Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: Contact

You've probably seen the movie "Contact". It stars Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. She's an astronomer heading a team that first discovers an alien transmission coming from near the star Vega. He is a preacher who takes a sensible view of the Bible. She and scientists all over the world translate the message. The first thing they see is video footage of Hitler opening the Berlin Olympics since that transmission was one of the first that would have been strong enough to reach Vega. Buried deeper in the message are blueprints for a machine. But what that machine does is anyone's guess. McConaughey's role is to be a sensible voice for religion among all the screaming loonies that come out of the woodwork at the idea that the signal came from God, or Satan, or that aliens prove that Earth isn't special, or that the aliens think like Nazis, or...
The movie took a lot of grief for the fact that when the machine finally took Jodie Foster to Vega the alien looked like her father.

What I finished reading this weekend was the book that the movie was based on - "Contact" by Carl Sagan. Naturally, the book was different. But the differences are understandable.

McConaughey's character is in the book, but in a much smaller role. For the movie he became a dumping site for several other characters. He took on the role of the romantic interest which belonged to the President's Science Advisor. He also gave voice to Sagan's discussion of religion and how science and faith are both valid ways to seek an understanding of the universe. He stands in contract to more extremist views that the movie embodied in a crazy looking preacher mentioned briefly in the book and became a suicide bomber in the movie.

Another significant difference was the number of people who rode the machine to Vega. In the movie it was just Foster while the book had five people take the trip. Which meant they had to keep five people quiet about what they saw, but gives the reader a variety of ways to view the success but silencing of the mission.

The book was well written. It made me want to have dinner with Sagan so I could ask him about elements of the book. I will be looking for his other novels.


amj523 said...

Sadly, "Contact" was Sagan's only fiction novel, I believe. :(

Eleanor (my daughter) was named for the heroine of "Contact"- as well as Eleanor Roosevelt and Elinor Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility).

Ibid said...

Damn. The titles listed in the "About the Author" section looked like promising sci-fi novels. Nope, just regular sci- novels.