Friday, March 15, 2013

The Numbers Don't Lie...

5. Contact by Carl Sagan

Contact is Carl Sagan's elegantly written love letter to math and the mysteries of the universe and the probability of life on other planets.

Ellie, or Eleanor Arroway, spends her life dedicated to contact-with life on other worlds. After her father dies young, her contact with the other inhabitants of her own planet is fleeting and insubstantial. The story is primarily Ellie's, the story of a dedicated, determined young woman who achieves her greatest dream. But it is also the story of a nation and a planet. Sagan explores how Earth, circa his imagined late 1990s, would react to proof that life on other planets exists. The religions, the politics, the international tensions. The science. The disbelief. The security concerns.

The aliens themselves are somewhere between E.T. and War of the Worlds on the friendliness scale. Perhaps a little bit like the mice from the Hitchhiker's Galaxy, if not quite so murderous. Not very Vulcanesque either. I'll say frankly, I'm not satisfied with the aliens, but I don't think that's the point of the book at all. I myself often read science fiction because I'm interested in the aliens, in all the possibilities of being different, but Sagan, for all his wonder, is very much concerned with humanity.

That's the book's greatest strength-or its greatest failing, depending upon your preferences. Contact is, above all, a character sketch, of one character in particular and the character of humanity in general. The best comparisons are probably to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, rather than Asimov or Bradbury. For those who wonder about the universe, but wonder even more about home.

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