Re: SF and SETI

m (
Tue, 3 Aug 1999 04:24:06 -0700 (PDT)

I have read both of these. Sure they are quite alike, but actually there are lots of differences. I think a lot of the similarities (long search, Arecibo, political threats like funding cuts, religious responses, etc) are what many thinking persons would come up with.

I like Gunn's novel for the encyclopaedic quotations and so on, (they represent a great amount of research and appreciation of history on Gunn's part) and also for the portrayal of MacDonald, (Chief of SETI project)and his personal dilemmas, and the ruminations of the scientists on SETI's chances.

Gunn's novel annoys me somewhat, though, for its treatment of women. All of the scientists are males (and all the politicians), females are restricted to subsidiary roles. I suspect this reflects the time it was written (early seventies, I think).

> Neither
> novel impressed me that much; the aliens were simply
> too _human_. Or at
> least their motivations were.

In The Listeners the aliens were bipedal, but also winged (maybe), and oviparous. Their technology seemed only somewhat more advanced than ours. Type I for sure. They are not able to be our saviours, in fact they were unable to save themselves. Their motives are partly a desire to be remembered.

In Contact, I admit, one of the aliens appears as human, but this is admitted to be a reassuring disguise. The aliens leave most of our questions unanswered, and (in the book) scientists are left to their own devices again. Wormhole traffic systems seem like pretty advanced tech (I give them a Type 1.5 at least :-) ). Sagan's aliens are more nearly the High Tech Celestial Benefactors.

So, the aliens in both have this degree of "humanity": desire to communicate (but otherwise , what would be the point of the stories), some desire to pass something on to humans, and identification with other intelligent beings.

> Perhaps the best "first contact" novel I've read is
> Whitley Strieber's Majestic


> But the aliens in it--or,
> at least, their insinuated presence--is what makes
> this one work. They're
> genuinely "other," not high-tech versions of
> ourselves, which is a common
> pitfall in mainstream SF.

Indeed they are as alien as insects. However they *still* seem to regard us as worth bothering with (or just bothering!)in some way or another. They are not aloof super-intelligences.


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