Imagined Life: A Speculative Scientific Journey Among the Exoplanets in Search of Intelligent Aliens, Ice Creatures, and Supergravity Animals

Smithsonian. Sept. 2019. 240p. index. ISBN 9781588346643. $29.95. SCI
Following up Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System, astronomers Trefil and Summers examine how the laws of chemistry and physics would shape the evolution of life and civilization on unusual worlds. Their survey includes an internally heated “snowball,” a tidally locked windswept planet, and four (renamed) theoretical celestial bodies featured in their previous work. While cautioning that terrestrial biases might lead us to overlook unusual life forms, the authors openly indulge in “water chauvinism” (even though other liquids might substitute as biochemical solvents elsewhere in the universe) and “chemical chauvinism” (although it’s possible that complex structures could evolve through purely electromagnetic processes). Exoplanets’ carbon, stellar, and surface chauvinisms also reemerge. NASA’s striking “Exoplanet Travel Bureau” graphics and amusing discussions by hidebound space alien academics, incredulous that anything could survive on planets different from theirs, offset a dull chapter enumerating already discovered extrasolar planets. This relatively easy read is an appealing addition to the growing body of recent works addressing the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
VERDICT Both popular science and sf readers will enjoy this extrapolative natural history.

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