Self-portrait of the author Errands take time and energy. It’s easy to forget that sometimes. I woke up this morning at 3:30 AM and went back to sleep until 5:30 AM because I’m off work today. I went for my walk in a slushy rain/snow mix. After recognizing and dealing with my depression, I started exercising each day. It’s easier when the element of choice is removed. I listen to talking books and use Zombies, Run! and generally look forward to my walk.

Later, after breakfast, we ran errands in town and that also included getting our flu vaccinations. After the shot and his initial panic, my son decided it wasn’t really too bad after all. Still, with shopping, doctor’s visit, and a quick trip to Olympic Cards & Comics, I was a bit worn out—and well over my step count goal for the day!

‘Out of Print’ Still Exists?

In today’s era of print-on-demand and electronic access, I find that I tend to assume the content I want is available to buy. Not always so! I enjoyed an older episode of Tabletop the other day and went online to find Unspeakable Words (hence the visit to Gabi’s today).

Unfortunately, it seems that the game is unavailable except from folks that are selling it at a premium. It looks like fun―just not that much fun!

This isn’t the only case of something being unavailable. There are plenty of older science fiction titles that Open Road Media hasn’t republished yet.

Origins

While I’m tackling the big questions, how did life begin? Evolve? That’s the topic of two books I’ve been enjoying lately from Audible and Overdrive.

Cover for The Vital Question by Nick LaneThe Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origin of Complex Life by Nick Lane

Lane tackles the “black hole at the heart of biology,” the questions of why life is the way life is and what powers it. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m enjoying this interesting take on big questions.

Cover art for The Story of Earth The Story of Earth: The First 4 Billion Years, From Stardust to Living Planet by Robert M. Hazen

Hazen explores the complex co-evolution of the mineral world and the living world. He paints a compelling scenario that covers the history of the Earth, the cycles of change, and speculations on the future evolution of the planet. I’m just about done with this one.

The origin of life interests me. Science fiction speculates endlessly on the question of life elsewhere, imagining numerous potential scenarios. Hazen’s book calls into question some of those speculations. If, as he indicates, so much of Earth’s mineralogy depends on life and vice versa, in a sort of feedback loop that includes the geographic evolution of the planet, then it calls into question if life could develop beyond an initial form on a world lacking such features. For instance, how would life develop in temperate cloud layers in a gas giant without access to the vital minerals necessary for life? We tend to focus on water, but Hazen’s narrative suggests much more is required.

What Hazen doesn’t answer (I don’t know if Lane addresses the question), are my core questions about the origin of life. Assuming life formed out of regular chemical interactions, how often does it happen? What, precisely, is required? Do the conditions for life arising still exist on Earth? If not, when did that stop? What prevents those conditions from existing now? Where else in the solar systems might those conditions exist?

Clearly, we don’t have all of those answers yet. Even so, life did develop here. Do we know for sure that it didn’t happen multiple times? Although we can point to evidence that shows all living things (that we’ve tested) show a common lineage—what if that is because there is only one way for life to evolve? Does life always arise with the properties we see here on Earth? Or are the speculations of other biochemistries in science fiction plausible and possible? Or will we find that all life, everywhere, has the same sort of DNA, molecular handedness, and building blocks for proteins, cells, etc.?

If life is the inevitable outcome of natural processes, then maybe it is as predictable as fusion in the stars that created our basic elementary building blocks.