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Contact (1985)

by Carl Sagan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,132137861 (3.98)1 / 235
Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Science Fiction. HTML:The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cosmos and renowned astronomer Carl Sagan's international bestseller about the discovery of an advanced civilization in the depths of space remains the "greatest adventure of all time" (Associated Press).
The future is here...in an adventure of cosmic dimension. When a signal is discovered that seems to come from far beyond our solar system, a multinational team of scientists decides to find the source. What follows is an eye-opening journey out to the stars to the most awesome encounter in human history. Whoâ??or whatâ??is out there? Why are they watching us? And what do they want with us?

One of the best science fiction novels about communication with extraterrestrial intelligent beings, Contact is a "stunning and satisfying" (Los Angeles Times) cl
… (more)
  1. 40
    The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Stories about man's search for intelligent life in the universe with elements of hard science
  2. 30
    Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (5hrdrive)
    5hrdrive: First contact
  3. 20
    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.
  4. 31
    2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (5hrdrive)
    5hrdrive: A better "first contact" story.
  5. 10
    Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (beyondthefourthwall)
  6. 10
    Born into Light by Paul Samuel Jacobs (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: Well-drawn, thoughtful humanistic sci-fi (though both occasionally drop the ball slightly when it comes to BIPOC folks).
  7. 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.
  8. 01
    The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich (infiniteletters)
  9. 01
    The Listeners by James E. Gunn (Valashain)
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» See also 235 mentions

English (128)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (134)
Showing 1-5 of 128 (next | show all)
I've read a lot of derivative works and had seen the movie, but hadn't gotten around to actually reading the book. It seems to have held up pretty well. ( )
  stardustwisdom | Dec 31, 2023 |
So, I liked the story...but the big words and uber-science left me confused at times. Not the author's fault...but it took a bit of mental gymnastics for me to figure out. I prefer this story to the movie adaptation especially since Ellie goes with others through the wormholes. The parallels in Ellie's family story are clearer at Sagan's hand...and no mushy (and condescending) Palmer Joss romance to get in the way. I found this original version has a more believable storyline without exploiting cliche gendered stereotypes. ( )
  AmandaPelon | Aug 26, 2023 |
I remember mildly liking the movie when it came out years ago, so when I saw the book I grabbed it. The book is almost always better than the movie right?

While it's certainly been a while, as I recall the movie really does track the book pretty well. The characters are fuller, and there are more of them, but the story line's pretty much the same.

Since it centers around a time line based on the turn of the millennium, every once in a while it seems dated - the real future turned out a lot less rosy. The commentary around faith and science still rings true though.

Enjoyed it. ( )
  furicle | Aug 5, 2023 |
I'm not going to rate this book, because my opinion of it is too heavily influenced by seeing the film first. There was absolutely no dramatic tension because I knew pretty much everything that was going to happen. I also have no interest in religion and it seemed to have a big role in the book. Imagine receiving a message from space and then talking about old superstitions that stopped making sense a very long time ago.

I guess maybe Sagan is some sort of mystic, which is why he engages with mysticism. Anyhoops, who knows what my experience would be if I hadn't already seen Jodi Foster go through this shit once?
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
Carl Sagan has long been one of my favorite scientists for his clear-headed explanations of how the cosmos works. He's inspired countless younger folks to pursue a career in astronomy and been a guide to the wonders of the universe for many of us.
But a science fiction writer he is not.
His novel, "Contact," is interesting for its basic theme - a first contact between earthlings and an advanced, alien civilization. But his plot isn't very compelling and, perhaps surprisingly, he doesn't use his premise to speculate on what such a world-shattering experience might look like.
It's not a spoiler to reveal that the basic story involves a coded message from outside the solar system received at radio telescopes around the earth. The message includes the plans to build a complicated device that seems to promise contact with an alien civilization which is apparently far more advanced than what we have now on earth. Sagan is writing in 1985, but he sets his story a decade in the future, at the end of the 1990s.
Part of his problem is there is little tension in his plot. The message is recognized, deciphered and the device is built, though it requires the efforts of all the advanced industrial nations on the planet and forces them to learn new, sophisticated techniques shared by the aliens.
And then the device is finished, a delegation of five scientists is selected for the initial crew, and the device is turned on.
What follows is, in a word, disappointing.
The aliens DO figure out a novel way to communicate with us. But right there, when you expect Sagan to key up those cosmic questions you'd want to ask a civilization of god-like creatures who themselves are just part of a vast array of peoples inhabiting the universe, Sagan draws a blank.
You'd think one would ask just how this gosh-darned device that brought us here works, for starters, and what exactly does that mess of organic stuff in the middle of it do? What sorts of energy are you guys packing these days and how did you figure it out? What sort of critters are you, do you ever argue with your neighbors, is there some central intelligence that sorts things out? A Universal General Assembly? A Council of Super-Intelligences?
And, by the way, how many more of ya'll are out there and how many of them are pretty similar to us here on Earth? And in particular, how many of them destroy themselves and in what ways? What are the biggest challenges we face getting to the point where we'll be allowed to mingle with the rest of the galaxy, e.g., and can you offer us any assistance or is doing it ourselves the ticket we need for admission?
But no. Although the crew members are all scientists, they have no plans as to how they will engage the aliens, no lists of questions they'd like answered (How do we stop the aging process? Is nuclear fusion really gonna be worth the effort?). Surprisingly, given Sagan's involvement with the plaques on the Voyager spacecraft that describe humans, our earth and solar system, nobody brings along even a harmonica to play some music for the aliens. Nor is there any plan to capture what the scientists see and experience, beyond a video camera carried by his heroine who doesn't seem very skilled in its use.
Although the five scientists go their separate ways once they are in alien-land, they never meet to discuss what they each experienced, nor do any of them appear to keep any sort of written journal.
There are holes in the plot that never get resolved and some things that make little sense. Sagan emphasizes that the only way the machine can be built is by all the nations on earth working together given all the new technologies that will be needed to build it. He spends a fair amount of time on the crew selection, in the end choosing an American, a Soviet, an Indian, an African and a Japanese scientist.
But then he almost casually notes that the Soviets decide to build their own version of the machine. Aha, you think, now we'll get competition, espionage, perhaps sabotage, a capitalism vs communism debate... but, no. The Soviet effort just sort of fizzles out and Sagan seems to forget about it. There IS an act of sabotage of the U.S.-built device, which will definitely slow its progress, but Sagan never updates us on how far ahead that leaves the Soviets or whether there is even any debate about whether trillions more dollars will need to be spent.
Instead, he introduces a rogue businessman who builds his own device, in secret, and offers it to the world. Given that he has already hammered the point that such an expensive and complicated device can only be built by every nation on earth working together, this is just silly.
Another clunker: The alien message appears to be coming from the star Vega, some 25 light years from earth. But just as the machine is turned on, the message stops. But even if the aliens stopped the message once they saw that humans had responded, wouldn't the messages they've already sent still take 25 more years to reach earth? Or are they already here in our solar system? Sagan's heroine can't provide an answer other than mumbling something about the aliens perhaps having "limited time travel," an answer just as foolish to readers as to his heroine's interrogators.
Sagan also insists on a human plot line, involving his heroine, an independent-minded female scientist who repeatedly has had to prove her worth to her male colleagues (and played memorably in the movie version of "Contact" by Jodie Foster). She has no interest in a private life, other than driving her sports car in the desert, but in a page or so, she finds herself in love with another scientist and they move in together. And then... um, well, he gets tied up with the bureaucratic details, she says some things that make his official position difficult, and the relationship just fades away. There is no confrontation, no "choose love or science ultimatums".
Even poorly written or plotted science fiction can be enjoyable reading (Looking at you, "The Three-Body Problem") and "Contact" is no exception. Even if Sagan doesn't do a good job imagining what you'd want to ask a super-smart alien, readers may be inspired to do that on their own. In Sagan's defense, he is writing at a terrible time for science fiction novels, just on the cusp of the digital and then Internet revolutions that have totally changed our worldview in the past 40 years. Music was still largely on tape or vinyl, Apple's Mac was derided as an expensive toy, and communication among scientists often relied on a telex machine.
Legendary sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke played it safe and set their stories far into the future, where their imagination could run free.
By choosing 1999 as his "contact" date, Sagan is limited in terms of how different the world will be from as it was when he wrote the book.
But given all of that, the novel is just too pedestrian, too, well, bland. And that's a shame, given the author's pedigree. ( )
  SteveJohnson | Jul 8, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 128 (next | show all)
It's bug-eyed monster time again. This time the alien devils are discovered not by Captain Rick Thrust of the US Starship Trousersnake but by mega-boring scientists and lots of hard-work.
added by andersocheva | editNew Musical Express, Steven Wells (May 16, 1987)
 

» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sagan, Carlprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bacon, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lomberg, JonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perkins, IrvingDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werner, MeikeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Science Fiction. HTML:The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cosmos and renowned astronomer Carl Sagan's international bestseller about the discovery of an advanced civilization in the depths of space remains the "greatest adventure of all time" (Associated Press).
The future is here...in an adventure of cosmic dimension. When a signal is discovered that seems to come from far beyond our solar system, a multinational team of scientists decides to find the source. What follows is an eye-opening journey out to the stars to the most awesome encounter in human history. Whoâ??or whatâ??is out there? Why are they watching us? And what do they want with us?

One of the best science fiction novels about communication with extraterrestrial intelligent beings, Contact is a "stunning and satisfying" (Los Angeles Times) cl

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