Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, July 27, 2018


Is There Intelligent Life on Earth?   A Report to the Congress of Mars by Alan Dunn (1960)

Alan Dunn (1900-1975) was one of The New Yorker's most popular and prolific cartoonists, with nine covers and nearly 2000 cartoons published there over a span of  47 years.  From 1931 to 1970 he published eight books and illustrated several others.  According to Wikipedia, one of Dunn's cartoons inspired the Fermi paradox.

Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? is a combination of text and cartoons, each supporting and adding to the other.  The humor is dated but the pointed satire is not.  Sadly, at the beginning of the book, Dunn opts for cutesy names.  The Martian explorers are called Koko, Polo, and Kolumbo.  There's the garden planet Florus, "inhabited only by intelligent vegetation, where the flowers have learned to talk" ("All he ever thiks about is pollination" "I warn you, it's no bed of roses"  "How'd he ever get to be top tuber if she...").  Other planets include Fornica ("with its exploding population"), Blotto ("where they discovered atomic energy too soon"), Slopp ("were we dispose of our radioactive waste and garbage"), and the edible planets of Fuj and Spud.

Mars, itself had the misfortune of once (1,001,959 years ago) being populated by organic beings.  Then, in their factory city of Detroyt, a far-thinking robot created an army of mechanical beings capable of original thought.  The result was not pretty for the organic beings (who had no replaceable parts).  Within a year, only robots were left.  The end result was a budding communist-like state where each individual was redesigned to perform a certain function and to be happy with it.

Fast forward to the present time (well, 1960).  The Martians have noted several UFOs in solar orbit that appear to have come from Earth.  Of course they know that the possibility of life on Earth is remote because of the thick layer of pollution that surrounds the planet.  Our three intrepid explorers are sent to determine if life exists in the third planet from the sun and, if so, is it intelligent?

Using invisibility, Koko, Polo, and Kolumbo set about observing Earthmen.  What they conclude is invariably wrong-headed. but allows Dunn to skewer humanity with his own sharp observations.  War, politics, sex, entertainment, traffic, drinking, art, pollution, personal rivalry, medicine, beauty, advertising -- they're all there, observed through the cock eyes of the Martian trio and vision of the cartoonist.

Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? is a short book -- 118 pages -- and a fast read.  Don't make the error of zipping through it, though.  Pay no attention to the cutesy bits, but look a bit deeper into the glorious satire.  Take some time with think, to smile, to enjoy.

As to the answer to the question posed in the title, recent events make one tempted to say no.