LIFE SIGNS by Robert Jenkins


The Biology of Star Trek
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Here’s another--probably not the last--in the recent batch of books explaining modern science by referring to popular sci-fi shows. After a foreword by Lawrence M. Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek, the authors begin by examining a point evident to the most casual viewer of Star Trek: the presence in the cast of large numbers of “alien” creatures. Yet most of these creatures are basically human in form--a fact explained in the universe of Star Trek by a variant of the panspermia hypothesis, which postulates that life on Earth was seeded (accidentally or deliberately) from some other world where it began. The authors (both M.D.s; he is affiliated with the Mayo Clinic) then examine the factors that determine evolutionary divergence of similar organisms, focusing on a human embryo’s development of facial features. Research on chimpanzees and other apes sheds light on the limited range of facial expressions in Vulcans, or the total lack of expression of the android Data. Facial morphology also affects our judgment of an alien race’s character--as a rule, the closer to the human norm its members’ faces, the more likely a race is to be “good guys” in the Trek universe. They suggest variants that the show’s writers might profitably explore--sense organs that detect infrared light (common among snakes) or magnetic fields (used by birds for navigation). All these points are made by reference to specific episodes and characters, showing a detailed familiarity with the show. The authors go on to examine the factors influencing life aboard a spaceship (including the manufacture of food by a replicator), exotic life forms discovered by the Enterprise (rocklike intelligences), cloning, life extension, and other biological issues. All this is done clearly and good-naturedly (the authors are obviously fans), and, most importantly, without dumbing down the subject. Entertaining and informative, worth reading even by non-Trekkies. (For another look at Star Trek, see Jeff Greenwald, Future Perfect, p. 712.)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-019154-6
Page count: 204pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998