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Book Reviews


ET Talk
Author:Fernando J Ballesteros

Publisher: Springer

ISBN: 978-1-4419-6088-7

Price: £ 13.99 (Pb), 212pp


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This somewhat uneven book attempts to investigate how we might communicate with postulated extraterrestrial intelligences, implicit in which is the fact that even if extraterrestrial civilisations (ETCs) don’t exist, we will at least learn something about ourselves as we look for new ways to communicate.

And I did learn new things from this book, from the development of human speech (and song) to the levels of intelligence in some of the animals with which we share our planet. Sadly, in respect to the actual search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) or its more controversial cousin, messaging extraterrestrial intelligence (METI), ET Talk fails to cover new ground.

Ballesteros’ book is split into two halves. The first 100 pages is a humdrum pop-science overview of SETI, astrobiology and the search for the origin of life. Most readers with even a passing interest in SETI will already be familiar with the broad details of such concepts, and Ballesteros makes no attempt to go deeper into any of these issues.

One gets the feeling that the second half of the book, dealing with how we could communicate with ETCs, is the part that Ballesteros was really interested in writing. First looking at the history of communication and language on our planet, he then explores the possibility that the artificial language of Lincos, mathematics, or even music (certainly the most controversial notion of the three) could be our medium for discourse with aliens. However Ballesteros, despite his enthusiasm, ultimately finds fault with all three systems, which leaves the book sitting on the fence rather than making any kind of statement.

Furthermore, there is no discussion of the merits of METI, which should surely be crucial to any book titled ET Talk. There’s a brief bibliography, but I would have preferred more detailed references. Given the overly expensive price and the lack of innovation in the discussion of communicating with ETCs, it is difficult to recommend this book when there are better (and cheaper) alternatives available, even from the same publisher.

Keith Cooper

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This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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