Excerpt from The Milky Way by Moiya McTier, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Milky Way

An Autobiography of Our Galaxy

by Moiya McTier

The Milky Way by Moiya McTier X
The Milky Way by Moiya McTier
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2022, 256 pages

    Aug 2023, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

At the same time, following my love of mythology, I was learning about the stories that cultures used as devices to entertain, educate, and explain. Fairy tales to pass a night by the fire, fables to share a community's values with the next generation, and myths to make sense of the world around them. I realized that, like my unusual mix of backgrounds, science and myth weren't as contradictory as they seemed on the surface. Both are tools that we humans use to understand how we fit in with the rest of the universe. And after spending almost ten years studying the physics of space, five of them in a PhD program that inspired three stress tattoos and multiple rounds of therapy, my perspective on everything has widened in the most illuminating way. I feel more connected to people and nature, and more comfortable with my place among all of it.

Astronauts feel this same shift in perspective when they view Earth from orbit, because when you're in space, you can't see the imaginary borders that divide us. You see how fragile the complex, interconnected ecosystem we call home really is, and our petty human squabbles seem small and unnecessary. Philosopher Frank White called this life-changing cognitive shift the overview effect, and I've always thought Earth would be a much nicer place for all of us to live if we each got to experience just a little bit of it.

Realistically, we won't all get there by visiting space. Some people get to this same point through faith or meditation or drugs. I got there through science, by spending an inordinate amount of time picturing Earth, our solar system, and the Milky Way as their own small parts of the grander whole. Okay, maybe there were some drugs, too, but it was mostly the way the science mixed with my gentle artist's soul.

Now that I know how to speak its language, I'm more enamored of nighttime than ever. That's why I was honored when the Milky Way itself picked me to relay its story. I hope that by the end, you've grown so fond of the stars and the galaxy that made them that you, too, start to hear what the night has to say.

Chapter One
I Am the Milky Way

TAKE A LOOK AROUND YOU, human. What do you see?

Actually, don't answer that. Why would I bother listening to you when I know you'll get it wrong? You'll start naming objects and places, but that chair you're sitting in isn't just a chair. That book you're holding isn't just a book. Even the planet your kind is on the brink of ruining isn't just a planet. They're all me.

Everything you've ever seen or touched is a part of me. Yes, even you, you vain, filthy animal.

I made it all. Not intentionally, of course. I have no need for chairs, and I really couldn't have cared less about whether or not one of my worlds produced life, especially in a form that was so picky about where it sat. You humans just appeared one millennium, and then it took another several thousand years for me to actually notice you. I guess, in some ways, I'm glad that I did. (But if anyone else ever asks me, I will absolutely deny feeling any sort of affection for your fleshy species.)

Before we get too far along, allow me to introduce myself. I am the Milky Way, home to more than one hundred billion stars (and yet you still think yours is special enough to have its own name) and the fifty undecillion (that's five followed by thirty-seven zeros) tons of gas between them. I am space; I am made of space; and I am surrounded by space. I am the greatest galaxy who has ever lived.

If you have even a portion of the requisite curiosity needed to engage with this volume, you might be thinking to yourself, "How can the Milky Way talk?" Well, with your short lives, you certainly don't have enough time for me to teach you everything there is to know about theoretical physics and schools of consciousness, but I can tell you a theory or two that might answer your question.

Excerpted from The Milky Way by Moiya McTier. Copyright © 2022 by Moiya McTier. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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