Five Times I Got Worried About Fermi’s Paradox While Writing My Book

For the last couple of months I have been heavily plugging the first in my new series of novellas, Fermi’s Progress (you can buy it here!) but I’ve been working on it far longer than that. Dyson’s Fear and it’s three as-yet-unannounced sequels have been a labour of love over the last five years, a period of time where I think we can all agree a lot of shit has gone down.

I wrote the stories of Fermi’s Progress wanting to talk about a lot of different things, not all of which are immediately apparent in Dyson’s Fear, but unsurprisingly a great big honking theme throughout the stories is Fermi’s Paradox. The great big question “Where are all the aliens”? was posed by one of the fathers of the nuclear bomb, so he may have answered his own question.

From its title onwards, there’s quite a few times in Fermi’s Progress where, despite all the aliens, I’m thinking about what it means to be alone in the universe, what that tells us about the universe, and what it tells us about ourselves.

You know what would really fuck that up?

If we found some aliens, that’s what.

So for the last five years I’ve been getting extremely nervous whenever ET has threatened to phone home. Here are some of the more nerve-wracking news stories I’ve read while Fermi’s Progress was still a WIP.


Tabby's Star

At the very beginning it looked like reality might beat me to the punch with the observation of “Tabby’s Star”, a star that was flickering oddly in a way that some people suggested might be indicative of a Dyson Sphere.

This had me nervous because not only was I writing about Fermi’s paradox, but I was writing about Fermi’s paradox in a story with a Dyson Sphere. Fortunately, it turned out to most likely be a lot of dust.


Still, at least Tabby’s Star had the virtue of being over a thousand light years away. There was no danger of it paying us a visit. Oumuamua, on the other hand, decided to do a drive-by. A great big cigar-shaped lump of weirdness, it was also the first object we’ve ever detected entering our solar system from beyond.

A sweep for radio signals didn’t find anyone home, but this wasn’t long after Trump was elected so they can be forgiven for winding up the windows and putting the foot down on the accelerator.

Mysterious Signals

Of course, if we do actually run into intelligent alien life, it most likely won’t be from one of their spaceships, or even from spotting their DIY megastructure efforts. First contact will probably come in the form of a radio signal hundreds, thousands or billions of years old. We received a few of these over the course my writing Fermi’s Progress, such as this collection of six mysterious bursts originating 1.5 billion light years away.

Far more worrying, for me, is this narrow beam signal from Proxima Centauri, our next door neighbour, cosmically speaking, which one (anonymous) astronomer has called “the first serious candidate since the ‘Wow! signal’”. So far, however, natural causes haven’t been ruled out for this one.


The Coming of the Monoliths

As a deadly pandemic sweeps the globe, mysterious silver monoliths materialise at locations around the world. That’s basically a Doctor Who plot. No, it’s old school John Wyndham. How are serious science fiction writers supposed to work when reality is producing shit like that?

The first was found in a national park in Utah but soon they were showing up in Milwaukee, LiverpoolSheffield, the world’s oldest temple in Turkey where it was accompanied by armed guards. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of Congo people have apparently taken against the visitors, setting their monolith on fire. New York, meanwhile, put on an art exhibition dedicated to them.

Practical joke? Art project? Prelude to an invasion? We’ll find out when it’s already too late.

Life on Mars?

Last but not least, we’ve been doing our own bit of alien visitation this month as the Perseverance rover lands on Mars. It’s already sent us some incredible holiday snaps, but a big part of its mission is also to search for evidence that Mars may once have had life. If it succeeds, it will change our very idea of our place in the universe, marking possibly the greatest scientific discovery ever made, and kind of undermining the central theme of my book.

So please, buy it now while it’s still relevant.