#Contact by Carl Sagan
The movie contact is a much beloved Sci-Fi film of mine and I've been eager to read the fiction behind it for some time.
The premise is of the notion of Earth's first 'Contact' with intelligent life from out there within the cosmos. Doctor Arroway is our leading character, an intelligent yet modest female scientist stationed at a radio telescope lab, of which some of her time is devoted to SETI - the search for extra terrestrial intelligence.
Upon breaking down the received signal they find a message. Whilst a lengthy search for a primer embedded within the message itself that holds the key to decryption, a swathe of political, scientific and religious debates continue regarding how humanity should react to the message.
As the message becomes clearer, they find within it instructions and blueprints, meticulously written, for some sort of transportation device. Requiring new materials, processes and a level of science currently unknown to mankind, further debate ensues within the human race - what does building and using a transport mean for humanity? Is it legitimate? Now that ET life is apparent, what are their intentions for humanity? What does it mean philosophically; economically; scientifically? What will the machine do when activated? Who should be in charge of representing the human race if and when a machine comes to fruition?
What I enjoyed most about the story by Sagan are all of these questions that the story tackles within the dialogues. This firmly roots the entire premise deeply in a realism that keeps the entire concept believable. I think the global reaction to the message in Contact is much how the world would actually react should this ever actually occur. This realism is further enforced by the inclusion of at least pseudo-accurate scientific ideas and theories.
The conclusion of the novel is slightly different from the film, and 5 participants are chosen to trial the machine rather than the singular Jodie Foster in the movie. Each has a slightly different experience, but predictably a failure of limited human technologies means there is no proof that the machine actually did anything...
The chapters in Contact are long and despite a lot of scientific jargon I didn't find the book difficult to read and I was able to space this one out over a long time, dropping in and out easily remembering where I'd left off. The characters are all interesting and believably written, and I really empathized with Doctor Arroway especially when considering her family situation.
The notion of first contact being from an intelligent civilization as apposed to an invasion of little green men and the inclusion of the political and scientific content make this an incredibly believable and interesting read. I would recommend for any fans of Science-Fiction or of space in general.