“For all the tenure of humans on Earth, the night sky had been a companion and an inspiration. The stars were comforting. They seemed to demonstrate that the heavens were created for the benefit and instruction of humans.”
Dr. Eleanor Arroway is the Director of Argus in New Mexico, working for SETI and wondering why the extraterrestrials have not contacted us. Is it because conveying a message to us would be like teaching alphabet to the ants – they lose precious time and effort, and we learn nothing? When, finally, a palimpsestic message in the form of prime numbers and polarized light is received from a young star system called Vega with apparently no fully formed planets, let alone intelligent life forms, humankind is in a collective mental conflict. The questions raised by this message from the stars is not only scientific but theological. As Ellie explores her way through the scientific intricacies and has a heated argument with Palmer Joss and Billy Jo Rankin regarding the theological implications, Hadden has other concerns and so does Michael Kitz who doesn’t want countries other than USA to be a part of the project.
“Zealotry, fanaticism, fear, hope, fervent debate, quiet prayer, agonizing reappraisal, exemplary selflessness, closed-minded bigotry, and a zest for dramatically new ideas were epidemic, rushing feverishly over the tiny planet Earth. Meanwhile, the Message itself continued to resist attempts at decryption.”
Contact is not just about contact with extraterrestrials, but also with ourselves and the tangible people in our lives whom we choose to ignore or just plain forget for selfish reasons. Contact is about how a message from another world forces cooperation among countries setting aside the political boundaries for at least the time being. Contact stresses on the skeptical nature of humans whether it be scientists skeptical about spirituality or vice versa. Carl Sagan has done a brilliant job of writing a science fiction novel while stressing on all the faults that we humans have without it affecting the genre or pace of the novel.
Opening with a very patient eons old polyhedral world and ending with the mysteries of pi, Contact never ceases to amaze.