Carl Sagan was hands down one of the most powerful and effective scientific writers of modern times. From his infamous science tour-de-force with the first Cosmos series to his highly-regarded work on the Pioneer & Voyager missions, and the hunt for extraterrestrial life, Carl was easily one of the few leading-edge scientists to be at the forefront of advancing the cause of science from a philosophical standpoint.
Despite authoring or editing well over twenty scholarly works, Carl authored only one science fiction novel. And, as you’d expect, Contact is packed with hard science. Even more fascinating is the fact that he uses a blend of religion and science, two themes often seen as adversaries, to push his quest for truth.
Well, who could be more qualified to turn the potential of extraterrestrial life and Earth’s contact with it into one of the best novels of the modern era? No one but the highly-acclaimed and celebrated author of Cosmos, Carl Sagan, of course. This is exactly what Carl does in his eagerly anticipated and, as it turns out, entertaining debut novel.
The plot of Carl Sagan’s Contact is fairly simple and straightforward …
Dr. Ellie Arroway, a brilliant and lifelong astrophysicist who seems to be the laughing stock of his colleagues, intercepts a “message” from deep space while manning the worldwide system of radio telescopes, Vega. She has always been obsessed with finding ET, but this time he hit the jackpot. He has the numeric pattern which appears to be an alien blueprint for an advanced spaceship, kicking off a global race to build the spacecraft.
Ellie plays an instrumental role in deciphering the numeric code and designing the ultimate spaceship from the alien blueprints. But the journey to building the “machine” is not without cut-throat opposition from politicians, scientists, and religious fundamentalists who fear the spaceship might be a futuristic “Trojan Horse”.
In his quest to be part of the crew of this unpredictable mission into the unknown deep space, she comes across a memorable cast of characters that include soulful religious fundamentalist Palmer Joss, bizarre billionaire S Hadden, doubtful mentor David Drumlin, and many more in between. Ellie is certain that her blueprint, machine, and subsequent mission to the unknown will be a big day for science.
The quest itself proves to be more than she bargained for, stretching the limits of her scientific knowledge and understanding. In the process, she discovers a whole different kind of religion and faith that works in tandem with his scientific logic. To thwart the hoax-thinking among the populace, Ellie and a multinational team of predominantly scientists take a maiden trip on their new spaceship into deep space. Upon returning to Earth, they have a tall order of having to convince the religious and scientific communities that they aren’t the agents of a hoax.
In Dr. Ellie, Carl Sagan creates a sympathetic, interesting, and yet relatable protagonist. She’s not afraid to fall in love, nor is she hesitant to employ her beautiful mind and fight sexism in the workplace. The supporting cast of characters, most of whom have a background in science, is plausible and interesting without being exactly memorable; often supplying them with love interests that are equally forgettable.
Nonetheless, Sagan’s dramatic and informed speculations into the deep secrets and mysteries of the universe pushed to the point where religion and science collide, make Contact fun and a readable sci-fi adventure. The book has been adapted into a blockbuster motion picture starring the magnetic duo of Matthew McCaughey and Jodie Foster and directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Contact’s depth and range of concepts are quite unique, which makes the novel one of the best reads year-round. The storyline is satisfying and stunningly delightful despite teeming with hard science and astrophysics jargon.
Whether you’re a fan of fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, mystery, or general genre of science fiction, you’ll love that Contact is reassuring and pleasurable to read. That’s partly thanks to Huxley’s grasp of scientific concepts, which makes it easy for his scientifically imagined and observable universe to inspire awe, love, humor, and excitement.
As with any well-written sci-fi novel with a good dose of mystery, this book is sure to keep you curious and interested until the very end. All up, this is a splendid, ingenious, and stunningly satisfying book that will appeal to most fans of Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur Clarke, or 100 Bullets: The Hard Way by Eduardo Risso and Brian Azzarello.