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My driver was on the verge of turning back when my phone reception finally began to wane.


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High winds were whipping between the Avatar -style mountains, making the long bamboo stalks sway like giant green feathers. A downpour of fat droplets began splattering the windshield just as I lost service for good. T he week before, Liu and I had visited a stargazing site of a much older vintage. It was likely interpreted as an omen of catastrophe, perhaps an ensuing invasion. The starry globe was stolen in , after an eight-country alliance stormed Beijing to put down the Boxer Rebellion.

The instruments were eventually returned, but the sting of the incident lingered.

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Back when the ancient observatory was built, China could rightly regard itself as the lone survivor of the great Bronze Age civilizations, a class that included the Babylonians, the Mycenaeans, and even the ancient Egyptians. But China had lasted. He blamed the Confucian emphasis on tradition.

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A large landmass ruled by long dynasties may have encouraged less technical dynamism than did Europe, where more than 10 polities were crammed into a small area, triggering constant conflict. As we know from the Manhattan Project, the stakes of war have a way of sharpening the scientific mind. Still others have accused premodern China of insufficient curiosity about life beyond its borders. Notably, there seems to have been very little speculation in China about extraterrestrial life before the modern era. Whatever the reason, China paid a dear price for slipping behind the West in science and technology.

After sending , laborers to the Western Front in support of the Allied war effort during World War I, Chinese diplomats arrived at Versailles expecting something of a restoration, or at least relief from the unequal treaties. Deng evinced a near-religious reverence for science and technology, a sentiment that is undimmed in Chinese culture today. It remains an open question whether Chinese science will ever catch up with that of the West without a bedrock political commitment to the free exchange of ideas.

China has learned the hard way that spectacular scientific achievements confer prestige upon nations. China has largely focused on the applied sciences. Now China is bringing its immense resources to bear on the fundamental sciences. It is also eyeing Mars. Nothing except, perhaps, first contact. A t a security station 10 miles from the dish, I handed my cellphone to a guard.

A different guard drove me on a narrow access road to a switchback-laden stairway that climbed steps up a mountainside, through buzzing clouds of blue dragonflies, to a platform overlooking the observatory. It was Nan who had made sure the new dish was customized to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Apart from microwaves, such as those that make up the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, radio waves are the weakest form of electromagnetic radiation. Collecting these ethereal signals requires technological silence. After making a shortlist of candidate locations, Nan set out to inspect them on foot.

Hiking into the center of the Dawodang depression, he found himself at the bottom of a roughly symmetrical bowl, guarded by a nearly perfect ring of green mountains, all formed by the blind processes of upheaval and erosion. After the dish is calibrated, it will start scanning large sections of the sky. Liu Cixin told me he doubts the dish will find one. If a civilization were about to be invaded by another, or incinerated by a gamma-ray burst, or killed off by some other natural cause, it might use the last of its energy reserves to beam out a dying cry to the most life-friendly planets in its vicinity.

Previous observatories could search only a handful of stars for this radiation. In Beijing, I told Liu that I was holding out hope for a beacon. I told him I thought dark-forest theory was based on too narrow a reading of history. It may infer too much about the general behavior of civilizations from specific encounters between China and the West.

Across history, it is easy to find examples of expansive civilizations that used advanced technologies to bully others. But even if these patterns extend back across all of recorded history, and even if they extend back to the murky epochs of prehistory, to when the Neanderthals vanished sometime after first contact with modern humans, that still might not tell us much about galactic civilizations.

And no civilization could last tens of millions of years without learning to live in peace internally. The Milky Way has been habitable for billions of years. Anyone we make contact with will almost certainly be older, and perhaps wiser. M oreover, the night sky contains no evidence that older civilizations treat expansion as a first principle.


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Maybe the self-replicating machinery required to spread rapidly across billion stars would be doomed by runaway coding errors. Or maybe civilizations spread unevenly throughout a galaxy, just as humans have spread unevenly across the Earth. Some seti researchers have wondered about stealthier modes of expansion.

Some have even searched for evidence that such spacecraft might have visited this planet, by looking for encoded messages in our DNA—which is, after all, the most robust informational storage medium known to science. They too have come up empty. The idea that civilizations expand ever outward might be woefully anthropocentric.

Liu did not concede this point. To him, the absence of these signals is just further evidence that hunters are good at hiding.


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He told me that we are limited in how we think about other civilizations. First contact would be trickier still if we encountered a postbiological artificial intelligence that had taken control of its planet. Its worldview might be doubly alien. It might not feel empathy, which is not an essential feature of intelligence but instead an emotion installed by a particular evolutionary history and culture.

The logic behind its actions could be beyond the powers of the human imagination. It might have transformed its entire planet into a supercomputer, and, according to a trio of Oxford researchers , it might find the current cosmos too warm for truly long-term, energy-efficient computing. It might cloak itself from observation, and power down into a dreamless sleep lasting hundreds of millions of years, until such time when the universe has expanded and cooled to a temperature that allows for many more epochs of computing. The first thing I noticed at the top was not the observatory, but the Karst mountains.

Granted they did get a little repetitive and predictable, but the first 5 books were great. I feel like Michael Moorcock should be on this list somewhere. Elric of Melnibone series is one of my all-time favorites. Yes dragon spindle is pretty good for a self published book I recon it will be picked up by a publisher soon then probably get ruined by big business!

I absolutely loved that list… Quick question though: Should the novels by Anne Rice not be included as well? I liked a new book and fantasy series which is Dragon Spindle book 1 in the Ningazia Balance series. Definatly worth a look if you like fast paced dragon fantasy with dragons, elfs , orcs and loads of magic. The first book is indeed awesome, but after that, the entire thing goes down the drain.

Zero innovation, bullshit character development He might has well had an alien parasite take over Leesha , inconsistent pacing…. Dresden files up but got to say Codex Alera has me coming back for more. Mazan Book of the Fallen is so epic, intelligent and unpredictable, near all other fantasy seems childlike in comparison.

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Good call for having it in the list. Thanks Matt. I actually have the Rangers Apprentice books on my to-be-read pile and — following your recommendation — will move them up the list and read them soon. A book series that I highly recommend is Rangers Apprentice. It is not your average fantasy novel, it takes place in a world much like middle age England and does not include magic surprisingly. You follow the adventures of Will Treaty becoming a Ranger, a legendary warrior using the tools of stealth and archery to guard the crown.

This list cannot be considered complete without the Chronicles of Pern!

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I would also mention The Saga of Recluce by L. Modesitt Jr as being worthy of inclusion, certainly well above the risible Sword of Truth series. The Dredsen Files is the best fantasy book written by the best author — Jim Bucher. You would definitely agree that The Dredsen Files is the Best Fantasy Series around I have read each book 3 times over just to fully understand the characters and the plot of the series.

What Happens If China Makes First Contact?

Hi Lynette, great recommendations! Some we have yet to read and review on the site but I have added them to our to-read list and hope to remedy that very soon. I think Inheritance Cycle should be on the list. It is an awesome read and its characters are very deep too. Glen Cook wrote an earlier book that has been one of my favorites since my teenage years.

The Dragon Never Sleeps. I had to re-purchase the Duncton Chronicles about 5 years ago due to my originals being lost somewhere in the midst of time. But I treasure them as much as any other books, they have character and history. The first Duncton book is a real gem, a worthy companion to Watership Down.

Interesting what you say about inconsistencies in the Hyddenworld series. I have to admit a few elements of the story did not piece together perfectly, especially the legend of the Peace Weaver and Beormund, but I am very, very forgiving of the authors I hold dearest! Thanks for the nice answer Lee!

I found it quite enjoyable — few fresh ideas there!

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Only thing that bugged me was that there was rather a lot of inconsistencies throughout. Guess the author must be even more forgetful than I am! Now, The Name of the Wind and Mr.