cover image Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia

Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia

Gregory Benford. Avon Books, $20 (225pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97537-2

In his first foray into book-length nonfiction, acclaimed science fiction writer and physics professor Benford (Timescape, Cosm etc.) combines a scientist's perspective and a novelist's imagination to produce a provocative and disturbing look into ""deep time,"" the far future that may be beyond the limits of our civilization and our species, but not beyond the reach of our technology. He begins with tales of the messages we have purposefully left for the intelligent beings who may exist thousands or millions of years in the future. Benford draws these stories from his experiences as a member of the teams that designed the message placed aboard the 1998 Cassini mission to Saturn and that defined the characteristics of warning markers for the radioactive waste storage sites that will still be dangerous 10 millennia hence. He ends with a look at the messages that we are inadvertently sending into deep time, messages written not in media but on Earth itself and the life it supports. Here, Benford deliberately provokes controversy by arguing that humans must take on the task of geoengineering--controlling the evolution of both life and climate--if we wish to survive. That message and his mind-stretching book leave readers with a frightening question: Where will we find scientifically knowledgeable, technologically enlightened political leaders to guide us to the right choices? Illustrations throughout. (Feb.)