Contact is a science fiction novel by Carl Sagan published in September 1985. It follows the life of Ellie, a woman who becomes interested in science at a very young age, but has a hard time entering the male-dominated field, but eventually earns her doctorate and becomes the head of a massive project to search for signs of extra-terrestrial life. As the year 2000 approaches, her project appears to be losing funding, but they discover an encoded message from outer space. A massive media craze ensues, as scientists try to make sense of the message and governments and religions demand to control the project.
My first experience with Contact was from seeing the movie shortly after it came out. I liked it, but my friend Nick explained that it was terrible compared to the book. Years later, I saw a first edition hardcover on sale at the Montrose Blueberry Festival and bought it for $1. I started to read it with apprehension, not believing an astronomer could write a compelling work of fiction, but I quickly found myself really being drawn into the book and loved it.
I have a first edition hardcover and have read it, and I'm currently listening to an audio book.
— This section contains spoilers! —
- So few sci-fi novels have a strong female lead character, so Ellie is a wonderful change of pace. Sagan does a great job at articulating all the bullshit women have to deal with when they work in a male-dominated field. She's both intelligent and unsure and proactive and humble, she likes sex, and has it on her terms, but she also makes bad decisions throughout the book which makes her more human.
- Being written by not just a scientist, but a science communicator, Sagan mixes in a lot of great science education.
- The global fervor is addressed on how it affects both the scientific, political, and religious communities, and I think Sagan does a great job at fairly and accurately depicting how they would respond.
- The book uses a wide variety of vocabulary, and uses it well.
- Sagan's depiction of the near-future Earth is both realistic (countries are still distrusting) and hopeful (the US has its first female president).
- In the end, the book has a really nice feel-goodness to it. The fact that much more advanced aliens send the Earth an olive branch and help them along their path to the future is really nice.
- I don't think Sagan did a good enough job of explaining why the aliens would leave the crew high and dry, without any evidence of their mission at all.
- Sagan over shoots some of the technology with orbiting old folks homes and holographic pictures. He also gives the human race too much credit by suggesting that we would stop buying rags like the National Enquirer (if only!)
- For those people who don't like a lot of science in their sci-fi, they will probably get bored at the large amount of science explained in the book.