Contact is the first I have read by Carl Sagan and (shame on me) I don't know anything about him, so I do a search on his name on the web and it takes me about two minutes to find that he has just died, this December (1996)! I find myself in a very strange situation, thanks to the free flow of information. I'm about to write a review of a book by a person, that I just a few minutes ago found out to be dead.
Maybe this will sound a bit cold hearted; but if I had not liked Contact, I would probably have had to wait a few hours, before I gave it a good trashing. But, as it is, I actually like Contact a lot, so it should not be a problem to stay objective. The story starts off with Ellie Arroway as a young girl and follows her through her teens, her young adulthood, her work on the SETI project and all the way to the definite climax of her life where she (and a few others) makes contract with the ET's. Ellie is not the only thing that makes Contact stand out from the usual first contract SF books but she is the single thing about Contact that I like best - Sagan makes her into a real person that you care for and understand. Sagan starts off using a lot of pages just to build up her character, instead of just starting the book five minutes before The Message from space is detected (this might have worked, but would have removed the thing that makes Contact more then an interesting first contract story).
Aside from Ellie, Sagan has a lot of good ideas that he uses in this story - I like that fact that we receive a message instead of getting a personal visit from aliens (this makes sense if you think about it - why should they waste time going to earth? Who says that we haven't destroyed ourselves before they get here?).
I have one small problem with Contact and that is in the start of the story (where Sagan describes Ellie's childhood) - I found it a bit too teaching. It's okay that Sagan wants to share his knowledge about astronomy and number theory, but I found it a bit cold stuck in there between descriptions of Ellie's problematic childhood.
Written on 1st August 1999 by TC.
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