Review by David Ben Efraim of Quick Review Books
Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger take the Logical Route
Our society has most recently developed its tremendous fascination with outer space, largely due to the fact our observational and communicative technologies have advanced by nigh-incalculable leaps in the past decades. However, the allure of the stars always captured the imagination of our ancestors, even as primitive as cavemen if we are to judge by the paintings they left behind. We have been striving for countless years to gain a few more grains of knowledge on what lies beyond our Earthly realms, and if we take a look at the progress we have made in its totality, we would find it is both extremely significant and insignificant at the same time. We might know a lot more than we once did, but it still remains virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger have decided to compress this sum of human knowledge into a book titled Where Are They?.
The first thing I should mention, this is a non-fiction book and its aim is to explore as profoundly as possible both sides of the argument debating on the existence of aliens and our likelihood of ever meeting them. In order to do so, it begins with hypothetical explorations of the many different scenarios which might result from us encountering aliens in the future. Following that, they take a more grounded approach as they examine the various efforts we've made in an attempt to find alien life forms as well as the theories we have developed over time. The book then expands into evolutionary theories which might account for both the existence or inexistence of aliens. For the final stretch, the authors focus on where they believe the road ahead might lead us and what we ought to expect based on what we have witnessed on Earth.
A Light Read on a Heavy Topic
It should go without saying the science of space exploration is extremely complicated, involving various fields such as cosmology, physics, biology, and probably many more with names I could never hope to remember. Somehow, the authors have managed to do away with the overwhelming majority of complicated stuff and have laid things out in layman's terms. Even the more complex theories, calculations and philosophies are explained in a very simple and intuitive manner, and I believe this is one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much. As much as I would love to know all the intricacies behind the calculations at the SETI Project or the profound implications of isolationism, I accept they are more than a tad beyond me, unless of course I have countless hours to dedicate to their study... which I don't.
In my previous non-fictional readings on the subject of aliens, I often found the authors either kept things far too simple and surface-level, or they dove so deeply into the technical details they were never seen again. This book feels like it strikes the perfect middle ground between the two, as I never had any problems progressing or felt the need to re-read what I just went through for comprehension purposes. I always had a good understanding of what the authors were trying to depict, and what's more, I really felt like I was learning from one page to the next. Perhaps it has to do with the authors' slightly humorous and easy-going style, but the information never had any problems sticking in my mind.
The Unbiased Perspective
Authors who write on the subject of aliens generally have their minds set on a certain theory or scenario they believe to be the likeliest... and are thus biased in their dissection of the subject. While I wouldn't say the authors here have achieved complete and utter neutrality (their passion for the possibility of alien life existing briefly manifests itself from time to time), they have come closer than most. I never got the sense they were trying to push something down my throat or guide me along a specific path to shape my beliefs. They do a fantastic job of setting their own notions aside for the most part, simply delivering the cold, hard facts and renowned published theories.
I felt this even held true for the more philosophical parts of the book where the authors explore the various possible implications of first contact, technology exchange, or us being alone in the universe, just to name a few. Would the elite seek to hoard knowledge and technology from the aliens? Developmentally-speaking, are we prepared for the moral responsibilities of incredible advancements? They raise some very interesting points which I found pushed me to do further research, rather than jump to any conclusions. Ultimately, I feel the authors truly want to educate their readers, providing them with the resources and curiosity necessary to delve deeper into the subject and perhaps even develop their own theories on the matter. After all, while we might know more than we once did, we still know virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things... a thing Lazaroff and Rodger always keep in mind.
The Final Verdict
All in all, Where Are They? by Steven Lazaroff and Mark Rodger is probably the most engaging and reader-friendly nonfiction book on aliens I have had the pleasure of reviewing, at least in recent memory. It's written in a slightly humours and easy style and covers all the bases of our search for alien life without going in too deep but still providing a big enough wealth of information. If you are even remotely interested in aliens what humanity has accomplished in its search for them, then I strongly recommend you give this book a shot.
Mark Rodger and Steven Lazaroff live in Canada.