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Monday, March 20, 2017

Contact (1985) by Carl Sagan

Jody Foster played Dr. Eleanor Arroway in the movie version of Contact by Carl Sagan.
Book Review
Contact (1985)
by Carl Sagan

    Is it possible that Contact, the achingly dull science fiction classic by Carl Sagan, is not just a charter member of the 1001 Books list but also a core title, one that has not been removed at any point?  Yes.  It is more than possible, it is a true fact.   I will grant that it has maintained it's relevant- just take a look at two recent "serious" science fiction films with the same theme: Arrival, starring Amy Adams, and Interstellar, with Matthew McConaughey.   Both films echo important parts of Contact so concretely that it almost seems like an "inspired by" would be required for both films.

   At the same time, it's not exactly a book that people really read anymore.  The Jody Foster starring film version in the 1990's gave it a bump, but as of 2017 Contact, with it's Cold War milieu and pre-Internet technology, seems more like alternate history a la Man in the High Castle than science fiction.

   For those unfamiliar with the basic premise, the Jody Foster character is an astronomer working on the SETI (Search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project when a message is detected.  Much of the novel involves decoding the message, followed by the construction of a machine specified by the decoded message.  As the title promises, Contact ensues, though it is the kind of anti-climax that one might expect from the real world, not science fiction.

   Like many notable science fiction authors, Sagan is no prose stylist. Even judge by those standards, the resulting pages, especially the exposition heavy conversational dialog.  Sagan's obsession with the relationship between science and religion is understandable, but it doesn't make for compelling fiction, in my opinion.   I suppose you could argue that Sagan earns his place by authoring the first "Hard" Science Fiction, a genre which has increasingly led the charge for genre fiction to be taken seriously as literature, or at least as a major inspiration for scientific and popular culture. 

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