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Tuesday 28 November 2023


Having just written a post about the 50th anniversary of Fortean Times magazine, I can't resist pointing out that the latest issue (FT439) contains a really nice review by David Hambling of the new illustrated edition of my Astrobiology book. That's the book on the right in the picture above - the one on the left being the original paperback version, which, in David's words, was "reviewed with high praise by Mark Greener back in 2019 (FT387)".

Although astrobiology is a mainstream science these days, it has obvious overlaps with the world of forteana. As David says in his review, "Many of the topics, such as the SETI quest for alien signals, the Martian meteorite which may show signs of fossils and the enigmatic 'Oumuamua object which passed through the Solar System, have been covered in these pages." He also draws attention to the key feature of this new edition, which is that it's packed full of colour illustrations, "in particular gorgeous images from the Hubble and James Webb telescopes ... interspersed with pictures from science fiction sources, notably Star Trek and a number of alien contact movies". Here's a quick flick through it:

As I wrote on my other blog when the illustrated edition was published earlier this year, I had no real involvement in creating it, beyond updating the text in a few places and providing words for a few of the image captions. My real contribution was in writing the original paperback book, which I covered in earlier posts while I was writing it and after it was published. But since then, the book has acquired something of a life of its own - more so than any of my other books, anyway.

The Goodreads site currently lists 10 editions of the book, including audiobooks, ebooks and foreign translations (I particularly like the  highbrow-sounding subtitle of the French one: "A la recherche de la vie extraterrestre"). But there must be several more editions that that, because Goodreads (which is a subsidiary of Amazon) doesn't list non-Kindle ebooks, and for some reason doesn't include the English-language illustrated edition I'm talking about here. Even the latter exists in two distinct versions - the "British and Commonwealth" one pictured at the top of this post, and a "North American" one which looks very similar but has subtle differences inside. Here's my cousin's copy of it, complete with ludicrously cheap price sticker (she bought it as soon as it came out, so it's not like it's a discounted copy the retailer couldn't sell):


Kid said...

Hopefully you're now rich from being the author of this book and will never have to work again, AM. No? Why not? As for alien life, there's some living in the corner of my bathroom at the moment. I think they're called spiders.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Kid. Unfortunately a large number of editions doesn't necessarily translate to millions of sales! Even if it did, it wouldn't make me any richer as I received a flat fee for writing this book, together with a smaller sum when the illustrated edition came out. In terms of pennies per word, it amounts to roughly the same as I get writing for magazines - which is very welcome, but not enough to live on without my pension to fall back on!

Colin Jones said...

A few months ago it was reported that NASA might have discovered evidence of life on another planet. Apparently the planet is covered by a water ocean and the atmosphere contains chemicals which are produced only by life. That sounds like good evidence for life to me but I think NASA want to investigate further before making any firm declarations. I suppose they want to avoid a repeat of the "Martian fossil" controversy when initial claims of life on Mars looked more doubtful upon further inspection!

Andrew May said...

Thanks Colin. Yes, this is exactly the point I make at the end of the book, that there will never be the big, sudden, definitive announcement of extraterrestrial life that most people imagine (except in the unlikely event that whoever is allegedly visiting us in UFOs chooses to reveal their presence openly). If it's a case of a "biosignature" of the kind you mention, there will always be multiple alternative explanations that will need to be examined (there was another fiasco of this kind a few years ago, when a group announced the detection of a biosignature on Venus, which immediately prompted (a) simpler alternative explanations of the data and (b) doubts about the validity of the data in the first place). And if a SETI-style apparent "message" was received, it wouldn't be definitive until its meaning was deciphered, which might take years.