I’ve always said I read strictly for entertainment, never looking beyond the words for meaning, symbolism, or any of other literary mumbo-jumbo your English teachers try to force you to think is happening. I haven’t read ‘the classics’ and don’t plan to because frankly I’d be bored to tears. We can debate the merits of old-timey books in a later posting if you like.
Contact, however, was different. I’m honestly ashamed it took me until now to read it. However, in a way I’m glad because I feel like I was able to understand and appreciate it in a far greater way than if I had read it when I was younger. Sagan published Contact in 1985, but everything about the story holds up incredibly well. The story is set at the turn of the century (1999-2000) which at the time of the book’s release was ostensibly the future. The story is as much about science-fiction as it is about science-fact. Sagan told the story about what millions of us dream about – receiving a signal from extraterrestrials. Since he was an accomplished scientist and astronomer all the science was based in reality or widely accepted theories. However at its core, Contact is about faith. Sagan was a proclaimed agnostic, but he puts the reader in the position to contemplate different aspects of faith; faith in a God, faith in the truth of science, and faith in humanity. On the scale between agnostic and atheism I tend more toward the atheist side but despite my personal beliefs the combination of all of this is why I think I found the book so profound.
It makes you stop and think about the most poignant and awesome questions of existence. Are we alone? Who or what else is out there? How did we get here? The point Sagan is making is that he doesn’t know. The aliens don’t know. We don’t know. It’s the most awe inspiring and infuriating part of the entire story. Here we have a highly advanced race of aliens that send us a signal laced with blueprints to build a machine with one purpose: to transport humans to meet them. But when we get there, we find out that millions of years before we launched our first shuttle into space, there were aliens trolling about the galaxy contemplating existence themselves, and after all that time, they still didn’t know either. In fact, it turns out that transportation network of wormholes and black holes used by the machine was there long before the aliens stumbled across it. What’s worse; it turns out there is a secret message hidden in pi, and even the aliens do not understand its meaning. Because pi isn’t a construct of any human or alien mathematical system, but a universal constant, its implications are unfathomable.
I was happy to learn Sagan also worked on the movie before dying in 1996. Humorously enough, Contact actually started out as a movie treatment written by Sagan, but was stalled in early production, so he decided to make it into a book instead. Then 12 years later, in 1997, the movie based on his novel is released. Interesting cycle of event, huh? Carl Sagan is one of my personal heroes, so I’m happy that Sagan was able to take part in the making of the film, finally, and despite his death occurring before it opened in theaters, I like to think he would have been very proud of the result. Many of the differences between the novel and the film have no real effect on the story. It’s easy to see why they made the changes they did to fit the medium of film.
Contact is a must read for everyone, whatever your beliefs may be. It’s very grounded, so readers who aren’t fans of hardcore sci-fi needed worry, this isn’t some lame Star Trek novel. This is a story about science and personal beliefs.
I gave Contact by Carl Sagan 5/5 stars on Goodreads.
Now, back to reading strictly for the fun of it!
I’m currently reading The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s another older book (1971) about a man who has dreams that end up affecting reality. It’s a pretty short book, but it sounded very intriguing so I’m excited to get into it.