talk to.

**On November 16, 2550, the one-man spaceship Zephyr blew up. Scientists are puzzled at the circumstances of this unfortunate accident. It seems as if the astronaut set his ship on a course toward a nearby asteroid but miscalculated and collided head-on.


Yiran Zhang

Contacts: 1-10

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Contact: 1

Time: 2:00AM

I can hear it. Its breaths are infrequent, maybe one every three minutes. They sound a little like rusty door hinges, or like a very, very quiet bullfrog croak. I have sat and listened, taking careful notes of length and quality of sound, for nearly half an hour. I must make an excursion to command central and make my report. I will be careful not to disturb the alien’s abode.

Contact: 2

Time: 2:15AM

Command central does not believe my reports. I have been sent back to my station and told firmly not to leave again. It is late, they say. Late! Perhaps this alien is nocturnal. Perhaps it waits until some even later hour, when it will emerge from its dark home to feed. I must be prepared for such. I will not be afraid.

There! I hear the breathing again. It seems to be just beneath me. I must be still. Does it know I lie above it?

Contact: 3

Time: 2:26AM

I have made visual contact. Repeat: I have made visual contact. The alien has extended some sort of pseudopod/tentacle/thing beyond its cave-like dwelling. It is too dark to see clearly, and my flashlight has run out of batteries. I must ask for more from command central tomorrow.

If I make it to tomorrow.

Contact: 4

Time: 2:30AM

More of the alien emerges!!

Vocal signals for help have been deployed in an attempt to garner support from command central. Only reply has been (here transcribed word-for-word in the name of science): “SHUT UP DANNY AND GO TO SLEEP”

I am either on the verge of scientific discovery or the verge of death.

Contact: 5

Time: 2:37AM

The alien has ceased movement but not withdrawn, either. It is pitch black in color, utterly smooth all over. What portion of the creature is this? Is it a limb? A head? Has the creature such things as limbs or head(s)?

I will attempt physical contact.

Contact: 6

Time: 2:39AM

Physical contact achieved. Alien feels slightly squishy. A bit like a gummy worm. I am not sure what to make of this.

Contact: 7

Time: 2:41AM

I have attempted to converse with the alien, asking it what I believe to be the most important and urgent questions:

1) where has it come from?

2) how has it come to live beneath my bed?

3) does it have plans to eat me?

As far as I could discern from the multitudes of bodily contortions the alien underwent–oral speech is not, it seems, one of its abilities–I gathered answers as following:

1) this is his bedroom

2) how have I come to live beneath his bed?

3) do I have plans to eat him?

I am not sure what to make of this, either.

Contact: 8

Time: 2:55AM

The alien and I have come to an understanding. My world and his exist on intersliding planes. The space around ours beds seems to be a catching point in this sliding, which has resulted in a tear in both our cosmos (cosmoses?). Theoretically, if I crawled under my bed, and he crawled under his bed, we could switch places.

Contact: 9

Time: 2:57AM

I do have that book report due tomorrow that I never wrote.

Contact 10

Time: 3:00AM

Boy, will Mom and Dad be sorry they didn’t come when I called!


-Kat Zhang

Celebrity Jeopardy

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

They managed to get something wrong in every case. Apparently they’d picked up some media signal, bounced off satellites into the mirky expanse of space,  because they had all assumed the appearance of Earth celebrities. Their leader walked down the gangplank which had descended from their ship. He appeared–it took me an instant to place the face–to have assumed the physical form of Dennis Kucinich. When he, or it rather, spoke its voice rang out in a deep basso far different from that of the Ohio representative.

“Salutations Groundling.” The alien registered my stare and looked down about itself. Puzzled, it reached its Kucinich hand down to its lapel and fiddled with an American flag pin. After a moment the alien looked up hopefully. It had turned the flag pin upside down. I felt sorry for it so I nodded in encouragement and the alien resumed. “As I am sure you recognize, I have assumed the form of the ultimate and supreme ruler of your race.” The alien gestured broadly, presenting himself. “As you know, we have met with Lord Kucinich. He has informed us of his stature on this rock, and we wish to parlay with him.”

“I’m sorry,” I had to tell it, “But you’ve been tricked.” In my jacket I had a fat cigar, a relic of times long past. I began to thumb a lighter. “This, this fellow… He never ruled much or anything.” I waited for the shock to sink into to his face but my words didn’t seem to register. “Kucinich–he was alive here many, many years ago. He was committed. He, er, he got locked up.” I pantomimed turning a key, stared straight ahead, tossed the key. The alien looked back at his ship, a rather puny affair. Only four engines, basic looking thrusters, tiny, laughable weapons. Behind him stood his mangy gang, all bearing the semblances of twenty first century celebrities. There was a Muggsy Bogues, a Madonna, Scott Baio, Michael Douglas. A Tom Cruise flickered holographically and an instant later his skin was purple. Only Kucinich remained constant. “I’m sorry, my friend. I don’t know what Denny told you, how you met him then, how your got back here.” I exhaled at length and brought my cigar to my mouth, and coaxed a flame from the lighter. “The thing is, you’ve overstayed your welcome already.” With a few deft draws I had the cigar lit up. I turned my back to Kucinich and faced the legions behind me. A thousand men, a thousand mechs, dozens of cannons leveled down towards the ship. This great arena of firepower for one pathetic ship. I smiled and gave the order. “Fire ‘em up, Boys.”


-Will Tarnell

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