A few months ago, my boss at Universe Today encouraged me to take on a new writing project. For months now, I’ve been writing a series about the Fermi Paradox. For those who are not familiar, this paradox takes its name from Enrico Fermi, the Italian-American physicist who was instrumental in the development of the atomic bomb and the first nuclear reactor.
As legend has it, it was 1950 and Fermi was having lunch with some colleagues at the Los Alamos Research Laboratory. The conversation soon turned to the subject of UFOs, alleged sightings and abductions, and all the alien hysteria that was sweeping America at the time. Eventually, Fermi was said to have finally asked, “Where is Everybody?”
To his colleagues, and in the context of their conversation, the question’s meaning ran deep. The Universe, the sum total of all matter, energy, and existence is immeasurably vast, but also incredibly quiet. There are an estimated two trillion galaxies out there, each of which has hundreds of billions or even trillions of stars each.
Based on recent exoplanet surveys, astronomers estimate that there could be 100 to 400 billion planets in our galaxy! Of these, it is estimated that up to 6 billion of these worlds could be similar to Earth in terms of size, mass, and composition (silicate rock and metals). On top of all that, there’s the matter of time.
Life on Earth began roughly four billion years ago and humanity has only been around for the last 200,000 of them. Meanwhile, the Universe has been around for 13.8 billion years and the first galaxies and planets existed as early as 800 million years after the Big Bang (13 billion years ago.)
In summary, the ingredients for life are everywhere and they are in abundance! What’s more, other star systems and their planets have had a significant head start on Earth, so life has had no shortage of time to emerge and evolve considerably. And yet, everywhere we look in the cosmos, we encounter the “Great Silence.” So as Fermi famously asked:
“Where is everybody?”
Not that long ago, my boss recommended that I take these articles and turn them into a book. And so I began laying the groundwork for it. I decided what I wanted to talk about, how I wanted to structure it, and what I wanted to avoid (mostly based on what’s already been done.) In the past few weeks, what will eventually be the full volume has been taking shape!
Of course, things have been complicated a little by the fact that the article series is not yet finished. I got four (maybe five) more articles to go, and I’m almost positive I’ll feel the need to add more with time. But that’s what happens when you engage in a passion project or labor of love. You find yourself endlessly tweaking because you’re afraid it’s not perfect yet!
What is also very exciting is the fact that the Fermi Series has allowed me to connect with some true luminaries. These include former NASA scientist and SF author David Brin, economics professor and creator of the “Great Filter Hypothesis” Robin Hanson, and famed futurist and creator of the “Transcendence Hypothesis” John Smart, all of whom I hope will stick around to lend some quotes to the book!
I’m thinking something along the lines of “Where Are All the Aliens: the Fermi Paradox for Beginners.” To be clear, the title is not some cheap attempt to emulate the whole “for Dummies” franchise. This book will essentially be a guide to a very serious subject, one that embraces the history of science, astrophysics, astrobiology, and cosmology.
And the whole thing is written by a guy who has no formal training in three out of those four. That’s always been my thing as a science writer and communicator. I’m not an expert, I’m an enthusiast. I love the topic and research it thoroughly so that I can communicate it to other people who are also not experts, but who want to understand it and think its pretty cool!
So that will be my goal with this upcoming book. I can’t give a timeline on it, but I can say that it will probably be finished by the end of 2021. The framework has already been created, much of the content is already done, but it will need some serious reworking (converting articles to a chapter format) before it can be turned over to a publisher.
It would also be fair to say that this book is part of my Five Year Plan (2021-2025), more on that later. Now that the Formist Series is finished, I’ve got a number of other projects that I’m quite excited about. In addition to the Fermi Book, these include a book for an organization I recently joined (can’t talk about that just yet), and three standalone novels (or novellas, remains to be seen).
On top of that, I plan to get get started on a new trilogy that will explore the biggest SF question of all – “Where is Everybody?” Yep, it’s all coming back to that question for these days! Stay tuned, I got plenty more to say on all of that very soon.