Sunday, July 12, 2009

Contact, a science fiction book by Carl Sagan (1985)

Contact is famous as a science movie starring Jodie Foster, released in 1997. The movie was a great science fiction movie, earning more than $140 million worldwide, and won a Hugo Award. The movie was based on the novel by the same name, published in 1985. In fact, Carl Sagan had been working on a story for a film on the theme of Contact ever since 1979 along with his wife Ann Druyan, and had been working on the idea with Warner Bros., but the movie never got made in that timeline, and hence Carl Sagan started working on a book on the same idea, and released the book in 1985. Years after the book, the idea for a movie was again taken up, and after a change of directors and script-writers, the movie was finally released in 1997. There are differences between the book and the movie, with the number of travelers being different, the detail of the machine (the machine had to be detailed much more thoroughly in the movie version), as well as whether there is hope in the end.

Contact, a science fiction novel by Carl Sagan published in 1985, released as a movie starring Jodie Foster in 1997

The book takes up the story of contact from extra-terrestrials, but this is not the Independence Day or Encounters of the Third Kind kind of contact, this is more about the kind of contacts that scientists think will happen; through the twin model of mathematics (the only universal language in which people can communicate through), and through radio waves from outer space, which is what scientists are looking for through the SETI and other similar programs.
The book is about Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, who is the director of "Project Argus," a project in a large number of radio telescopes in New Mexico have been dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Then suddenly, one day, they receive a signal that seems to confirm that there are indeed other intelligence sources in the galaxy. The signals contain a blueprint for building an advanced machine without disclosing what the machine will do. The design are in excess of current capabilities and require a huge effort.
Eventually, the machine is built, and it takes 5 passengers to the center of the Milky Way through a number of wormholes, where the passengers seemingly meet people who were part of their life such as close relatives (these are in fact the senders of the message who have taken this form). However, when the travelers return to earth, the journey of many hours seems to have been done in 20 minutes, video footage has been burned out, and they are faced with a skeptical Government machinery, suspected of fraud. The one possible ray of hope is mathematics, with a message encoded inside the further section of Pi.

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