Another Day, Another Blog

August 17, 2007

The Cloud

Filed under: books, science fiction — iamza @ 10:46 am

The Cloud, by Ray Hammond: The search for extraterrestrial life is finally over, or so everyone thinks when lunar-based Setiville scientists discover a signal being broadcast from the constellation Aquarius, almost fifteen light years from Earth. A return message is sent even as work begins on decrypting the alien transmission. Sadly, the decryption proves more challenging than initially thought, and thirty years pass with no significant progress being made. Then, just as Earth readies itself for a second message from Aquarius, the alien transmissions stop, and a fast-moving nebulous cloud is spotted on the fringes of the solar system. Suddenly, the idea of being alone in the galaxy starts to look more appealing…

On the whole, not a bad read. The plot ticks over nicely, and if the characters aren’t quite enough to keep one engaged, at least the story itself is reasonably entertaining.

As with so many other science fiction novels, the underlying message seems to be that, as a species, we ought to appreciate mother Earth more. Technology is all well and good, but we should limit our advances because we don’t really know what we’re messing with. And we ought to focus all our energy on Earthbound activities because space is too big and too alien and too wasteful of resources to be worth the effort. I’m not sure that I, personally, agree with any of these assessments.

There are also other bits and pieces that trouble me about the story. For one thing, the Cloud was designed to automatically seek out any and all civilizations who have developed to the extent that they are capable of generating radio waves. Apparently, this is a fundamental step on the path to developing a program of spaceflight. Earth survives because they play dead by turning off all the radios. What is to stop any other advanced civilization from doing the same? How is the Cloud able to regenerate itself? Matter has to come from somewhere, so the idea of a self-regenerating space-cloud is a little hard to swallow. Is the Cloud alone? If not, it seems terribly convenient that it happened to stumble across Earth just fifty or sixty years after SETI started searching in earnest.

If anything, for me, the Cloud reinforces the need for a viable space program. If there are multiple planets populated by human beings, we have that much less of a chance of becoming extinct. Not to be specist, or anything, but I kind of like the idea of human beings spreading amongst the stars like a virus. If nothing else, it’s sort of a cosmic, “Screw you!” to all the naysayers and doom-mongers.

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