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I'm in the UK and there was an episode of The Sky at Night (astronomy programme) where the presenter at the time, Sir Patrick Moore described a sci-fi novel but I never got the author or title.

All I know is:

Aliens land and are studied by scientists. The scientists ask questions about the origin of the universe, life, etc. The aliens give them the answers and the scientists go insane.

It was the last bit when he said the scientists just "couldn't handle the truth" that gripped me.

I'm guessing from who said it, it's a one of the big sci-fi authors like Asimov, Clarke or Bradbury but I don't want to influence anyone's answer!

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  • Can you remember any other details such as when you saw the episode and whether he said it was part of a collection of stories or a stand-alone novel. Take a look at this guide to see if you can add in any more details
    – Edlothiad
    Dec 19 '17 at 19:34
  • Patrick Moore wrote science fiction himself. Could he have been promoting one of his own? His entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
    – eshier
    Dec 19 '17 at 20:05
  • 1
    Maybe "The Black Cloud" by Fred Hoyle? I think they die rather than go insane though. Dec 20 '17 at 6:21
  • Thanks for those replies! I didn't expect to hear back from anyone. I believe the episode was from the 90s and from what I remember it was single book. I'm fairly sure he was describing another author's work. I've looked at wikipedia's entry for The Black Cloud. It sounds plausible as Fred Hoyle was a British astronomer, as was Patrick Moore. I'm still fairly sure they go mad, though, as that was what I found so haunting about it.
    – user93911
    Dec 20 '17 at 18:38
  • This is a shot in the dark, but there is a Steve Brust short story about a civilization where all the members killed themselves. Anyone that goes to study them ends up killing themselves. The narrator ends by deciding not to have anything to do with this as he doesn't want to die.
    – zeta-band
    Dec 20 '17 at 22:25
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The Black Cloud is close, but involves only one alien and one human. The alien tries to give Kingsley its knowledge of the universe, but he goes delirious and dies soon afterward. He couldn't cope with the conflict between the old knowledge and the new. His last words were to comment on the irony that his gardener (who had far less old knowledge on matters other than gardening) would have been quite unharmed.

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  • Hoyle also uses the cloud's revelation of its knowledge of the past to promote Hoyle's own pet theory that the universe was infinitely old (which was, at the time he wrote the book, already pretty well ruled out).
    – Buzz
    Dec 20 '17 at 22:57

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