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Visionary, Insightful Science Fiction
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.