Extraterrestrials in the Municipal Printing Press

You know that moment when your hands and voice shake? Well, I think that is me right now. And I must have repeated this presentation a hundred times to every person I saw in the street, but apparently it has not been of much help.

Anyway, I should begin; the truth is that I cannot remember how it began, but I have my cheat sheet. Because here they are allowed, unlike in my exams. I would love to be able to take out my cheat sheets during History exams. And speaking of history, shall I tell you what the story my grandfather has written is about? The protagonist of the story is called Ludwig. I understand the poor guy, and I suppose all of you who have a name that is, so to speak, strange, will also understand that living with such name is not easy. Okay, now imagine having that name and not coming from Earth, that is, being an extraterrestrial. That is really tough. Well then, that is our protagonist. But do not worry, Ludwig is happy about it; in fact, it was he who wanted to be called Ludwig. And now that we are on the subject, I will tell you about it:

One day, a meteor falls on Earth and scientists discover that it has living cells in it. After several months of moral and scientific arguments, they decide to do something with these cells. They manage to create a kind of pony, so to speak, but the pony is also strange. So they create twelve animals and put them in a zoo. But they were all strange and begin to die of boredom. Since scientists, besides being stubborn, are people who never give up, they manage to clone a humanoid, the technical term for human. They name it Maximilian X, and this humanoid is our protagonist, who then changes his strange name for an even stranger one. Although, being named Mariú, who am I to judge? I am only here to tell you about the book.

Right, so as it turns out, Maximilian spent his first four years of life in a small house in a park, being observed for 24 hours a day by scientists. Until they realised he had to have a normal life, so some parents adopted him and he began his new life. The parents moved to a bigger city and they made sure to take great care of Ludwig; they loved him very much. The mother was a writer, and the father a psychologist, so they were the ideal couple to take care of Ludwig. When the right time came, Maximilian’s parents wrote a book about Maximilian’s life, although the name of our protagonist was different. Gradually, Maximilian got the hint. He became obsessed with the subject and changed him name to Ludwig, which was the name of the protagonist of the book his parents had written. Ludwig studied astronomy and at university he joined forces with four friends, whom decided to investigate where the meteor that had fallen on Earth came from. Once they found the supposed planets, they sent a message to each of the possible planets. Because, as I have said before, scientists are stubborn, but stubborn people who do not give up; and how were they ever going to give up speaking to extraterrestrials? However, if the message was successful, the response from the extraterrestrials would take 40 years, so Ludwig went on with his life. What else could he do? Well, I will not tell you anymore, otherwise I will spoil the entire book for you.

It is true this book does not hook you with the first line, but it hooks you without you noticing it, because it manages to leave you in doubt. And this doubt does not let you put the book down. It also manages to make you grow fond of Ludwig, our strange-named alien, and to make you feel what he feels. Another thing this book does is make you ask yourself questions that are quite hard to answer, because, as Ludwig says: ‘I am condemned to an exile that will last my whole life’. Think about it: because we do not want to feel alone in the universe, we have made others feel alone. Ludwig, in this case. Although I hope you all read the book to make him feel less lonely.

Reading it made me think, and days later I wrote a brief text that I will now read for you to finish. It is titled ‘Maybe’.

Maybe we are indeed alone in the universe, and maybe we are scared of loneliness and that is why we spend our lives searching for someone to share it with. Maybe our fear of loneliness is what drives us to search for people outside our own planet. And that is why we run rather than walk. We run searching for that person, we run bumping into people, thinking none of them are ideal, not knowing that we have clashed into so many people who are perfect for us, people who are perfect, even if they do not fit. Because love is about fitting together, about finding that person who makes you smile just by looking at you and makes you feel safe. But maybe people would rather think about Cupid, the angel that fails in making people fall in love, and that is why it does not work out; but, if it does not work out, you try again…

Thank you very much.



Ladies and gentlemen, good day and many thanks for attending this event.

I am quite bewildered. My granddaughter Mariú, who is only 14, has just presented my latest book. Logically, this has moved me deeply and I am now a little disoriented and unsure of what to say. However, as I have come to talk with you, I will, although I am not sure how it will turn out.

About the book we are presenting, I would firstly like to tell you that it is not a story, what would be the logical thing given the age of the presenter. It is a novel of scientific anticipation (science fiction, as English-speaking people say), but it is quite a special novel because it is not a fantasy novel, such as, for example, Jules Verne’s novels, which I liked so much when I was young, in which characters travelled to the centre of the Earth and the millions of temperature degrees did not affect them in the slightest; or those others in which a large group of people move to a distant galaxy and they never explain how they were able to do so. Everything that happens in this novel I am talking about is possible in real life, because it does not contradict the laws of nature. That this could happen is very unlikely, that much is true, but it is possible.

Many of you will ask yourselves: Why would this old man, who has worked for NASA for thirty years, write a novel about extraterrestrials instead of writing something about outer space, which is so interesting?

Certainly, you are right, but I have already written various books about those subjects and now I have decided to change the plot. I have done so because I am very concerned about a question that has been on my mind for a long time: Are we alone in the universe?

The universe, as you all know, is practically infinite. If it were, for example, the size of Planet Earth, humans would have explored far less than the tip of a tiny needle. So, we cannot say whether extraterrestrials exist or not.

It is true we have been trying to communicate with them for over half a century through the programme called SETI (‘Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence’). In this programme, in which NASA participated for some time —as I myself, fulfilling the wishes of the American space agency—, I also tried to involve a Spanish organisation; with no luck, of course. Because for many people the topic of extraterrestrials sounds like a joke. I am going to tell you an anecdote you will find amusing.

Many years ago, a member of NASA was defending the budget of his Agency in the Senate of the United States, because all state agencies must do so, and when the matter of SETI arose, a senator, by the name of Proximeyer, asked him: ‘What is SETI?’.

‘It is the funds we use for a very interesting project, which involves looking for extraterrestrial intelligence by sending messages into deep space in search for someone to answer them.’

‘Enough, please,’ the senator interrupted, ‘I want those funds to disappear from your budget. We cannot find intelligence in Washington and you want to search for it in distant worlds!’

Back to the book we are presenting. Experts believe that interstellar travel proceeding from places more than a hundred light years away are practically impossible; and interstellar travel from closer places, which might be possible if future technologies allow it, would, however, require extremely high energy consumption, which would make it very expensive.

The previous considerations would suggest that an encounter with intelligent extraterrestrial beings is terribly unlikely, contrary to the opinions of many people who ignore these details and see extraterrestrials everywhere.

But there is another question that makes these encounters even more unlikely. What we would like to find are not solely intelligent extraterrestrial beings, because we are much more than that. Many animals are intelligent, such as whales or dogs, since they are able to gain experience from past events and incorporate it into their conduct, overriding what is strictly inscribed in their genes. What we would like to find are beings similar to us. What is it that characterises us? According to experts, what makes us human beings is our extraordinary capacity to create an advanced and technological culture.

Only if we found beings with this extraordinary capacity could we exchange with them highly interesting information related to their ways of life and ask them at what stage of their history they are, what cultural development have they reached, what political nodes they practice, whether they continue killing each other by cannon shots or whether they resolve their issues through more advanced methods, and so on.

All these considerations lead me to think, which is more than obvious, that I, who am nearly 90, will die without knowing if extraterrestrials exist or not. This is why I now entertain myself by writing novels about extraterrestrials, which is practically the only thing I can do. This is already the second one I have written and, given to my limited production, considering I am an amateur writer and not a professional, two is a lot. The most recent one is about the origin of life; the previous one, about the problem of communication with extraterrestrials, because it is a very grave problem. I will tell you one last anecdote and conclude.

One time I was called by a radio station to go there because they had a very famous bullfighter there who said he had seen some extraterrestrials in a big car and that he had to stop his own car when he saw them. They were very tall blonde girls with a tiny waist, he had been talking to them and they were telling him about the world they came from. ‘How did you talk to them?’ I asked shyly. ‘Hell! Are you a fool? In English, how else!?’.

Thank you very much, and we are at your disposal if you have any questions for Mariú or myself.

Luis Ruiz de Gopegui

[Participation of Mariú, commentator of the work, and Luis Ruiz de Gopegui, the author, at the presentation of the book Ludwig the Extraterrestrial, which took place in the Imprenta Municipal-Artes del Libro in Madrid, on Saturday 27 May 2017. Photograph by José Rodríguez.]