"A welcome excursion for pop-sci fans featuring a number of striking artworks."– Kirkus Reviews
Long after an asteroid nearly erases Earth’s civilization, an artificial intelligence guardian and the archived intellect of a genius must deal with the arrival of large, caterpillarlike alien colonists.
In this sci-fi novel, much-married Albert “Rudy” Rudyard Goldstein earns wealth and esteem for helping heal Earth’s abused environment. Near death, the brilliant but cantankerous fellow rejects having his neural matter uploaded and his mind rendered practically immortal. But after he dies, a doctor and his cousin, an AI expert, do it anyway. Rudy, mildly annoyed, finds himself a disembodied consciousness entrusted to a resourceful, self-sustaining AI computer presence called Mnemosyne (whom he nicknames Nessie). Rudy eventually has a diversion, as an asteroid collision mostly ends terrestrial civilization. A million years later, Rudy, Nessie, and their mound-shaped complex are Earth’s last remnants of advanced technology. The local, primitive tribes worship Nessie as a goddess. In these diminished circumstances, humanity finally has alien first contact with a race called the Jadderbadians. They are tall, segmented, caterpillarlike creatures, not really evil but disposed to regarding Homo sapiens as little more than pets and slaves (if the name Arrogant Worms didn’t already belong to a Canadian band, these beings would have it). When Nessie’s surveillance drones are discovered, the stage is set for a confrontation. Jadderbadian scientist Morticue Ambergrand—slightly more broad-minded than his cohorts—makes Rudy’s acquaintance in a startlingly close way. Raham (Confessions of a Time Traveler, 2015), prolific in generating science books for school-age readers, turns his considerable talent and vision to a grown-up, seriocomic sci-fi narrative. The arch tone should remind readers of Kurt Vonnegut, although Raham is better grounded in exobiology and science and displays a more upbeat outlook for the human (and nonhuman) condition in this engaging tale. That said, hard-sci-fi fans may cock an eyebrow over how the author introduces the planetwide conscious entities, Gaia (for Earth) and Hydra (the corresponding spirit of Jadderbad), who also take active roles. The result is a bit like Arthur C. Clarke’s big-think mind stretchers, laden with wisecracking insults and the occasional dirty joke.
An enjoyable, post-apocalypse mind romp featuring technologically bred demigods, future Stone Age tribes, and supercilious worms.
In this diverse collection of essays, short stories, illustrations, anecdotes, and other missives, Raham informs without being dry and teaches without being pedantic while covering a wide range of subjects in biology and the history of science.
The project of making sense of human existence may be endless, but you’ve got to start somewhere. In one piece, Raham explains how the story of the evolution of life on Earth is intimately related to microbial development. An obituary for a revered scientist sheds light on the value of her discoveries, translating them into everyday speech while capturing the personal significance of her work for Raham. “Alive & Aloft in the Aeolian Zone,” a combined essay and interview with science professors, describes the role played by the wind in creating and sustaining the planet’s complex aerial ecosystem. Other pieces discuss metamorphosis, Thomas Jefferson’s interest in the study of fossils, and the momentous discovery of arrowheads by Loren Eiseley in the 1930s. Also included are captivating excerpts from original works of sci-fi and adventure following “a dynasty of outstanding fossil hunters….Like me—and most paleontologists—the Sternbergs became captive to the lure of finding worlds lost in the catacombs of deep time.” Raham’s striking illustrations figure prominently throughout, varying in style from pen-and-ink sketches and cartoons to colorful, otherworldly paintings of tiny life forms. What’s more, comments from Raham preface each piece in the collection, providing context and background, which adds a personal touch and something of an overarching narrative to the book. Overall, the well-rounded collection testifies to the riches gained by sustained dedication to scientific inquiry, an enterprise that involves patience, persistence, and original thinking. Though the pieces differ in style and intent, the general outlook is broadly humanist, emphasizing the importance of scientific experimentation as a fundamental component of our collective self-understanding as a species. And yet this enthusiasm is tempered by humility about our place in an incomprehensibly large cosmos.
A welcome excursion for pop-sci fans featuring a number of striking artworks.