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Eternity: Our Next Billion Years
Michael Hanlon
Macmillan Science, 29 pages

Eternity: Our Next Billion Years
Michael Hanlon
Michael Hanlon is one of Britain's most successful science writers. He has been Science Editor at the Daily Mail for many years; prior to this he was at the Daily Express, the Independent and Irish News. He contributes regularly to magazines such as the Spectator and appears on TV and radio as a science pundit. He has headlined several science festivals and written critically acclaimed popular science books: The Science Of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (Macmillan, 2005), The Real Mars (Constable, 2004) and The Worlds of Galileo (Constable, 2001).

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Call it the anti-apocalypse book. In Eternity: Our Next Billion Years, Michael Hanlon cuts across the grain of popular future disaster and end-of-the-world scenarios and argues that what the universe will be like and what might be going on billions of years from now is worth thinking about. Because we could very well be there.

Eternity starts out by examining apocalyptic possibilities from nuclear holocaust, comet collisions and climate change, all the way to rogue artificial intelligences and runaway self-replicating Von Neumann machines. The basic point is that these disasters are either extremely unlikely, or, even if they happened, wouldn't necessarily destroy human civilization. Hanlon's view of the future isn't all rosy, however, one chapter ends with a discussion of how the discovery of microbial life on Mars just might be really bad news for the long-term survival of the human race.

The non-fiction chapters in Eternity are interspersed with imaginative descriptions of life at some future time. Here Hanlon gets to play the sociologist, futurist, and fiction writer in addition to scientist with speculations on near and far-future life and customs. There isn't anything in these scenarios that will surprise or shock the long-term science fiction reader, but these interludes do serve as nice introductions to Hanlon's ideas regarding the future for those newer to the ideas on display here, and they help to reinforce his generally optimistic outlook. And if you're a writer looking for information on what the Earth could be like geographically over the coming millennia, Eternity offers a quick guide to what the planet will be like five ten, and hundreds of thousands of years from now.

Which brings up the point of just to what audience Eternity: Our Next Billion Years will appeal. Those who follow the latest science news closely and are used to works by writers like Paul Davies and Brian Greene probably won't find much here that they haven't run into, in greater detail, somewhere else. But for a more general audience, Michael Hanlon's approach could serve as an enjoyable introduction to how new ideas in fields as disparate as, climatalogy, geology, medicine, cosmology, and even linguistics are changing our views of what the future holds for the human race. This is popular science writing that's aimed at a general audience, and considering the state of the general public's understanding of science these days, a general, well-written introduction to the ideas that could very well shape the future of the human race is just what the general public needs.

Copyright © 2009 by Greg L. Johnson

Eternity: Our Next Gillion Years reminded reviewer Greg L. Johnson of the many introductions to science written by Isaac Asimov that he read as a kid. Greg's reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.


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