RE: "Web-mediated SETI": Robert Bradbury Replies

Damien Broderick (
Wed, 03 Nov 1999 13:19:21 +0000

At 03:57 PM 2/11/99 -0600, Billy Brown wrote:

> you are assuming that no SI ever wants to do
>anything that would be especially visible to us. They don't disassemble
>solar systems to build things, they don't reorganize galaxies to optimize
>the mass distribution, and they certainly don't to any recognizable sort of
>cosmological engineering.

Emblematically (since They might be impelled by aesthetic whimsies as readily as by economic imperatives), here's a fragment from STUCK IN FAST FORWARD by me and Rory Barnes (HarperCollins Australia 1999):

Now the sun was definitely brighter. In the year 2,173,698,172 its furnace was burning harder, and according to Daddy it was more than ten percent hotter than in our own time. We stood just outside the lava face of the vacuole, shading our eyes. Early morning clouds were wispy and very white. We had run down our supplies of water, so we went looking for a stream, carrying a plastic bucket and a couple of bottles with screw-tops. Dad set up his solar panels to refresh our battery supplies, and listened across the radio spectrum. Nothing at all. The earth was empty again.

That night's gorgeous pastel sunset took at least an hour to fade, so Dad said we'd obviously floated a long way on the local continental plate, well down below the tropics again. But the wait for nightfall was worth it.

`Oh my god,' Dad said, as the first stars began to prick out in the heavens.

`Funny way to set up your satellites,' I muttered. I'd just finished off the last chocolate bar from our stores, and so I was feeling rather grumpy. I licked my lips regretfully, looking up at the pattern emerging overhead. `They must have built more of those orbital rings and stuck them everywhere. You'd think they'd bang into each other.'

`Not satellites, darling. Those are stars,' Daddy said, and came and sat down beside me on a shelf of cooling rock, putting his arm around me tightly. `That's what they've done to the stars.'

I didn't understand, and then I did, and my heart jumped and my chocolate-lined stomach did a little terrified spasm.

The sky was a vast curving criss-cross grid of points of hard light, like atoms seen from inside a crystal.

All my life, the stars had been scattered across the heavens pretty much at random, except for the blurry band of the Milky Way. Oh, you could pick out the odd bright constellation - the Southern Cross, with its Pointers, Orion and its Belt - but I'd always known that they were just a kind of game or trick the mind played on itself. Actually, the stars that seemed to make up a cross or a belt were usually many hundreds of light years apart, in the depths of space. It was only from earth that they formed the patterns we chose to call constellations.

Not this lot. Oh, no.

Someone had actually revised the sky. Somebody had come in and moved the stars around. Some Mind had reached out and flicked the billions of burnings suns of the Milky Way as if they were some kid's marbles.

`A moiré pattern,' Dad mused.

`A what?' I looked at the changed universe with deep horror, but also with a wild wonderment. What kinds of beings could do something like this? Fi and I were raised with no religion, but this kind of caper made you think of the myths and legends of Greece and Rome, gods who built the sky and could change it with the jab of a finger. But those old-fashioned gods were stuck on a flat earth under a sky where the sun was thought to spin about the world, not the other way around. Those old story-tellers had no idea how far away the stars were, or how big suns are.

`It's a spherical grid,' Dad was saying in a frail voice, `all the stars have been moved to locations at regular intervals on a series of concentric spheres,' but I hardly heard a word. I just looked and looked, and you could see places where the spots of brilliance ran together, which was just where the lanes of light overlapped in the endless dark deeps of galactic space. The Milky Way itself was gone, its billions of stars relocated into the grand crazy rational design. But you could pick out the core of the galaxy, because that was the brighter place that the endless onion skins of stars wrapped themselves around.

`Wow,' I said. `Oh, wow.'

Damien Broderick