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To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek [Hardcover]

Athena Andreadis
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31 1998
How likely are silicon-based life forms such as the Horta?
  Can the Holodoc really wield a laser scalpel?
Is a universal translator possible?
For thirty years, the Star Trek series, movies, and books have speculated as much about the nature and meaning of life as they have about inorganic concepts such as warp speed, time travel, and black holes. In fact, the original mission of the starship Enterprise was to seek out new life and new civilizations in its quest to answer the most tantalizing question of all time: Are we alone in the universe?

If Star Trek has been about the search for life, To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek is about understanding these discoveries as we encounter them with the crews of the Enterprise, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine. In this book, Harvard biologist Athena Andreadis takes a lively, thought-provoking look at Star Trek's approach to the science of human, humanoid, and other life forms, exploring what biological principles are probable or possible on the original show and the three series and nine movies that have followed.

This engaging, deeply informative book makes everyone an armchair expert on the difference between science and science fiction on Star Trek, with keen observations into the series' complex worlds of physiology, psychology, and sociology.  For example, the free interbreeding of humanoids makes for great plots, but a host of biological problems: Vulcans bleed green, Klingons purple, and humans red, which means none of them share the same oxygen carrier in the bloodstream (which means no hybrid, and thus no Spock). A shape-shifter with a liquid base, like Security Chief Odo, could never fall in love with a "solid" like Major Kira Nerys--it is the equivalent to a human loving a turnip. Androids like Data are possible in our future, though the creation of substitute bodies in the holodeck is pure fantasy. The joined Trills are a curious blend of symbiosis and parasitism, raising interesting questions as to how the two beings share consciousness.

This absorbing, illuminating book, rich in scientific detail and full of fascinating references to literature, film, and television, pays tribute to a show that has profoundly shaped the way we understand and view science.

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From Library Journal

Harvard neurologist Andreadis validates here what some might describe as misspent youth: an analysis of the life science of the various Star TrekR television series and films. For Trekkers, this book is nirvana. For the rest of us, it is surprisingly interesting, opinionated, and funny. From disquisitions on artificial limbs to a timely discussion on cloning, readers will learn a lot more biology than they may suspect is possible. Not a scholarly tome, this screams out "Birthday Gift!" for dedicated sf fans. For popular science collections. [HarperCollins is issuing Robert Jenkins's Life Signs: The Biology of Star Trek, in June.AEd.]AMark L. Shelton, Univ. of Massachusetts Medical Ctr., Worceste.
-AMark L. Shelton, Univ. of Massachusetts Medical Ctr., Worcester
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A Harvard biologist explains the real science behind the popular sci-fi TV show. With its huge cast of alien life-forms (some with powers and senses no human can match), Star Trek would appear to flout the most basic characteristics of life as we know it. But, as Andreadis points out, no matter how exotic the cast, certain Earth-based assumptions remain valid. Silicon may be able to substitute for carbon on some distant planet, but organisms based on it will be subject to gravity and electromagnetism, as well as having some form of genetic code to permit continuity of form and function as the beings reproduce. Sensory organs will still be necessary to receive information from the environment. In addition, the Trek universe is populated by a variety of machine intelligences ranging from the android Lt. Commander Data to sentient computer viruses. Andreadis uses these various fictional examples (and others drawn from such films as Bladerunner and print science fiction) to explain the current state of biological knowledge. This takes her into subjects ranging from the nature of immortality or telepathy to the problems of universal translating machinesall of which throw considerable light on the dark corners of biology. She notes the general sameness and blandness of the various cultures encountered by the Enterprise and its crewgenerally humanoid, with far less social variation than a five-year voyage on Earth would be likely to uncoverbut recognizes that by Hollywood standards, this is adventurous stuff. And while she pokes fun at other Hollywood conventions, such as the ``Snugglability Quotient''alien Good Guys tend to be cute and fuzzy while Bad Guys look like refugees from the Black Lagoonher affection for the material is always clear. And she deftly maintains the effective blend of entertainment and instruction that characterized The Physics of Star Trek (not reviewed). An entertaining book that deserves an audience well beyond sci-fi fandom. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Weak on biology but full of political correctness June 10 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The book itself should be divided into two books. One about biology which is pretty simple stuff and the other a study of the political correctness of star trek.
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5.0 out of 5 stars good for Trekkies, Trekkers, and Trek-dabblers March 28 2002
Format:Paperback
I read this because of a biology project I was doing for school--a fun project. My professor recommended this book, and I think he's the best because this book really dealt with all that I was looking for.
Now, don't get scared by the title--you really don't need to have watched every Star Trek episode and series spin-off in order to have an understanding of what the author is talking about. However, being an avid trekker myself, I enjoyed her side-comments and Trek references immensely, because it just showed all the much more how much she enjoyed the subject amtter herself.
This book investigates the Star Trek universe. I've heard that THE PHYSICS OF STAR TREK started this "debunk the Trek" era, but I haven't yet read it, so I couldn't say. Anyway, Dr. Andreadis does a nice job of explaining the Trek reality, then explaining our scientific reality. She uses small words, and explains the big ones. Learn about interspecies reproduction, evolution--you name it, she's covered it.
This book was done not long ago, so it covers the happenings up until Voyager and Star Trek: First Contact. Not too bad, considering Enterprise should be covering all "old" organisms, anyway.
This was really a nice read, and I would have picked it up even had I not had to do a seminar on the biological aspects of Star Trek.
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Format:Paperback
this is a short but very rewarding read. the author, a recognized authority in her field, is a trekkie and her love of star trek comes through. that having been said, ms. andreadis's exploration of star trek biology via our present understanding of science is enlightening (maybe i don't get out as much as i should, but i haven't learned as much about science since i read gary zukav's "the dancing wu li masters"). ms. andreadis introduces us to what i'd call speculative biology and in a legitimate scientific manner dissects the "neat stuff" such as the transporter, parasites and symbionts, the universal translator (this one's GREAT!), and what the Federation really might be like. the book has no difficult vocabulary to chew through and i'd recommend it without qualification.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lively and opinionated Feb. 15 2001
Format:Paperback
This is a lively and opinionated entry in the "fill-in-the-blank of Star Trek" series and therefore one of the best, certainly up there with Physics and parsecs beyond Computers.
Andreadis brings a strong scientific and biological background as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise in all its manifestations to bear throughout. She celebrates the more reasonable ideas shown, like silicon-based life forms. But she also deconstructs the silly, unscientific ones and showing just why they're silly and unscientific. (This includes such franchise mainstays as the holodeck, the universal translator, shape-shifters, and interspecies fertility.)
Those wanting a more objective approach and annoyed by the occasional interjection of feminist and leftist commentary might find this book annoying. However, I enjoyed the fresh approach, the clever references, and the very individual and personal viewpoint. It's well worth reading both for Trekkies and for those wanting a different approach to biology.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great vehicle to teach science fact! Aug. 3 2000
Format:Paperback
All right, we all acknowledge that, "realistic" or not, most of us have been influenced by the "Star Trek" phenomenon. In this volume, an Ivy League neurology professor with a doctorate in molecular biology (WHAT biology?) admits it too. Other, physicists, psychologists, you name it, admit the same. But this is from a biological perspective.
I first heard of this book from a part of it which was published in "Astronomy" magazine. In that part, the author pointed out that the "extraterrestrial" environments in Star Trek always seem to be, what a surprise, like Southern California. The article led me to the book.
For those of us who learned some "science" in our teens particularly from TOS (The Original Series), it is helpful to distinguish between the pure fantasy of Star Trek and what reality would present. Sure, everyone questions the "warp speed" concept," from Albert Einstein and Arthur C. Clarke (the latter in the intro to his book "Songs of Distant Earth"); and Carl Sagan described that a human mating with a Vulcan ala Mr. Spock would be less biologically likely than, say, a human mating with a kumquat. Dr. Andreadis describes WHY that mating is not likely to be successful. Then there's the issues of ESP/empathy, holographic doctors, and on and on. Indeed, many of the facts Dr. Andreadis cites are pretty much common sense but things we don't think about much. Such details are important to know, yet, with a person like the author describing them, they do not require us to have an in-depth knowledge of biochemistry.
The author used the text also to make some political and social comments with most or all of which I sympathize. But that's part of science too--integrity, fact vs.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Buy LIFE SIGNS instead
The book is mean spirited and wrong headed. There were some glaring errors in this book that could have been avoided if it was proofread by a trekker or two. Read more
Published on Dec 1 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book!
Buy this book and then buy it again and then again! Give it to every Trekker, Trekkie, or Star Trek fan you know. Read more
Published on Nov. 23 1999 by Mary Jo Rabe
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring romp through the genre of science fiction/fact
There is little I can offer here that has not been said already. I am an avid Star Trek fan and a science voyeur and this project of Dr. Andreadis was well worth the read. Read more
Published on Nov. 3 1999 by Grant Spencer (grant.spencer@westgroup.com)
5.0 out of 5 stars Popular science evolves!
This book has everything and it has it in abundance. I often "recycle" my books by taking them to the local used book store so that others will enjoy them. Read more
Published on Nov. 1 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb...a Tour de Force
I guess I'm a little late to the scene, given that there are currently some 23 reviews posted. I find myself disappointed with most of them. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Star Trek is a religion...
...welcome to the freethought sector.
This book doesn't praise Star Trek above anything else. As far as the biology and pseudoscience in Star Trek is concerned, this book is... Read more
Published on Sept. 8 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Far better testimony to Trekdom than some commentators here
I read this book and loved it; despite Dr. Andreadis's exposure of the scientific flaws in Star Trek, she obviously has a great respect and affection for the series. Read more
Published on Sept. 8 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is mistitled, and not worth the price
This book is a disappointment, primarily because it is mistitled. It's not the serious and considered analysis and discussion of the biological plausibility and possibility of the... Read more
Published on Aug. 29 1999
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