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am 14. Juli 2000
The owner of my local sci-fi bookstore recently complained that science fiction has a bad name. If you write sci-fi in America, you're probably going to be stuck writing sci-fi for the rest of your life. It's why we see so few mainstream authors cross over into science fiction, and it's a shame. The problem, of course, is that too much sci-fi is written strictly to be fun reading. There's nothing wrong with this, but critics want more flesh in their reading. Some science fiction has that flesh, and it is upon such works that we science fiction fans must pin our hopes for any future acceptance of the genre as 'respectable' literature.
Carl Sagan's Contact is without a doubt one of the best examples of this sort of work. The story is set in the near future, a 1999 envisioned from the mid-eighties. Its protagonist, Eleanor Arroway, is a brilliant young astronomer who has dedicated her career to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. When she finds it, the discovery changes her world in ways both radical and global, and personal and profound.
The story's scope is grand. It discusses seriously the effect of the aliens' Message on the nations of the world, and also on the minds of mankind itself, which must now face the fact that it is not alone. Despite a few awkward digressions, Contact is masterfully written, engaging, and stocked with interesting and believable characters. The perhaps over-hashed subjects of "man voyages to the stars" and "man meets slimy aliens" are downplayed in favor of introspective considerations of "man realizes the size of universe" and "man acknowledges the Other."
Science fiction, like any genre, can and should produce fun reading. It is a joy, however, to find that it can also produce stimulating, thought-provoking reading. Fans and foes of sci-fi alike should read Contact and see the potential of the oft pooh-pooh-ed medium.
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am 12. Juli 2000
I saw the film Contact based on this novel and was totally blown away, so I went out and bought the book, and I'm very glad I did.
Unlike other novel to film conversions, the film remains largely faithful to the novel. But, if you've already seen the film, not to worry as reading the novel is not merely repeating what was in the film - there's enough unique (and slightly more technicaly involved) material in the novel, along with a slightly different plot, to make reading the novel quite worth it.
Unfortunately, I think the film was slightly dumbed down to be better suited to the movie-going audience - this book is smart, intelligent and thought provoking. And of course the film leaves out a lot of details. For instance, Sagan devotes quite a bit of the beginning of the novel to Elle's childhood - while the film spends some time here, Sagan goes into far more detail in the book, talks at length about Elle's mother etc. In fact, Elle's character in the novel is even better developed than in the film, which is impressive because the film really does an excellent job focusing on Elle and her beliefs.
Lastly, without giving anything away, I think reading the novel is worth it just for the ending, which is a bit different than the book and explores a really cool idea relating to the fundamental nature of the universe (or at least our perception of the universe) which I found to be really intruiging.
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am 23. April 2001
Ich habe "Contact" schon lange vor dem Kinofilm gelesen (welcher das Buch erst so richtig populär machte)und war schon damals fanziniert vond er Geschichte (der Film weicht übrigens ziemlich vom Buch ab). Ich finde das Buch sehr anspruchsvoll und tiefgründig. Vieles ist nicht gleich zu verstehen, es sei den man/frau hat in Astrophysik promoviert. Aber gerade das macht den Reiz der Geschichte aus: ich persönlich habe die Begriffe mit denen ich nichts anfangen konnte in Lexika und Fachbüchern nachgeschlagen, was meiner Allgemeinbildung sicher gut getan hat;-)) Zur Story: Elli ist schon als Kind ungewöhnlich begabt und an Astronomie bzw Radioastronomie interessiert. Der Tod ihres geliebten Vaters bewirkt dass sie sich noch viel mehr ihren Studien widmet was von ihrer Umgebung kaum verstanden bzw. akzeptiert wird. Sie schafft es zur Leiterin des SETI-Projektes, welchen mit Hilfe gigantischer Teelskopschüsseln in der Wüste Arizonas die Himmelsphäre nach intelligenten Lebenszeichen "scannt". EInes Tages kommt das entscheidende SIGNAL, wovon Elli ihr Leben lang geträumt hat.... Mit Hilfe vieler Wissenschaftler wird die "Botschaft" (welche die ganze Welt verändert) dechiffriert und eine Maschine gebaut..ich will den Lesern nicht mehr verraten, der Ausgang der Geschichte ist ungewöhnlich und spannend genug. Es sei nur soviel verraten: Die Zahl Pi spielt eine entscheidende Rolle...und Elli erkennt dass ihr eigenes Schicksal mit dem der Menschheit verknüpft ist...ich glaube jeder Leser kann den Schluß anders interpretieren oder seine persönlichen Schlüsse daraus ziehen...ein perfektes Buch für alle die sich für Philosophie, Astronomie, Mathematik und Science Fiction interessieren!
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am 6. Februar 1998
First let me say that unlike most who apparently have posted here I'm not going to talk about or rate the movie version of this novel. I'm also not going to base my rating on a comparison of the two.
I found this book in the late 80's on a local bookstore shelf and decided it sounded interesting. I had actually read an excerpt, I reallized, several years before. The book laid out the "BASIC" themes of contention between fact and faith. Within this discourse the autor found a way to introduce the reader to some amazingly interesting characters. How easy it would have been to go heavy on the science and forget that you're writting about people. Sagan takes us into the "soul" of Dr. Arroway. Yes, her soul was the very thing that eventually drove her to each new accomplishment. The author lets us see that her mind was only the vehicle. This story is her story of discovery and because of that the ending is especially important. The story shows the frailty of the human species when mind and soul are at odds or simply not allowing the other to exist.
Sagan goes to a great expense of the English language though to tell his story. Although I didn't count there seemed to be "millions and millions" of extra words thrown in needlessly. Alot of the science though was explained well enough for even me to grasp. I appreciate that. The storyline is well crafted and engaging. The characters are interesting and the book is still the second best novel I've ever read. I'm about to order it again.
A MUST READ
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am 5. Juli 2000
Historically, intellectuals have philosophized their ideas about god. Hitherto, those philosophies have gained popularity in many's minds. The soul of one's spirituality, faith, and belief is similarly touched in this single work of fiction by one of those former intellectuals. Carl Sagan shows us the universality of faith and spirit in all of our lives, and whole-heartedly encourages us to frame our own ideas of faithful reasoning. Ellie Arroway, the main character, shows the puzzlement of our minds and Palmer Joss, her friend, lover at times, is it's firm-minded, though not closed minded, mediator. Her journey from agnostic to enlightened agnostic occurs with this truth seeker throughout lighting the way and proving connections, comparing the scientific mind with the religious, showing that fine line which separates them. The end of the book shows no conclusion, merely the importance of being open-minded and having an astute mind, an accepting spirit and a rational sould as their parent.
am 28. April 2000
Despite being hailed as one of the greatest scientists (astrophysicist) who had dedicated his entire life to popularize science and humanitarian values Dr.Carl Sagan proved himself to be one of the most insightful story tellers as well in his one and only fiction work "CONTACT"! It was during my early teens I started reading Dr.Sagan;I started off with "COSMOS" followed by most of his available works. He has that uncanny knack of putting forth some of the most difficult concepts in the simplest language possible, such was his erudition and simplicity! Reading "COSMOS" after more than a decade was a totally different experience altogether because it is only then I happened to read the "Dedication" part. It read: "In the immensity of time and the vastness of space it is my joy to dedicate a planet and an epoch with you". These words had a magical effect on me for, these simple words revealed the innermost recesses of a passionate man with a cosmic vision and Compassion unbound. Ever since that day I had always wondered what would it be like if he wrote fiction. He answered this question with "CONTACT"! Though it appears much like a science fiction novel, I consider it to be one of the most philosophical novels ever written exploring some of the vital facts of our existence with lot of autobiographical elements intertwined. While depicting the life of the Astrophysicist protagonist Dr.Elle who sacrificed a lot to pursue that which she thought to be of utmost scientific import and public concern, Dr.Sagan also speaks out with effortless ease the fierce inner conflicts at the emotional level of even the most undettered. Being the main scientist who initiated SETI, Dr.Sagan gives a clear account of the latest research in the field of Radio Astronomy and Planetary Studies around the world. Every chapter has a few header quotations, which helps the reader resonate with what follows. While looking for a message from outer space Dr.Sagan ferrets out that message from our inner space which all of us bypass in our mad race to survive..This echoes these words of T.S.Eliot:" Where is the Life we have lost in living..?".Yes, all through her life Dr.Ellie was looking for a message from outer space, all through her life she was busy debunking the creation myths of others while remaining oblivious to the simplest message that "FOR LITTLE BEINGS SUCH AS WE HUMANS ,THIS VASTNESS IS BERABLE ONLY THROUGH LOVE" .It is here we find the perfect blend, a rare combination, of intellectual vibrancy and emotional sensitivity which brings forth the enlightening awareness of being Intellectually Sensitive!
am 8. Januar 2000
If you're expecting an alien shoot-em up, you will be disappointed. This is a novel that is extremely relevant to the times we live in. Though written in the 70's (with allusions to pre-internet and now seemingly archaic technology) it still has an impact on humanity as a whole with the dawn of a new millenium.
The novel is about contact with life beyond our tiny little planet. However, rather than exploring the "aliens", it explores us as human beings and as a unified global entity. Will we act as a whole unit working together harmoniously to achieve a common goal? or will our petty squabbles be our ruin? Will our prejudices and stereotypes prevail over our need to work together or can we survive and learn to put aside problems? Can we as a race survive the technological revolution occuring now as we speak? These are questions that Mr. Sagan explores through exploration of racism, religious fanaticism, sexism, and many -isms present in our our world.
With a lot of detailed descriptions and hot debates that show both sides of every conflict, his novels presents what is quite relevant in our world today, namely how will we react if (or when) we find out we are really not alone, in a manner that makes one really think about our global society. Using his mastery over being able to explain to the every day Joe complex scientific ideas and making them interesting, Mr. Sagan opens the mind and spirit to the possibilities of what can quite literally happen in the near future. He ties together science, literature, religion, and philosophy into an exceptionally beautiful novel that delves into the very heart of human nature. More than highly recommended....10 stars and two thumbs up.
am 19. April 1998
I have read both the book and the movie, and was impressed by both. Each form of the story did its job well. Since both the book and the screenplay were written by Carl Sagan (who died during filming) the movie does not suffer from the total evisceration of the plot so common in many book-based movies.
One thing movie-watching book-lovers must realize is that it is literally impossilbe to cram all of a 400 page book into a 2 hour movie. Especially if you want to have your movie viewed by someone with the intelligence of your average American. (i.e. The the ones who pen (in another review): "Carl Sagan can't right [sic] worth anything!" and others expound on the glories of the movie, apparently not even realizing that it is a book too.)
I think it is obvious that the movie did not even try to duplicate to plot lines of the book, as that would be too tedious and would not be the best choice for a movie. For instance, Ellie's long affair with the National Science Adviser, while it could have been duplicated in the movie, would have consumed a large chunk of the screen time (much longer than a one-night stand with Joss.) and Ellie's love life was certainly not the point of either form of the story, although in the book, it served to add character depth. The debates with the religous characters in the book would have consumed a good 20-30 minutes of valuable movie time, which needed to be spent in other places.
Now for some biased opinions. I believe that Carl Sagan developed a greater animosity toward religion as he grew older. In the book, he certainly does not view religion as a friend, but he seees to have ambivilence about it. His view seems to be, "If not carried to extremes, what's the harm?" I recently read "Demon Haunted World" (written by him in 1996) I get the impression that he views religion as the enemy of reason and a scourge to be struck from the earth. (Perhaps I exaggerate a little.) In the book, religious groups are connected only fuzzily to the killing of Dummond, et al. In the movie, the bomb is exploded by a wild-eyed, hellfire and brimstone madman. (Although McConaughey's Joss is thrown in in the spirit of moderation.) I read "Contact" after reading "The Demon Haunted World" and seeing the movie. I remember thinking during the movie, (my only Sagan experience beforehand being "The Demon Haunted World") "This is a very 'Sagan' plot." I was not shocked in the least when he had a religious fanatic blow up the machine.
A little sidebar:
One of Ellie's questions on page 367 of the paperback is rather amusing. Look at this passage, near the bottom of the page:
"And the zero's and ones finally stop? You get back to a random sequence of digits?" Seeing a faint sign of encourgement, she raced on. "And the number of zeros and ones? Is it a product of prime numbers?"
Uh, sorry to reduce your sense of wonder sports fans, but if you remember 6th grade math correctly, all non-zero integers are a product of prime numbers.
In conclusion, while the book isn't as epic as the "Odessey", and the movie isn't "Citizen Kane", both are worth experiencing.
am 7. Februar 1998
No one ever accused Sagan of being a poet, but his first novel did bag film rights, even if this was not his intention. It would have been a better read if written by Rev. Palmer Joss, more poetic, less dodecahedral. I read all Sagan's books back in the 80's, including this one, and almost attended Cornell just so I could take a few of his classes. So I saw the movie. Then I listened to the audiobook, then re-read the book. Of course the movie had to have romance between Ellie and Palmer, how else could you get a producer/studio interested? But Jodie Foster gave a standout performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. So too some of the special effects, which gave me shivers on several occasions: the opening, and especially Ellie's arrival at the window on "the world." The Apollo astronauts gave similar accounts on seeing the Earth from afar. The big disappointment was Zemekis replacing Sagan's "Ms. President" with Bill Clinton. Maybe Zemekis will finally get his invite to a White House dinner. The book is scattered with science faqs which sometimes distract, but the story is original and prophetic. The audiobook is yet another feather in Foster's cap...and I wasn't even a Foster fan. The day of first contact will come eventually, and the then-inhabitants of Earth will react in all the ways Sagan imagined. Humanity will, for the first time, have to consider what it means to be only one of many. Does every galactic civilization have a savior who died for their sins? Would the Creator not leave us a message or clue, or is creation itself the proverbial 'watch on the beach,' the beauty of which cannot be accident? How does a government of a civilization a million years ahead of us function? Would such civilization have free-enterprise, or communism ? Would they even need business, government, or political parties ? If they squashed us like ants, would they feel any more remorse than we do stepping on a cockroach? On first read I found the ending odd if not disappointing, but the more I listened to the audiobook ending, and re-read his ending, the more I thought Carl's on to something. Humans want to know how (or why) the world began, but his aliens are more concerned about its future. This is infinitely more believable given a second look. When development eventually blots out the last green spot on earth, and politicians & taxes destroy our last hope, we'll reflect fondly on our pale blue dot, and the naive if creative & loving inhabitants who used to live there. Sagan's alien saw this good within us, and it was Carl's hope for mankind. This book is about more than its contents. It's about making us re-think everything that matters. And for that alone, it merits a 10, as did Carl Sagan's life. Earth is our cradle, but one doesn't remain in the cradle forever. Thanks, Carl, for all the years. We'll break out your book on first contact, drink champagne, and call you 'visionary' - if we too have the vision to make it that far.
am 15. August 1997
..and this is from a guy who dropped out of first semester physics. I don't agree with the reviews that have made it sound like Sagan was trying to show off the breadth of his knowledge, or achieve some literary standing that remained out of his range. It was a rare pleasure to read a novel written by someone who expressed (and revived in me) the far-reaching curiosity I knew as a child and teenager.
The novel did have a "flat", restrained feel to it, similar to Sagan's nonfiction, but I felt that this was not inappropriate, given the context (it certainly did not read like a textbook--the reader who said that needs to see some textbooks!). There were some minor unnecessary features, but fewer than I have seen in other authors who turned the experiences of a prior career into a novel (recently I've read a lot of Grisham, for instance), and I wasn't bothered by them.
I read the novel after seeing the movie, and recommend this sequence, since I enjoyed the book far more, and particularly because the third act of the book is significantly longer, more scientifically interesting, and more detailed than the one in the movie (although not having read the book beforehand, I enjoyed the movie's version). Although I enjoyed the entire book, the part involving Pi really won me over. I don't know if it was Sagan's idea, but it is the most original sci-fi concept I have read about in years (I haven't gotten a tingle like that for a long time, probably because I keep seeing the same ideas rehashed).
He does have some of the same appeal as Crichton. While he is less skilled as a storyteller, he more than makes up for it by having such a well-performed climactic section of the book; he does not suffer from Crichton's typical pattern of amazing and thought provoking openings, an even stretch in the middle, and a formulaic, disappointing wrap-up.