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Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own | [David Toomey]

Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own

In recent years, scientists have hypothesized life-forms that can only be called "weird": organisms that live off acid rather than water, microbes that thrive at temperatures and pressure levels so extreme that their cellular structures should break down, perhaps even organisms that reproduce without DNA. Some of these strange life-forms, unrelated to all life we know, might be nearby: on rock surfaces in the American southwest, hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, or even in our own bodies. Some, stranger still, might live in Martian permafrost, swim in the dark oceans of Jupiter's moons, or survive in the exotic ices on comets.
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Publisher's Summary

Science that sounds like science fiction.

In recent years, scientists have hypothesized life-forms that can only be called "weird": organisms that live off acid rather than water, microbes that thrive at temperatures and pressure levels so extreme that their cellular structures should break down, perhaps even organisms that reproduce without DNA. Some of these strange life-forms, unrelated to all life we know, might be nearby: on rock surfaces in the American southwest, hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, or even in our own bodies. Some, stranger still, might live in Martian permafrost, swim in the dark oceans of Jupiter's moons, or survive in the exotic ices on comets. Others - the strangest of all - might inhabit the crusts of neutron stars, interstellar nebulae, or even other spatial dimensions.

In Weird Life, David Toomey takes us on a breathtaking tour of a universe of hypothetical life, a universe of life as we do not know it.

©2013 David Toomey (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 05-09-13
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 05-09-13 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

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    "Very Interesting..."

    book about forms of life that exist outside the terms of what has come to be the "standard model" of heat, pressure and PH circumstances of survival. Toomey's work here is informative but presented in a way that is easily accessible to the layman, often entertaining, always engaging stuff to make us see deeper into life and its incredible durability.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 06-22-13
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 06-22-13 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "Life by different rules -- the knowns and unknowns"

    Weird Life takes on the question, “what forms can life exist in besides the carbon-based, water-saturated, oxygen-metabolizing, DNA-encoded ones we’re most familiar with?” Which leads to other questions: did life evolve on Earth more than once? Is there a “shadow” evolutionary tree, whose organisms work differently, and perhaps are specially adapted to hostile environments like undersea hot vents? Could there be life elsewhere in the solar system, in the clouds of Jupiter, the methane seas of Titan, under the ice of Europa, or on the high mountain peaks of Venus (where the temperature is relatively cool)? Is hypothetical life elsewhere in the galaxy MORE likely to be on NON-Earthlike planets?

    My own take-away from this book was that much is still a mystery. The first few chapters, which discuss life that manages to survive in extreme environments on Earth and current theories about biogenesis, make clear that a lot of the knowledge science does have is both recent and somewhat speculative. Indeed, it’s difficult to define exactly what life IS, and what we’ve gotten used to thinking of as fundamental building blocks (cells, nuclei, etc.) might not necessarily be. And perhaps this chauvinism is blinding us as we begin to search other worlds for signs we’re not alone in the universe.

    Later chapters consider other planets and the SETI program, and I found these the most interesting. Toomey discusses the famous Drake Equation, and its current implications for the distribution of intelligent life in our galaxy. While there are still many unknowns, the Earth itself offers some important clues. For example, most scientists agree that life appeared almost as soon as it was possible. Then it took another billion years for multi-celled life to appear, and another two billion for intelligent life to appear. Unless our planet is a drastic edge case, the implication is that life could arise easily, but intelligent life, not so. Perhaps the last other sentient species in our neighborhood came and went before modern humans ever existed.

    The last chapters go into more unconventional territory, and consider possibilities like machine intelligence swiftly outpacing biological intelligence, becoming something beyond human comprehension (i.e. the “singularity” concept coined by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge and further popularized by Ray Kurzweil). There’s also some contemplation of what, in the fundamental rules of physics, makes life possible in our universe, and whether it could exist in other universes, operating under somewhat different rules. And might we even be living in some sort of a simulated reality, like The Matrix but more so? If so, what would be the clues?

    All in all, the topics discussed here represent only a skimming of a wide-ranging body of scientific research and speculation, and more knowledgeable readers might find it light fare, but Weird Life is still a tasty sampler platter.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    E. Atkinson CA United States 06-21-13
    E. Atkinson CA United States 06-21-13 Member Since 2005

    xdaedalusx

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    "Cool topic, Awesome Narrator"
    If you could sum up Weird Life in three words, what would they be?

    Exploration of Non-standard Living things


    What did you like best about this story?

    The wide ranging series of science topics that were covered while talking about life.


    What about Eric Martin’s performance did you like?

    The Narration was amazing, Mr. Martin's voice is very similar to Rod Sterling's so I kept expecting him to say "in the Twilight zone"


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    There were several time that I laughed out loud, but fascination was more a descriptor for my reaction


    Any additional comments?

    I keep up on weird topics like SETI and Extremeophiles so I expected this to be a fun but not terribly informative piece. I was wrong! The author covered the latest information and coverd it in a quick but concise manner that kept me amused while informing. Well done.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maryam MERRITT ISLAND, FL, United States 07-29-13
    Maryam MERRITT ISLAND, FL, United States 07-29-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Pay attention to what you're buying"

    I didn't pay enough attention to the description to understand that this book's focus is entirely on the potential weird life that may be found in our solar system and beyond in the form of extraterrestrial life. From the description, the sample, and even what I can make our of the cover photo, I was under the impression that this book would be about weird forms off life on our own planet - cave dwellers, hydrothermal vent dwellers, etc. It is not. Oops.

    4 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Skye Norton Silver City, NM United States 07-19-14
    Skye Norton Silver City, NM United States 07-19-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Just Okay"
    What did you like best about Weird Life? What did you like least?

    I enjoyed the way in which the author explored the plausibility, or lack there of, for whether certain fictional "weird life" was plausible or not. I was pleasantly surprised to note that some of the literary references went back to the 1800's. I also appreciated the presentation of opposing views on different theories, as there was not a strongly evident (to me) bias. What I liked the least was the part of the discussion that was based on the theory of multiple universes and such, anything anyone can ever possibly imagine can and will exists in some parallel universe or another. So it makes the discussion of what can or cannot be a bit of a mute point. Oh and we are probably all computer simulations anyways... so...


    Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

    I would say that, for the most part, the book was easy to follow along with. With that being said, I am a "lay" person interested in biology and at times I felt the depth to which certain scientific points were discussed could vary between too detailed and boring or not quite enough information to fully grasp the concepts being presented.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    Yes


    Could you see Weird Life being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    What???? This would not make for a good TV series or movie...


    Any additional comments?

    I did not care for the sound of the narrators voice. A bit too flat and lifeless.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    bill doyle adelaide, south australia 02-20-14
    bill doyle adelaide, south australia 02-20-14 Member Since 2011

    Bloke who took to audiobooks in order to beguile long hours on the road travelling to photography gigs across his home state. Now addicted!

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    "weird life - perhaps!"

    As many have pointed out, this isn't a catalogue of the monstrous and marvellous. This is a discussion of the hypothetical boundaries of life as we could anticipate finding it sprawled across the universe.

    First off, let me say that I bet we never find any evidence for giant dirigible beings floating up and down in the thick, turbulent gaseous atmosphere of some distant, surfaceless planet. I mean, what the hell are they eating? Where are the parallels in our own atmosphere?

    This kind of sets the tone for the 'gee whiz', science-fictiony aspect of much of the book, and as a consequence I, for one, significantly discount the author's apparent 'optimistic' assumptions about the virtual inevitability of life virtually everywhere you might chance to look.

    As for the 'if' 'if' 'if', and 'then' robot brains have taken over and are evolving themselves, and that's the kind of intelligent life SETI will encounter stuff - give me a break! Because, like, smart phones! Geez!

    Surely the core of life is that life strives, and life intrinsically cares very much about the continuation of its own existence? Programming some hyper-processed chip of sand to BEHAVE as if it did (and, sorry, that is all that it will ever do) is not even close to being the same thing, but could, ironically, turn out to be one of the most suicidally reckless acts undertaken by our suicidally reckless species.

    Oh, and what about your bloody hands, people!? Giant centipedes ain't going to evolve the intelligence to build technological civilizations - and, vitally, to store and readily transmit the information required - any more than dolphins are! Or develop much in the way of an intellect at all! Another sad limiting case the author doesn't really tackle - if you cannot manipulate the world around you competently there is no selective pressure for you to evolve the kind of brain-power we recognise as intelligence. Let's face it; any putative wind-tossed gasbag's thought processes would amount to little more than 'da da dum dum' and 'ooooh'.

    There is much of interest in this book, and much that is genuinely thought-provoking. But if you're looking for a catalogue of freaky animals, go elsewhere, and otherwise anticipate a fairly regular 'yeah, sure' response...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Booniecat Texas 01-27-14
    Booniecat Texas 01-27-14 Member Since 2011
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    "An interesting look at some amazing science"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Fantastic book, with a great deal of interesting scientific information and topics. It doesn't really go into very much depth, but keeps things moving along at an interesting pace. Listening to it, it is easy to get lost in the interesting world of the bizarre creatures from our planet (and beyond...?), and the narrator does a FANTASTIC job. Overall, the book doesn't get bogged down with overly scientific and professional speech and information, which does mean some topics are not as in depth as I would have liked...however, it does a great job covering a wide range of interests, explains things in a simple to understand manner, and keeps your interest. The narrator adds a lot of life to what could have otherwise been a very dry read, and its a great jumping off point to expand your interest into a variety of other areas.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The humor and easy to follow/understand explanations of what could have been rather confusing or technical scientific information.


    Have you listened to any of Eric Martin’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Outstanding narrator, and perfect for these types of audio books.


    Any additional comments?

    This audiobook reminds me a lot of the History Channel series "The Universe" - the same way complicated ideas and concepts are explained with clever analogies, clear language and humor is echo'd here in this book. If you enjoy one, you will surely enjoy the other.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffery T. Harris HAMDEN, CT, United States 12-11-13
    Jeffery T. Harris HAMDEN, CT, United States 12-11-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Bordering Pseudo-science but Entertaining"
    Would you try another book from David Toomey and/or Eric Martin?

    I'd be somewhat hesitant. The first couple of chapters of the book focused on some of the knowns of "weird life" but the last few left a bad taste in my mouth. The discussion on robots taking over and becoming self-aware was a stretch. Too much "suppose that" sentences starting off big ideas and I found myself asking for a little more evidence than just imagining it at some points. While some of the points brought up are good, if you are looking for evidence to back up the claims, there is none.


    What didn’t you like about Eric Martin’s performance?

    He was a little too robotic in his narration and didn't seem to have much energy. I think this type of book would have done well to have a more upbeat narrator.


    Was Weird Life worth the listening time?

    I'd say it is worth listening to if you enjoy to think about what could be and let your imagination run wild. To me the book borders on science and pseudo-science, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The boundaries have to be pushed, prodded, and explored so that some of the more amazing discoveries can be found. I was hoping this book did a little better job presenting evidence to back up some of the more extreme ideas, like computer self-awareness, as I'm not convinced the author knew enough about the topic to present it is a viable scenario of "weird life".


    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
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