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Contact by Carl Sagan

Contact (original 1985; edition 1985)

by Carl Sagan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,29488633 (3.98)189
Authors:Carl Sagan
Info:Pocket (1997), Edition: Reissue, Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:religion, math, aliens, faster than light

Work details

Contact by Carl Sagan (1985)

  1. 30
    Chindi by Jack McDevitt (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Strange messages from beyond our world lure humans to explore space in the hope of meeting other intelligent life forms.
  2. 10
    Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (5hrdrive)
    5hrdrive: First contact
  3. 11
    2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (5hrdrive)
    5hrdrive: A better "first contact" story.
  4. 22
    Blindsight by Peter Watts (Konran)
    Konran: A first contact tale on the pessimistic end of the spectrum. Also, space vampires. Done well. And they're not the aliens.
  5. 01
    The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich (infiniteletters)

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4 stars: Very good

From the back cover:

Who could be better qualified than the author of the highly successful Cosmos to turn the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence, and humankind's first contact with it, into imaginative reality? This is precisely what Sagan does in this eagerly awaited and, as it turns out, engrossing first novel. The basic plot is very simple. A worldwide system of radio telescopes, in the charge of brilliant astrophysicist Ellie Arroway, picks up a "Message" from outer space. Ellie is instrumental in decoding the message and building the "Machine" for which it gives instructions (despite stiff opposition from religious fundamentalists and those scientists and politicians who fear it may be a Trojan Horse). Then she and fellow members of a small multinational team board the machine, take a startling trip into outer spaceand on their return must convince the scientific community that they are not the perpetrators of a hoax. Sagan's characters, mostly scientists, are credible without being memorable, and he supplies a love interest that is less than compelling. However, his informed and dramatically enacted speculations into the mysteries of the universe, taken to the point where science and religion touch, make his story an exciting intellectual adventure and science fiction of a high order.


After one person told me I remind her of Ellie, and after another said that they were suprised I hadn't read this (I have seen the movie) I finally picked it up. It of course read very much like Sagan, touching on many of his common themes, of space exploration, cold war, his nuanced and complex views about religion, science, and where they intersect. What I was unprepared for, however, was how much Ellie's personal struggle reminds me of my own. I am glad I read it. I will soon rewatch the movie, and compare between the two.

Salient points and things that intrigued me:

One day he told her he wanted a baby.
“A baby?” she asked him. "But I'd have to go to leave school. I have years more before I'm done. If I had a baby, I'd never go back to school.”
“Yeah, but we'd have a baby. You wouldn't have school, but you'd have something else.”
“Jesse, I *need* school. “
He shrugged, and she could feel their lives together slip off his shoulders and away. It lasted another few months but it all really had been settled in that brief exchange.

That her mother could truly love him was inconceivable. She must have remarried out of loneliness, out of weakness. She needed someone to take care of her. Ellie vowed she would never accept a position of dependence.

At the height of the sexual revolution, she experimented with gradually increasing enthusiasm, but found she was intimidating her would-be lovers. Her relationships tended to last a few months or less. The alternative seemed to be to disguise her interests and stifle her opinions, which she refused to do in high school. The image of her mother, condemned to a resigned and placatory imprisonment, haunted Ellie. She began wondering about men unconnected with academic and scientific life.

[From outer space] You get to thinking of Earth as an organism, a living thing. You get to worry about it, care for it, wish it well. National boundaries are as invisible as meridians of longitude. The boundaries are arbitrary, the planet is real. Spaceflight, therefore, is subversive. If they are fortunate enough to find themselves in Earth orbit, most people, after a little meditation, have similar thoughts. The nations that had instituted space flight had done so largely for nationalistic reasons. It was a small irony that almost everyone who entered space received a startling glimpse of transnational perspective, of the Earth as one world.

We have received an invitation. A very unusual invitation. Maybe it is to go to a banquet. The Earth has never been invited to a banquet before. It would be impolite to refuse.

This is the first moment in human history when its possible to search for the inhabitants of other worlds. If we fail, we’ve calibrated something of a rarity and preciousness of life on our planet—a fact, if it is one, very much worth knowing. And if we succeed, we’ll have changed history of our species, broken the shackles of provincialism.

Ellie paused in the doorway of the control room…to admire the small group of scientists who were talking with great animation… these were not stylish people, she thought. They were not conventionally good looking. But there was something unmistakably attractive about them. They were excellent at what they did and, especially in the discovery process, were utterly absorbed in their work.

He had coaxed an exquisite blue caterpillar to climb aboard a twig. It briskly padded along, its iridescent body rippling with motion of fourteen pairs of feet. AT the end of the twig, it held on with its last five segments and flailed in the air in a plucky attempt to find a new perch. Unsuccessful, it turned itself around smartly and retracted its many steps. Der Heer then changed his clutch on the twig so that when the caterpillar returned to its starting point, there was again nowhere to go. Like some caged mammalian carnivore, it paced back and forth, many times.

Look, we all have a thirst for wonder. It’s a deeply human quality. Science and religion are both bound up with it. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to make stories up, you don’t have to exaggerate. There’s wonder and awe enough in the real world. Nature’s a lot better at inventing wonders than we are.

She asked Eda if he’d ever had a transforming religious experience… “When I first picked up Euclid. Also when I first understood Newtonian gravitation. And Maxwell’s equations,and general relativity. And during my work on superunification. I have been fortunate enough to have had many religious experiences.” “No, you know what I mean. Apart from science.” “Never. Never apart from science.”

Really? Think of what else they’ve made people believe. They’ve persuaded us that we’ll be safe if only we spend all our wealth so everybody on Earth can be killed in a moment—when the governments decide the time has come. I would think its hard to make people believe something so foolish. No, Ellie, they’re good at convincing. They need only say the Machine doesn’t work and that we’ve gone a little mad.

I devoted my life to the Revolution and I have no regrets. But I know almost nothing of my mother and father. I have no memories of them. Your mother is still alive. You remember your father and you found him again. Do not overlook how fortunate you are.

I’ve been searching, Eleanor. After all these years, believe me, I know the truth when I see it. Any faith that admires truth, that strives to know God, must be brave enough to accommodate the universe. I mean the real universe, All those light years. All those worlds. I think of the scope of your universe, the opportunities it affords the Creator, and it takes my breath away. It’s much better than bottling Him up in one small world. I never liked the idea of Earth as God’s green footstool. IT’s too reassuring, like a children’s story, like a tranquilizer. But your universe has room enough, and time enough, for the kind of God I believe in.

In the mirror, she saw a woman neither young nor old, neither mother nor daughter. They had been right to keep the truth from her. She was not sufficiently advanced to receive that signal, much less decrypt it. She had spent her career attempting to make contact with the most remote and alien of strangers, while in her own life she had made contact with hardly anyone at all. She had been fierce in debunking the creation myths of others, and oblivious to the lie at the core of her own. She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love. ( )
  PokPok | Jun 17, 2017 |
I have seen the movie and liked it, but had not read it. The movie followed the book fairly well except in the movie, Ellie (played by Jodie Foster) goes on the machine alone, while in the book there are five people from various places. The books starts with her early life and the death of her father. In the book, her mother remarries and she hates her step-father who doesn't seem to have any faith in a girl going into science. In the book, near the end, she discovers that her step-father was her real father. There is a lot of discussion of science and religion - some of the concepts I found difficult to follow, but I liked the book and recommend it.
  taurus27 | May 5, 2017 |
Astrophysicist Ellie Arroway has picked up a message from a radio telescope system. She decodes a message that provides instructions for building a Machine. Along with a small international group of scientists, she travels into space to meet the intelligence that sent the message. But how will they convince the world that they haven’t it’s not a gigantic hoax?

A prophetic adventure, speculating on society and the mysteries of the universe, this story, with its credible characters and enough scientific detail to make the tale believable, will keep fans of the genre engrossed in the story.

Recommended. ( )
  jfe16 | Nov 18, 2016 |
I can't come up with words that fully describe the joy, awe, and profoundness I derived from this book. It was sublime. ( )
  EllAreBee | Sep 19, 2016 |
If not for the powerful ending, I would have given it only two stars. I still do believe that Sagan was better off writing his non-fiction, because his fiction is quite boring and hard to read. Not sure about his other fiction books, but this one's pretty tedious for sure. ( )
  avalinah | Sep 11, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carl Saganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bacon, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lomberg, JonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perkins, IrvingDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For Alexandra,
who comes of age
with the Millennium.
May we leave your generation a world
better than the one we were given.
First words
By human standards it could not possibly have been artificial: It was the size of a world.
For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.
You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.
She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
Your religion assumes that people are children and need a boogeyman so they'll behave. You want people to believe in God so they'll obey the law. That's the only means that occurs to you: a strict secular police force, and the threat of punishment by an all-seeing God for whatever the police overlook. You sell human beings short.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0671004107, Mass Market Paperback)

It is December 1999, the dawn of the millennium, and a team of international scientists is poised for the most fantastic adventure in human history. After years of scanning the galaxy for signs of somebody or something else, this team believes they've found a message from an intelligent source--and they travel deep into space to meet it. Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sagan injects Contact, his prophetic adventure story, with scientific details that make it utterly believable. It is a Cold War era novel that parlays the nuclear paranoia of the time into exquisitely wrought tension among the various countries involved. Sagan meditates on science, religion, and government--the elements that define society--and looks to their impact on and role in the future. His ability to pack an exciting read with such rich content is an unusual talent that makes Contact a modern sci-fi classic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:08 -0400)

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In the year 1999 a multinational team of astronauts sets out to discover the secrets of the universe.

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