Lessons From My Uncle’s Sci-Fi Library: Contact
  Up Late    November 15, 2015     Sarah Parker-Lee


My uncle believed in aliens. Or at least looking for them. All three of his home computers were linked to the SETI@home experiment, which uses internet-connected computers to analyze radio telescope data in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Whenever his computers had enough bandwidth, they ran the program in the background, looking for signs of alien life, while my uncle did his taxes, returned work emails, and bought kitty litter.

I loved him for that. At thirty-five, I still do a giddy little dance when I think about the planned missions to Mars, Enceladus, and Europa. I even braved the Mad-Max-like conditions of JPL’s Open House (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab) this year and it was heaven. Space heaven.

And yet, Contact, by Carl Sagan, is another classic I’ve never read. My uncle first read it in 1985. Thirty years ago. I was surprised the book is still so relevant – female scientists rising above discrimination, humanity’s need to put aside petty squabbles and care for the Earth, and the hope that we are more than just alone. (“Alien mega-structure” anyone?)

Contact follows Dr. Ellie Arroway as she leads the way to discover alien life through a radio signal broadcasting a message to Earth. Through themes of religion, atheism, family, relationships, world politics, and mob mentality, the need for human connection, and the alien contact that catalyses it on a global scale, rings loud and clear. The whole book is about people needing one another.

I was five when my uncle first started carrying this book around. Fourteen years later, he was a SETI@home early-adopter and I learned I was not alone, that it was okay to believe. We both liked feeling small in a big universe because it makes the ordinary, extraordinary, and integral to the thrill of what’s to come. “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” (Carl Sagan, Contact)



Up Next: The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi


Sarah Parker-Lee has written copy for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, currently writes & edits at SCBWI’s CA Tri-Regional blog “Kite Tales,” writes at the Dwarf+Giant blog, and is finishing her own YA alternate history novel. Her new humor blog – “Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” – should be shambling towards your tasty brains in Spring 2016. Find her twitterings here: @SarahSoNovel and here: @abolitionhwd.


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