“You See But You Do Not Observe” — Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is the author of twenty novels, including Hominids, which won the Hugo Award, The Terminal Experiment, which won the Nebula Award, and Mindscan, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Sawyer’s novel Flashforward is currently being adapted for television and is scheduled to air on ABC this fall. His latest novel project is the WWW trilogy, consisting of Wake, Watch, and Wonder. The first volume, Wake, was recently serialized in the pages of Analog and was released in hardcover in April.

“Where is everybody?” These words, exclaimed by Los Alamos physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950, led to his formulation of what’s known as the Fermi paradox: Why haven’t we found any evidence of extraterrestrial life, given the seemingly high probability that such life exists? Even if intelligent life evolves only rarely, the sheer scale of the universe would mean that advanced civilizations should be commonplace. (The Drake equation is a well-known model for organizing this line of reasoning.) There ought to be civilizations billions of years older than ours, in which case they should have colonized Earth long ago, or at least built large engineering projects such as Dyson spheres that we could detect with our instruments. But so far, nothing. Many explanations have been proposed, including that intelligence is much rarer than we think, that advanced civilizations tend to destroy themselves or each other, or that advanced civilizations have chosen not to talk to us, perhaps because they don’t want to meddle with our development or because we’re just too primitive to bother with. Our final tale presents a solution to the Fermi paradox that we can virtually guarantee you’ve never considered before.