Signatures Of Life by Edward Ashpole (book review).

Looking at the book cover of Edward Ashpole’s book ‘Signatures Of Life’, where it shows a barren planetary surface, you’ll probably say there’s no life there. The sub-title ‘Science Searches The Universe’ sends a different message in that we are looking, as witnessed by the SETI programme, that we are looking to see if we aren’t alone in the universe. The only problem is we’ve haven’t spotted anyone out there yet but given the distances involved, I’m not that surprised at that. I mean, by the time that any alien race receives the radio and TV signals that we’ve sent out into the ether in the past century, mankind is likely to be extinct simply because of the length of time it would take and only hope that there is no degradation of signal. As Ashpole also points out, if we or aliens are going to explore, then they are going to be far more likely to send robots than come themselves, which indeed is how we will probably do ourselves. From my perspective, maybe that is going to be the next step for all species.


In a rather bold step for a scientist, Ashpole isn’t afraid to explore the belief in UFOs also renamed as SAC – Strange Aerial Craft – to avoid looking crazy to the likes of the British Interplanetary Society who refuses to print any article using the standard name. The biggest stumbling block for abductions is the lack of real evidence and, based off what Ashpole says, if you think you’ve been abducted, see if you can bring some alien cell tissue back with you that can be analysed and certainly keep your clothes bagged for forensic investigation. Later in the book, Ashpole points out that the police investigate standard kidnappings but not these sorts of abductions. There’s something to be said that maybe the police think they are wasting their times on hoaxes but you can’t help but wonder on ignoring them all seems a little judgemental.

Looking at general close encounters, Ashpole gives greater credence for sightings by professional pilots and the military who are trained to understand actual aerial distance and gradient distortions. Although these only amount to 0.4% of sightings, in actual numbers this is a significant 40. Certainly there needs to be some investigation of whatever is ghosting some aircraft and indeed, Apollo 11, which astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported thinking it was the booster rocket and NASA hushed up. It might not be alien but you would have thought some investigation was in order to remove speculation, let alone question pilot competence, which oddly hasn’t been done as far as I can see, although few pilots report these sightings suggesting that the percentage of sighting has to be higher than 04% if it isn’t always reported.

What aliens are going to look like let alone their protein bases are is always going to be speculation until we get to meet one and exchange samples. Ashpole frequently uses octopods to differ from the humanoid shape. As witnessed by octopuses, even fans of SF know such creatures would need a water medium to support their weight and aren’t likely to walk on land. Although I agree with Ashpole that the four key chemical bases in our own DNA might not be reproduced elsewhere, let alone give the same combinations as ourselves, a lot of that depends on environmental conditions and amounts of elements available in how it is shaped. If they have the same four protein compounds as ourselves, there’s going to have to be some serious thinking about parallel evolution simply because there is a lack of choice in making viable animal protein.

As to exotic life. Ashpole makes a good case for why silicon life isn’t likely to survive for long on worlds like our own but neglects to think that such aliens, assuming they could space travel, would see our planet as being hostile to themselves and not visit here.

What should perk up the ears for many of you is Ashpole’s examination of whether or not alien technology is here already. Not the stuff that is allegedly concealed in Nevada but watching us from a distance. I’m not entirely convinced that nothing is in orbit, mostly because we have so much junk in orbit that it could quite easily conceal an observation post.

What I did find very interesting was aerospace engineer Roy Dutton has been mapping SAC flight characteristics since 1967, observing that it resembles aerial surveillance. I did have a very heavy ponder on this and wondered if it was indeed potentially alien. We know there are a lot of terrestrial surveillance satellites from various countries in orbit. If you were going to calibrate their cameras, wouldn’t you use a town or city than barren land. Not quite sure how the SACs would fit into this but lens refractions and such can make you think there is more in the air. Further into the book, Ashpole points out microwave activity having a similar effect in recent years. Me thinking aloud again about how mobile phones depend on microwaves, does it seem so odd that there would be microwave hot spots. I’ve seen enough interference with my TV and DVD recorder associated with being in a direct line with a nearby mobile phone transmitter to think things like this are possible.

This doesn’t deny Ashpole’s point of view. If anything, it’s made me look more closely at other possibilities. What is more revealing is that the study of planetary surfaces in the solar system is looking for things that don’t look natural, hence the ‘Face’ spotted on Mars getting so much attention. As this has been disproven by us simply giving the rock surface form as we do with clouds, one would also have to question if it had been created by aliens then they would have had to have known what it would have looked like from a distance to make it work. I would have thought that any alien device would know how to conceal itself if it wanted to just observe us from a distance. If there was a device on the Moon, then I would be paying more attention to craters because it would have to impact to embed below ground.

Ashpole himself applies practical discussion to everything from abduction, mutilation and corn circles, although he doesn’t go far enough on the latter to credit the hoaxers we have in the UK. Something I hadn’t known was the various implants discovered are actually composed of similar material to meteorite material. Now that really did set me thinking. If there is a robot SAC out there then it surely wouldn’t have brought all its own implant material with it but use what is available around it. I wonder if anyone’s working out the percentage of metals and their purity?

He also makes a strong point that most people associated with UFO societies do not belong to the fantasy sect and just want to know what is going on whose stories get more media attention than they deserve. I think that happens with all unusual phenomena over the years which tends to act as a distraction to what is going on.

One area of disappointment is Ashpole’s comparisons to the ‘Star Trek’ shows on aspects that are wrong. Even we fans know a lot of it is wrong but here he’s often badly researched. I mean, although there are many species that parallel human technology of the future, they did meet species, especially in the original series, who were far advanced as well. If any author is going to use generalisations like that really needs to either research with the Net, it doesn’t always mean watching all the episodes, but browsing the more detailed synopsises or asking specific questions of people in the know in case he makes the wrong assumptions. It’s also a shame that he only depended on one SF series for reference which was built up from 60s ideals than some of the more recent shows which reflect new takes on SF and indeed how science has directed ways to look.

Overall, though, I did find this book an interesting summation of not only our own investigations of life out in the universe but whether or not they in turn would be doing if they were looking in on us. I wish there was an index and a photo section to support this book but you can’t have everything.

GF Willmetts

September 2013

(pub: Prometheus Books. 224 page enlarged paperback. Price: $25.00 (US), $26.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-61614-668-9)

check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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