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What Does a Martian Look Like?: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life [Hardcover]

Jack Cohen , Ian Stewart
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 25 2002
"A fascinating and useful handbook to both the science and science fiction of extraterrestrial life. Cohen and Stewart are amusing, opinionated, and expert guides. I found it a terrific and informative piece of work-nothing else like it!"
-Greg Bear
"I loved it."
-Larry Niven
"Ever wonder about what aliens could be like? The world authority is Jack Cohen, a professional biologist who has thought long and hard about the vast realm of possibilities. This is an engaging, swiftly moving study of alien biology, a subject with bounds and constraints these authors plumb with verve and intelligence."
-Gregory Benford
"A celebration of life off Earth. A hearteningly optimistic book, giving a much-needed antidote to the pessimism of astrobiologists who maintain that we are alone in the universe-a stance based on a very narrow view of what could constitute life. A triumph of speculative nonfiction."
-Dougal Dixon, author of
After Man: A Zoology of the Future

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Product Description

Review

"A fascinating and useful handbook to both the science and science fiction of extraterrestrial life. Cohen and Stewart are amusing, opinionated, and expert guides. I found it a terrific and informative piece of work ? nothing else like it!? (Greg Bear)

"I loved it." (Larry Niven)

"Ever wonder about what aliens could be like? The world authority is Jack Cohen, a professional biologist who has thought long and hard about the vast realm of possibilities. This is an engaging, swiftly moving study of alien biology, a subject with bounds and constraints these authors plumb with verve and intelligence." (Gregory Benford)

"A celebration of life off Earth. A hearteningly optimistic book, giving a much-needed antidote to the pessimism of astrobiologists who maintain thatwe are alone in the universe ? a stance based on a very narrow view of what could constitute life. A triumph of speculative non-fiction." (Dougal Dixon, author of After Man: A Zoology of the Future)

From the Publisher

"A fascinating and useful handbook to both the science and science fiction of extraterrestrial life. Cohen and Stewart are amusing, opinionated, and expert guides. I found it a terrific and informative piece of work – nothing else like it!’ (Greg Bear)

"I loved it." (Larry Niven)

"Ever wonder about what aliens could be like? The world authority is Jack Cohen, a professional biologist who has thought long and hard about the vast realm of possibilities. This is an engaging, swiftly moving study of alien biology, a subject with bounds and constraints these authors plumb with verve and intelligence." (Gregory Benford)

"A celebration of life off Earth. A hearteningly optimistic book, giving a much-needed antidote to the pessimism of astrobiologists who maintain that we are alone in the universe – a stance based on a very narrow view of what could constitute life. A triumph of speculative non-fiction." (Dougal Dixon, author of After Man: A Zoology of the Future)


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
CAIN AND ABEL have walked and drifted in many strange places - 'walked' was not appropriate for many of them. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This will sell many titles! Jan. 6 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Apart from being mis-titled for North American readers, this is a mind-expanding view of "what's out there" - or might be. Released as "Evolving the Alien" in the UK, this book examines numerous and too often poorly considered suggestions about how life might evolve in other places.
Note "places," since Cohen and Stewart don't limit their conjectures to planets alone. Noting the impact of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" as a starting point for how we think about life elsewhere, Cohen and Stewart divide the book between evidence from hard science and the conjectures of "SF" [speculative fiction] authors. Including themselves. In their view, both exobiologists and novelists have been remiss in considering how alien life might evolve. They do a comprehensive job, presented with the kind of wit expected of collaborators of Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame.
Recognizing they are entering a relatively unexplored area, they abandon old terms like "astrobiology" or "extraterrestrial life" to suggest a new, all encompassing term - xenobiology. They condemn outright the narrow views expressed by some scientists, notably Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee in "Rare Earth." Cohen and Stewart argue that limiting life to DNA-based forms is far too restrictive. Different environments are capable of producing life in ways "we can't even imagine." Magnetic fields in suns or neutron stars, silicon-based chemistry, unusual energy uses are all part of the panorama nature has in its recipes in making life start. Our localized experience is too limited, they argue, and we should look further with more open minds.
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4.0 out of 5 stars It Isn't Easy Bein' Green Dec 15 2002
Format:Hardcover
Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart are interesting thinkers and writers in the guise of Jack&Ian, and What Does A Martian Look Like? is a very good, thought provoking read. This book takes an optomistic view of the possibilities of life and intelligence elsewhere in the universe and proposes a broad xenoscience as an antidote to what Jack&Ian see as the narrow view of astrobiology. Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee comes in for the most criticism [not for the writing, but for the opinions], being one of the most popular books on astrobiology in the last few years. Stewart and Cohen do their best when they discuss their ideas in the context of science fiction stories and hit bottom when their criticisms of mainstream astrobiology begin to sound petty. Fans of mainstream SF should be prepared for the dressing down of their favorite aliens. If it'll hurt your feelings to find out that aliens probably won't look humanoid, do not read this book. Although not a perfect book, What Does A Martin Look Like? [especially if paired with the book Rare Earth] will take the reader's thinking to the far corners of the universe.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great; Schmidt's book is better Oct. 30 2002
Format:Hardcover
Setting aside that the authors take an unfair swipe at the Waldahudin from my Hugo Award-nominated STARPLEX as being too like Earthly fauna (getting their facts wrong while doing so, and not discussing the very alien Darmats [dark-matter aliens] and Ibs [gestalt organisms] from that novel), this is still a pretty good book, although the dogmatic tone gets tiresome awfully fast. In a way, Stewart and Cohen should be praised for using so many examples from science fiction, but, at the same time, they give very short shrift to the notion that some SF writers might be using aliens for literary/metaphoric purposes, rather than just as high-school-biology-class exercises in designing lifeforms. Stanley Schmidt's ALIENS AND ALIEN SOCIETIES is a better book (even if Stewart and Cohen's acknowledgement of its existence seems mostly limited to a petty critique of its cover art, incidentally -- although they don't mention this -- by Hugo Award-winner Bob Eggleton).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This will sell many titles! Jan. 6 2003
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Apart from being mis-titled for North American readers, this is a mind-expanding view of "what's out there" - or might be. Released as "Evolving the Alien" in the UK, this book examines numerous and too often poorly considered suggestions about how life might evolve in other places.
Note "places," since Cohen and Stewart don't limit their conjectures to planets alone. Noting the impact of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" as a starting point for how we think about life elsewhere, Cohen and Stewart divide the book between evidence from hard science and the conjectures of "SF" [speculative fiction] authors. Including themselves. In their view, both exobiologists and novelists have been remiss in considering how alien life might evolve. They do a comprehensive job, presented with the kind of wit expected of collaborators of Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame.
Recognizing they are entering a relatively unexplored area, they abandon old terms like "astrobiology" or "extraterrestrial life" to suggest a new, all encompassing term - xenobiology. They condemn outright the narrow views expressed by some scientists, notably Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee in "Rare Earth." Cohen and Stewart argue that limiting life to DNA-based forms is far too restrictive. Different environments are capable of producing life in ways "we can't even imagine." Magnetic fields in suns or neutron stars, silicon-based chemistry, unusual energy uses are all part of the panorama nature has in its recipes in making life start. Our localized experience is too limited, they argue, and we should look further with more open minds.
Those who have attempted a more open view have traditionally been limited to writers of speculative fiction. Cohen and Stewart sprinkle the text with examples of this genre, accompanied by an analysis of what is right or wrong with the ET life presented. "Science fiction" might just as easily be labelled "fictional science" in the eyes of these authors. Too little attention has been given to environmental complexity by the legions of writers seeking to entertain readers with simple plots and much action. Among that phalanx, however, there are some writers who strive to bring reality to the fictional worlds they create. Jack Cohen has been called into the story-building process as a consultant by several authors. The result, once the dust had settled, was SF with a reality check. The authors give accounts of some of
these efforts and the resulting books should be sought out and compared to those less favoured by the authors of this book.
Jack&Ian [as they style themselves] have provided a rich trove of ideas for nearly everyone. Scientists can gain fresh areas of research to consider, while fiction readers may find a whole new list of interesting readings. The book isn't footnoted, but there is a divided bibliography of "Popular Xenoscience Reading" and "Technical Xenoscience Reading" at the end. If you fail to find new concepts to consider here, you haven't tried.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Isn't Easy Bein' Green Dec 14 2002
By Bruce Crocker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart are interesting thinkers and writers in the guise of Jack&Ian, and What Does A Martian Look Like? is a very good, thought provoking read. This book takes an optomistic view of the possibilities of life and intelligence elsewhere in the universe and proposes a broad xenoscience as an antidote to what Jack&Ian see as the narrow view of astrobiology. Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee comes in for the most criticism [not for the writing, but for the opinions], being one of the most popular books on astrobiology in the last few years. Stewart and Cohen do their best when they discuss their ideas in the context of science fiction stories and hit bottom when their criticisms of mainstream astrobiology begin to sound petty. Fans of mainstream SF should be prepared for the dressing down of their favorite aliens. If it'll hurt your feelings to find out that aliens probably won't look humanoid, do not read this book. Although not a perfect book, What Does A Martin Look Like? [especially if paired with the book Rare Earth] will take the reader's thinking to the far corners of the universe.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent treatment of the subject Aug. 13 2009
By K. Bunker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, and one of the more "liberal" treatments of the subject. The authors themselves contrast their views with more conservative "exobiologists" such as the authors of Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. Rather than seeing the possibility of only Earth-like life in Earth-like environments on Earth-like planets, their speculations range into life based on nuclear (rather than chemical) interactions, life based on magnetic vortices, and much more. Even if one were to "rerun" the development of life on Earth, they convincingly argue, random variations within the wealth of possibilities would result in life very different from what we now have around us.

This is a serious, carefully thought out book -- perhaps more serious than the title suggests. A lot of hard science, as well as open-minded speculation, is brought to bear on the subject. But the book is well written, and an engaging, easy read. I found some nits to pick, but overall I felt it deserves much more popularity and a higher rating among Amazon reviewers than it currently has .
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening but Lacking Aug. 10 2007
By Hawaiian Shirts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed this book thoroughly, but I can't say that it was quite what I expected to find.

Cohen and Stewart have clearly done their research on concepts such as DNA and evolution on earth. Be prepared for an exhaustive dissertation on these scientific subjects.

The book was very informative. I never considered some of the possibilities for alien life that were presented here. In fact, with the reasoning the authors have used and explained, I find this to be the most sensible view of potential alien life I have yet encountered. There are descriptions of characteristics some alien life (including intelligent alien life) might have and environments in which they might live that provide an optimistic view of the universe while simultaneously reining in the reader's excitement by clarifying the logistical problems (time, distance, great differences between species, etc.) that would prevent humanity from even recognizing these life forms, let alone contacting them. Still, I could think of few factors Cohen and Stewart may have overlooked, and they do not completely deny the possibility of contact, given the right circumstances. It all made sense, even if it was a little thick.

Though informative and entertaining, this seemed to me to be an exercise in self-aggrandizement. The authors have bones to pick, particularly with Media Sci-Fi, Creationists, and the authors of Rare Earth. Their arguments are strong, but at times seemed petty and could easily have been shortened. They repeatedly make reference to other books they have written (or plan to write), and, though this is not done to extremes, there is a sense that the authors believe all readers interested in this subject should read all of their work because theirs is the only credibly authoritative voice. And they seem to have a few "pet" explanations and comparisons, which they use repeatedly throughout the book to the point that, once, I wondered if I had read that page already.

My only disappointment with the book was it's lack of examples of what a martian (or other alien) might look like, which is what the title suggested. Some examples were given, but I found myself wanting more. For the SF writers out there, this may be a good option to generate ideas, but do not expect to just pluck an alien race out of this book and use it in your own. The authors make reference to many SF books they found enlightening (I have created a reading list for myself from this book) and offer their interpretations of the relative probabilities and improbabilities inherent in several of them. Be prepared to have some of your favorite books closely scrutinized.

The bottom line is that I enjoyed the book. I think it needed a few more examples and a couple more rounds with an editor to trim the excess. Otherwise, it was a good read, and it will be staying on my shelf for reference.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good information with lots of filler. April 13 2005
By CT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a very thorough look at what true aliens may be like. It is critical the ridiculous SciFi movie and TV aliens, and even many of the aliens in literature. They discuss everything from alien genetics to alien environment and how it will affect alien biology and thinking, to alien societies. In short, aliens will be beyond anything we can comprehend, both in mind and body.

Cohen and Stewart have written a thoughtful book on the subject, perhaps one of the best out there. However, they tend to go off on tangents. They definitely have an axe to grind with a number of people, specifically creationists and the authors of Rare Earth. I'm not a creationist by any means, but arguing against them is rather pointless. If I wrote an atlas, I wouldn't devote any time debunking the flat-earthers. First, it's an atlas and there's no place for that sort of thing. Second, all of the evidence is against the flat-earthers, so why bother? Yet, Cohen and Stewart have devoted almost an entire chapter to debunking creationists, including a childish comment about how God is silly because of how he designed our throats. Such an argument is as inane as any a creationist might give debunking evolution.

In regards to the book Rare Earth, they definitely do a hatchet job, but they are generally fair. There are a number of other books, authors, and scientists they are very critical of, but, again, they are fair about it. They also spend time railing on UFO believers. They are harsh, but given the nature of the book (and the silliness of alien greys looking like us with only superficial differences), it is appropriate. Ditto that on Star Trek, Star Wars, and other media based SciFi. They blame sources such as these for creating a false idea of what alien contact may be like. And while they also rail against a few SF authors, they also praise a few for their vision.

This is a worthwhile book if you don't mind wading through the rhetoric and tangents (particularly in the beginning). Overall, it is highly informative, but it could have been much shorter.
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