I still remember watching the film when I was a kid. I am not sure that I completely grasped the ideas behind the script at the time, but I was definitely captivated by the magical story of the first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. It is often not so interesting to read a book after one has watched a movie based on it, but Sagan’s “Contact” is definitely an exception. Being in the field of astrobiology, there is a lot about SETI that I read every day, thus I had plenty of material to satisfy my thirst for knowledge and I was not sure whether I would really need to read that book. I already saw the movie and knew the ending. Nevertheless, being an avid follower of Carl Sagan’s legacy I decided that it is high time that I read it, hoping that it will surprise me with something. And it sure did.
I was expecting the eloquence of Sagan’s words. Many people marvel at his ability to speak in such free-flowing, comprehensive and easily accessible to everyone manner. He used this in all of his works (mainly in the Cosmos series) in order to reach for the masses, where inspiration is always welcome. A scientist with such charisma and ability to effectively communicate ideas across to his/her audience is a rare breed indeed (a similar topic is discussed in a great blog about astrobiology, link here). The first few chapters I remembered well from the movie, but I was still captured with the story straightaway. There were too many details in the script that reminded me of my own childhood and my own sources of inspiration (which I guess are very common among scientists, astrobiologists especially). Since I do not want to spoil it for you I am not going into the details of the script, but will describe the two things that in my opinion are central in “Contact”: The Message and The Artist’s Signature. In short, mankind received a radio-transmitted message with its SETI facilities in the US. The transmission was from a distant star called Vega. Since our planet is rotating, the message was received by many radio astronomers all across the globe. Thus global cooperation was required in order to get it in full. Then the message was decoded and it turned out that it is the blueprint for a mysterious Machine. Humanity unites in building it, thus effectively ending global conflicts. This is perhaps the main idea of the book, which I was unable to see back in the day. One needs to put this work in the context of the time when it was written and combine it with the ideas of Sagan himself. It was an era where nuclear apocalypse was still a very probable event. If there wasn’t anything to unite the rival superpowers, it would just be a question of time before another world war starts, and after it the next one would probably be fought with stones and arrows. In “Contact”, Sagan presents how a scientific discovery of this magnitude can unite humanity, thus showing the utmost importance of both SETI and scientific research in general for humanity’s progress. Read the rest of this entry »