See Me On Television This Tuesday

And not as part of America’s Most Wanted! This time!

Rather, I will be on Alien Encounters, a two-part show whose first part is airing in the US on Tuesday at 10pm on the Science Channel. Here’s a description of the show:

In two dramatic hours, Alien Encounters lays out a plausible hypothetical scenario for a first contact event. What would really happen if we got a message from space? How will humans react when we learn a spacecraft is on its way to Earth? Will humans learn from aliens, or become colonial subjects?

Some of the world’s leading astrophysicists, astrobiologists, sci-fi writers and and futurists help unravel the scientific, cultural and psychological impact of this world-changing global event.

Alien Encounters is made in cooperation with SETI Institute (the highly respected organization devoted to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which was founded in the early 1960s by renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

I’m part of a group of interviewees which includes Nick Sagan, Seth Shostak, Jill Tarter and Neil Degrasse Tyson. I’m on hand to contribute the science fiction writer point of view regarding alien encounters. Part of my gig was answering questions along the lines of “So, what do you see happening if [insert highly speculative event] happens?” Because, you know. That’s what I do for a living.

To answer anticipated questions, yes, this was one of my secret projects I could not tell you about, no, I don’t know when/where/if it will be screened in countries outside of the United States, and no, I have no idea just how much I will be featured in the actual show. Since they have several experts on hand, I expect my overall face time may be relatively small, and (because I tried to be pithy and amusing) that I may be used primarily for comedy relief. I have reason to believe much of my stuff will be in the second hour, which will air next week. I’ll be watching it for the first time along with the rest of you, so we’ll see.

In any event: Tuesday! 10pm! Eastern! Now you know what you’re doing at that time.

52 Comments on “See Me On Television This Tuesday”

  1. Woohoo! The guys on Stuff You Should Know mentioned this show, but only mentioned Nick Sagan when talking about it. We’ll definitely be checking this out (Science Channel has become one of our favorites, partially for the HD nature shows, and partially because HD episodes of Firefly with intros by Michio Kaku are just awesome).

  2. Merus – it would only be on History if those aliens were anchient.

    I’m outside the US so I won’t be seeing this. Hopefully it makes it up here to the Space channel sometime.

  3. I love aliens and TV! I should watch that. I bet your answers are totally the best, with all the time you spend thinking about spacefolk.

  4. I am sooooooo relieved.

    First quick glance had me thinking this was another History/Syfy UFO/ancient astronaut type show. I shuddered at you being involved in that. I’m VERY pleasantly surprised at the true show concept, and super pleased at who you’ll get to share the screen with.
    Congratulations! I must make sure to check this out!

  5. Any idea if this will ever be available in an alternative format, for those of us who don’t own a television?

  6. When you said “Alien Encounters” I thought it was going to be another History Channel-like “Ancient Aliens” show with that “Ancient Alien” “Expert” guy with the haircut that looks like Londo’s from “Babylon 5”.

    Just glad you’re focusing on potential alien encounters and not trying to claim the “Greys” gave us Civilization.

  7. K.W, Ramsey: It would only be on the History Channel if the Aliens were Nazis & dropped by to visit Adolph in the bunker.

  8. Alright, I will definately at least be DVRing this. Because sometimes I don’t make it much past 10 when I have a really long day at work. Don’t snicker, I have to get up at six, and I’m a hell of lot closer to 40 than even 30 now.

  9. K. W. Ramsey: “it would only be on History if those aliens were ancient”

    Technically, any radio message that we receive from another star system is going to have been in transit for a long time – at least decades, and maybe longer than human civilization has existed. So it would be perfectly possible to twist this into something that the History Channel could use!

  10. Huh. TiVo says it’s “Alien Encounter”, not the plural. I was about to kick my computer when I accidentally figured that out. But now it’s set to record. GODS, I LOVE MODERN TECHNOLOGY.

  11. WOW! NIce company – you should be suitably proud.

    I used to long for first contact but as I have gotten older I am coming to the conclusion that space is just too large. There could be a million million civilizations out there right now, some much younger some much older than our own. Of those only a few would have gotten of home planet in any meaningful way (we have not) and even assuming the mastered space travel the amount of time needed to get here makes it pointless. Even radio communication would e problematic – if we sent a broadcast out & it takes 40 years to reach the nearest place and another 40 years for the reply most of the senders will be dead before there is an answer.

    For good or ill we are alone on this cinder and will have to make the best of it.

  12. Shows up as “Alien Encounter” in the Tivo listings, at least on the web. I came running over, prepared to be all pedantic and “that guy”, and whaddaya know, it’s Tivo that’s wrong.

    Looking forward to it, Scalzi.

  13. I always wonder why, if they are thinking about the CULTURAL impact of this imagined encounter that they don’t ask an anthropologist to talk about it. That is, after all, what we do, engage the Other…

  14. Sitting in my office, I just took my phone out of my pocket, tapped the screen a few times, and instructed my television at home to record both episodes.

    I’m totally living in the future!

  15. Congratulations! Sounds fun.

    Will have to put it on the DVR just in case I get distracted.

    Did they give you any cool questions?

    Mostly I keep hearing the same ones. How will mankind react to aliens? What will first contact be like? yada yada.

    For a mainstream audience, these might be new questions, but to scifi readers, its a bit old hat.

    I think if Aliens could contact us, they would, or at the very least, if they had TV transmitters, we’d pick them up or get some clue they exist.

    If we had skipped that whole crazy monster (dinosaur) era and gone straight into intelligent life, we’d have millions of years of technological advances to play with today. Assuming just one other planet in the universe had that happen, I assume millions of years of research would find an FTL drive if the capability of one existed. And they’d probably end up either visting us or at the very least give off some radio waves or something.

    That we dont have evidence for aliens on other worlds, says to me one of a few limited options:

    1) no alien life exists within a (insert rather large number) light years. If there is a bright spot to the universse we are at a point farthest from it.

    2) there is life on other planets “relatively” close by, but millions of years of research failed to find a faster-than-light drive, therefore, even if they’re close, we are going to be severely limited in our traveling capabilities.

    3) all other options generally require quite a large number of highly successful conspiracies over large periods of time, which can make for mildly entertaining fiction, but isn’t something I would wager on in real life.

  16. Dr. K: I always wonder why, if they are thinking about the CULTURAL impact of this imagined encounter that they don’t ask an anthropologist to talk about it.

    I think I did see a show like this a couple months ago that had an anthropologist on it. The bit I remember was something about how advanced Europeans came to the new world and wiped out the natives, and how that could be a playbook for aliens coming to earth.

    The thing is, anthropologists are going to be looking at a rather brief period of earth history. A few thousand years isn’t much when compared to potentially millions of years of advances that an alien race could have. It is possible that after millions of years of philosophical advancement that Earth never gets much better than it is now, but I would like to think that there is a possibility in the next millions of years that philosophers and spiritual leaders and such could find a worldview that humans would be drawn to that makes humanity more humane than our history has generally shown.

  17. Neil Degrasse Tyson? DAMN IT. Perhaps if you’re humble enough, you can counter some of the smug, a bit (he has been slightly better lately, I’ll give him that.) Here’s hoping that they left you with more than a few one-liners. Looking forward to it.

  18. Back in the dark ages of Earth’s history, I decided to return to college to take whatever courses hit my fancy. One of them was “Contact: Cultures of the Imagination” offered by anthropologist Jim Funaro, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the organization of the same name which puts on the conference which, according to their website “brings together some of the foremost international social and space scientists, science fiction writers and artists to exchange ideas, stimulate new perspectives and encourage serious, creative speculation about humanity’s future … onworld and offworld.”

    I have never forgotten that course. Totally unexpected to find it at a junior college and to get to know Dr. Funaro. It was a mind-expanding opportunity to experience what you did, John, for the TV show.

    I wonder if you got to meet Jim? Interestingly enough, he gets poor reviews on those college professor rating sites – I thought he was one of the best professors I had ever had. He wasn’t easy (hence the low ratings) but he has a brilliant mind and it was a privilege and joy to attend that class (as well as the others he offered that I took).

  19. iain – Good point. I was getting the History Channel confused with History Television up here in Canada.

    tim – Another good point. Any justification could be used for the sake of “good” television. :)

  20. DVR has been instructed to record both halves, just in case I am busy at the time. Besides, I may want to watch it more than once.

  21. I DVR everything, even if I’m not busy at the time, then I watch the commercials in fast forward unless I spot one worth watching. It’s also not unknown for us to pause live TV and then have a test of the emergency broadcast system force a channel change and cause us to lose what is in the buffer.

  22. I just logged into my AT&T U-verse control panel from my iPhone and set it to record this episode so that I can watch it over spring break.

    I love the future.

  23. I suspect that much of the first show is about the Fermi paradox and about the probability that even if we aren’t visited we at least hear from another civilization.

    Consider the exponential growth of human development. If another similar species had the ability to visit another habitable star system, settle it, develop it, mine its resources and then build more ships to repeat the process, how long would it take to cover the galaxy in strip malls? I’ve seen estimates that are only a couple times the duration of human recorded civilization

    Seeing as this hasn’t happened yet around here why is that? There are a few possibilities that have been proposed by any number of people that I can think of though I won’t claim to have found them all.

    1. Other capable species don’t actually chose to do this, e.g. they aren’t similar enough to us, or it takes a very long time to make each hop.

    2. The Sol system isn’t a good candidate system.

    3. Humans are the spotted owl of galactic development at our system is being ignored. Stephen J. Gould proposed that there is good reason to suspect that intelligent life may be considerably less prevalent than life in general. Perhaps this is practical, provided the aliens came through when human potential could be seen (which may not be a very wide window in galactic time frames).

    4. It happened for several species at close enough to the same time that no one species is able to develop the whole galaxy because of military intervention from the others (hmm, that sounds like an interesting possibility for a really cool novel).

    5. It’s just too hard to build a technical civilization able to build a ship able to colonize other systems before the resources of the home system are consumed. No possibility like FTL, generation ships, or cold sleep pans out, or there is just no way to get enough stuff to orbit to build anything or to springboard off of other resources in the system. We have met the Moties and they are us.

    6. It just hasn’t happened yet and humans have the potential of being the first.

    The timing on #4 seems a bit coincidental on the galactic scale of things.

    #6 seems awfully improbable, but if it’s possible, some species would have to be first and presumably it would have individuals drawing up a list like this one. I gather that the best candidates would be species who live in a system with a 2nd generation sun so we could be first.

    If I had put chips on the table, I think I’d pick #5.

  24. Speaking of estimated TOC (Time On Camera). During Iraqi Freedom I in 1991 I spent the day with Jane Pauley as she was doing a show on how the military was supporting families while the troops went off to war. All day with Jane (an absolute delight of a woman) and probably 2-3 hours on and off in front of the camera. Show airs – one question, maybe 5 seconds. According to Andy I’ve got 14:55 left.

  25. What Kris said above re Neil Tyson. He’s not quite as despised in the field as Kaku (nobody is) but he’s severely disliked for his self-aggrandizement and his considering himself an expert on things for which he has no demonstrated expertise (like SETI and planetary science). Seth S. has said some incredibly dumb things in the past few years concerning purposely trying to contact alien civilizations too. If I watch, it’ll be for the SF writers like John, not the “experts”.

  26. @coolstar I have to agree. I started following NDT on twitter about a week ago. I was hoping for Carl Sagan, but I got Sheldon Cooper instead.

  27. Excited to see you charm Science Channel’s vast audience, John,!

    I always like to be able to point at the TV and say, “Hey I’ve met him, even talked to him. He might even remember my name.” Especially when it’s not someone on trial for murder or the some such.

  28. leatherneck6693:

    When I worked as a journalist I sometime had that happen. I’d spend a couple hours interviewing someone and then I would be told the article needed to be about five column inches (i.e., one quote and a little context). Sucks when that happens.

  29. So the scientific community is jealous and pissed at Niel Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku for all the science and history channel appearances they have made over the years?

    I had no idea these two were so unpopular in their fields among their colleagues. I’ve always found both of them to be interesting dudes whose ideas are usually intriguing and have opened my mind to new concepts. I like to think of Degrasse Tyson and Kaku sort of like gateway drugs into more hard core science and physics concepts. Basically, these guys have probably helped open some minds and steered young people to be more interested and fascinated by science. Isn’t that a good thing for science and the next generation of science and technology?

  30. @Craig Johns “jealous” is not a word I’d use when describing those two. It really is NOT like what some in the community (wrongly) thought of the late, very much lamented, Carl Sagan. My last word on the subject for this thread (too many already): it’s really too bad there is no Yank equivalent of Brian Cox.

  31. @Craig Johns Interesting reinterpretation of the statements made. I dislike arrogance and thick coats of “smarm”; and scientists want to (as a general rule) do science, not go on Bill Maher every 4 weeks to argue politics. He runs a planetarium, which, in my mind does not qualify him to condescend to Dawkins during debates on philosophy. As to whether it’s a good thing they are out there…MDT? Not that I have ever seen. As for Kaku, I have to imagine for every “sense of wonder” he inspires, there is a equal, eventual let down, as the serious inquirer learns that most of what he says/writes is just hopeful speculation, divorced from any actual scientific progress or time scale. I am, and have always been, a sci-fi (book) fan, but I prefer to call speculation what it is, and current reality what it is. Having said that, his sense of wonder (which he obviously feels) is far more palatable than Tyson’s self-aggrandizing.

  32. Whew! Now that Ink Masters‘s season is over, my 10pm Tuesday slot is open! The crowd you’ll be sharing the screen with may actually exceed the coolness factor of Dave Navarro.

  33. It doesn’t strike me as entirely fair to blame Tyson for not being Sagan. We are comparing him to Sagan because… well Sagan was Sagan.

    It’s hard to compare fairly because I’m not in the 5th grade anymore, but I think an episode of Cosmos is considerably more inspiring than an episode of Nova Science Now. I wonder if any of the difference might have to do with the assumption that kids would sit & watch Cosmos for an hour without stopping to read a text.

    I’d also nominate James Burke’s Day the Universe Changed and Connections. Burke is still with us but I don’t think he’s doing TV anymore.

  34. If I were a betting man, my bet would be on first contact with … refugees. From a planetary disaster. On a multigeneration ship. Who discover too late that this life-bearing planet is inhabited, that they can’t survive our biochemistry without a lot of high-tech assistance, and that they are pretty much outfoxed by our intelligence community, our business communities, and by outright grifters.

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