Sunday, July 22, 2012


I remember the late, great astronomer, Carl Sagan from his Cosmos television series based on his book of the same name.* Sagan did for astronomy then, what scientists haven't really able to do successfully for a hundred years or so: bring science to the public in a compelling and accessible way.

Contact also reached the public in a way that many other science writer's work rarely does, in the form of a big budget movie. Contact starred Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey and was re-imagined for the screen by Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan.**

In other words, the book isn't the same as the movie; its substantially different. I'm not sure if its condescending to say how surprised I am that this sci fi novel is as good as it is, written by a man who presumably doesn't have any special training as a writer, or if its okay to feel that way because I'm encouraged to continue my own amateur writing.

Sagan doesn't just tell the story of humankind's first contact with an alien species, but hypothesizes what the actual processes that may take place on earth to deal with such a re-defining event. His experience work with the international science community and the nations that support them--or in some cases forestall them--allows him to build a powerful sub-plot revolving around international cooperation. Another vein that runs through the story is how policy is influenced by powerful religious groups in the face of what could be seen as a difficult development for many religious traditions to assimilate: discovery that there are other civilizations, which may or may not have similar belief systems--contact with which could potentially challenge long standing religious tenets.

There is a lot going on in this story, and Sagan does a masterful job of walking the line in tricky spots, and tying up loose ends like a pro. I really enjoyed this one, but I don't think I'll be reading three books at the same time for a while.

Read this one. Its better than the movie. But you knew that.

* Carl Sagan's book, Cosmos, was recently included in the Library of Congress' Books That Shaped America exhibit, which kicks off their 'Celebration of the Book' event, which will continue over the next few years.

** Druyan and Sagan met while she was the creative director of the NASA Voyager Interstellar Record Project. You remember the gold records strapped to the sides of the Voyager spacecraft right? Who could forget? The thing almost killed us all!

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