Radio Listener by Jim Gilchrist

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IF there’s anybody out there, why don’t they ever call?

It was the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi who questioned why it was that, for all the estimates of the probability of extraterrestrial life, there has been no concrete evidence of any contact, be it radio signals, flying saucers or even so much as a “Hello there”.

It Is Rocket Science

Wednesday, Radio 4, 11pm

Extinct!

Tuesday, Radio 4, 11am

Half-Light

Friday, Radio 4, 3:45pm

This despite our sometimes eccentric attempts to send messages to anyone in the great beyond who might take note; or were the wee green men put off by the fact that the woman depicted on NASA’S distantly voyaging Pioneer spacecraft lacks genitalia?

Such is the gleefully irreverent speculation in a new series of IT IS ROCKET SCIENCE, Radio 4’s less than respectful look at science and space travel. The lugubrious tones of Peter Serafinowicz evoke “the vast vat of vastness” that is outer space, while the chirpy Helen Keen reviews attempts made to contact alien life, including a proposal to burn giant parallelograms into the Sahara.

Maybe the intergalactic non- callers reckon we must be extinct – we sometimes seem to be doing our best to achieve that, and there have been, after all, several occasions in the history of the Earth when life has been almost entirely wiped off the face of the planet, as Adam Rutherford discovers in EXTINCT!

The first of three programmes travels to Pennsylvania to investigate the traces of one such cataclysmic event, 202 million years ago, when at least three quarters of the Earth’s animal and plant species vanished. But the greatest mass extinction in geological history was 250 million years ago, when as much as 96 per cent of all species on land and sea were extinguished.

Just tell yourself it might never happen.

And to bring things down to a more human scale and locality, HALF-LIGHT is the first of three short stories by the great Neil M Gunn being read on Radio 4 this week by Claire Knight. The tales are drawn from Half-Light, a new collection of Gunn’s short fiction compiled by his nephew, Diarmid Gunn, and while set in the Highlands, they deal with universal human preoccupations.

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