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Book News: NASA Has Free E-Book On Decoding Extraterrestrial Messages

<strong>Phone Home?</strong> NASA wants us to be ready to understand messages from potentially "a species that is radically Other."
Neilson Barnard
Getty Images
Phone Home? NASA wants us to be ready to understand messages from potentially "a species that is radically Other."

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • NASA has put out a free, fascinating e-book exploring the possibility of human/extraterrestrial communication. The 300-page book, which has chapters written by more than a dozen different scholars, looks to archaeology and anthropology for clues to decoding extraterrestrial messages, should they ever arrive. In his introduction to the volume, editor Douglas A. Vakoch explains, "Like archaeologists who reconstruct temporally distant civilizations from fragmentary evidence, SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] researchers will be expected to reconstruct distant civilizations separated from us by vast expanses of space as well as time. And like anthropologists, who attempt to understand other cultures despite differences in language and social customs, as we attempt to decode and interpret extraterrestrial messages, we will be required to comprehend the mindset of a species that is radically Other."
  • The fight between Amazon and Hachette has escalated as Amazon has removed the option to pre-order a number of the publisher's big books, Sarah Weinman of Publishers Lunch reports (subscription required). Titles affected by the freeze include J.K. Rowling's new Robert Galbraith novel. Earlier this month, in what looks like an attempt to put pressure on the publisher during a contract dispute, Amazon delayed shipping on a number of titles and placed banner ads over others, suggesting "similar items at a lower price." Amazon did not respond to NPR's request for comment.
  • Hassan Blasim's short story collection The Iraqi Christ,translated into English by Jonathan Wright, has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, an award for fiction in translation that gives 5,000 pounds (about $8,420) to both author and translator. Judge Boyd Tonkin said in a press release, "A decade after the Western invasion and occupation of Iraq, that country's writers are exploring the brutal and chaotic aftermath of war and tyranny with ever-growing confidence. ... The 14 stories of The Iraqi Christ, often surreal in style but always rooted in heart-breaking truth, depict this pitiless era with deep compassion, pitch-black humour and a visionary yearning for another, better life. Jonathan Wright's translation from the Arabic captures all of their passion, their desperation and their soaring imaginative energy. The Iraqi Christ is not only the first Arabic book to win the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, but a classic work of post-war witness, mourning and revolt."
  • In The New Yorker, John P. Henderson explains why he writes under a pseudonym: "John Wray isn't so different from poor, nebbishy John P. Henderson from Buffalo, New York. He's just slightly better company — at least when the work is going well. When it isn't, needless to say, he's insufferable; but that's when I remind myself, with a physical rush of relief, that John Wray doesn't actually exist."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.