Review of Contact by Carl Sagan

19 October 2023

Carl Sagan was not just an astrophysicist but a philosopher of the cosmos. Known for popularizing science and bringing complex ideas to the layperson, Sagan also made a significant contribution to science fiction with his novel "Contact." Published in 1985, the novel explores a multitude of themes, including the scientific method, the search for extraterrestrial life, and the potential cultural impact of contact with an alien civilization.

contact carl sagn book review

Plot Summary

In "Contact," Dr. Ellie Arroway is an astronomer who becomes instrumental in humanity's first interaction with an extraterrestrial civilization. She works on the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project and becomes the point person when mysterious signals are received from the star system Vega. The signals lead to the construction of a "Machine," a mysterious device whose purpose becomes the central question of the novel.

Literary Style

Sagan’s writing style in "Contact" beautifully marries scientific rigor with poetic eloquence. The narrative pacing is carefully orchestrated to first ground us in its scientific roots before catapulting us into its speculative wonders. This duality can be appreciated in the scientific jargon presented in lay terms, making complex ideas accessible to the general reader.

Character Analysis: Dr. Ellie Arroway

Dr. Ellie Arroway serves as the emotional and intellectual anchor of the novel. A prodigious scientist driven by insatiable curiosity, Ellie is introduced as a skeptic, both in matters of faith and authority. As the story unfolds, her character evolves to embrace not only the awe-inspiring revelations about the universe but also the intricate and often confounding emotional tapestry of human life. Her motivations are deeply rooted in her need to understand the cosmos, a yearning so strong that it often puts her at odds with political and religious institutions.

Scientific Concepts

What sets "Contact" apart from many other science fiction novels is its robust grounding in actual scientific theories. The book delves into radio astronomy, mathematics, and engineering, among other fields. Sagan, being a renowned scientist, incorporates these elements seamlessly into the narrative, thereby enriching the story without bogging it down with unnecessary complexity.

Themes and Messages

"Contact" is a rich tapestry of themes woven into a narrative that aims to explore humanity's place in the universe. One central theme is the quest for knowledge, personified by Ellie and her relentless pursuit of the unknown. Alongside this is the theme of science versus faith, where the scientific method is often shown in a tussle with religious dogma.

The ethics of scientific discovery also feature prominently, raising questions about the moral implications of breakthroughs that have the potential to reshape human society. Through these themes, various science fiction tropes such as first contact with alien life, advanced technology, and cosmic phenomena are also explored.

Cultural and Social Impact

Since its publication, "Contact" has resonated profoundly within the science fiction community and has inspired countless discussions on the implications of extraterrestrial contact. Its 1997 film adaptation further expanded its reach, presenting its themes to a broader audience and making it a cornerstone of pop-culture references to alien life and interstellar travel.

Conclusion and Recommendations

"Contact" stands as an enduring work that has influenced both the science fiction genre and the broader cultural dialogue around science, faith, and the human condition. For readers enchanted by the ideas and narrative style of "Contact," diving into other works by Carl Sagan is highly recommended. "Cosmos" explores the universe on a grand scale and touches on many of the scientific topics seen in "Contact." "The Demon-Haunted World" offers a critical look at skepticism and the importance of the scientific method. Lastly, "Pale Blue Dot" provides a perspective on Earth and humanity's place in the cosmos that resonates well with the themes of "Contact."

Through its compelling characters, scientifically informed narrative, and intricate themes, "Contact" serves as a seminal work that continues to inspire and provoke thought in anyone who turns its pages.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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