Plots involving some sort of alien species are often seen in Science Fiction. The lure of picturing the consequences of encounters with intelligent beings from outer space have a appeal to the aficionados of the genre and to the general public.
Blockbuster movies like the “Alien” & “Predator”, “ET the Extra Terrestrial” were seen by millions. Hollywood has produced everything. Some are brilliant and well though and others are just good and brainless entertainment.
TV has also its share. Steven Spielberg made great entertainment while remaining sound with his mini-series “Taken”. Scary “V” made us think that being alone in the universe may not be a bad idea.
Nonetheless, the visual arts may not be the best media available. When it comes to have fun with a compelling and plausible story and a sound scientific background, books are still the best source.
Some of the modern and classic Science Fiction novels include:
– 2001 Space Odyssey
This is a tetralogy that starts with “2001”. All books are spellbinding. Nonetheless, “2001” is the only Science Fiction classic. Clarke prose is easy to follow, entertaining and provides for a outstanding scientific accuracy. For the ones that prefer violent encounters this is not the right book. Aliens are just the background. They are puppeteers shrouded in mystery. The reader has only glimpses on the intentions of the aliens. Sir Arthur does that on purpose. A far advanced civilization would be so different from us that their motivations will be simply out of our grasp.
This novel by Carl Sagan is also a milestone. Also scientifically accurate, this masterpiece tells the story of Dr. Arroway as she receives a complex signal from outer space that gives us instructions to build a machine of unknown purposes. Dr. Sagan‘s involvement in the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) program makes for a entertaining and informative reading.
– Ben Bova Solar System novels
These are a series of books called Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Titan and Saturn. It is possible to read them independently. Bova’s plots are not exceptional and some characters are somewhat shallow. The author’s superb ability and scientific accuracy on creating plausible life forms the could be lurking in the planets of our solar system makes for a page turning read.
– Jack McDevitt novels
Omega, Chindi, Odyssey, The Engines of God, etc. are some notorious novels. They all portrait mankind’s journeys through the galaxy and finding either mysterious civilizations or defunct ones. His novels have a fluid simple prose allied with interesting thoughts on possibilities of first contact.
– Orson Scott Card Ender Series
The first two novels, “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead” are fantastic literature. Card perfectly captures the struggle of overcoming the barriers created by the encounter of two different species. After finishing the books the reader will be comparing the extra terrestrial contacts described with encounters of our own past such as the Europeans meeting Native Americans and the end of their prosperous civilization.
These amazing novels provide well-thought speculation on what first contact could be because they deal with most common dilemmas:
Communication barrier: Alien life forms will come from a different evolutionary path. If intelligent, their history and cultural development will far from all we know. It is even possible that they use methods to communicate that are beyond our ability to comprehend. Mutual understanding will be difficult and perilous.
Distance: Today, travel among starts may take from decades to millennia. Assuming that another civilization has the same limitation, an encounter will be a very long term enterprise. Even contact via radio telescope is laborious. For example, a message to Alpha Centauri (The nearest star), needs 4 years to reach its destination. Assuming immediate response, we need 4 more years to receive it.
Lack of life: Life may not exist elsewhere or might have become extinct. Quite interestingly, scientist Frank Drake developed what is today called the Drake Equation which attempts to estimate the amount of intelligent life in our galaxy.
Definition of life: Ask anyone what is life and the response will be: Life is existing, Life is Breathing, Life is to live, grow old and die, etc. All these responses describe only actions or consequences of being alive. They do not give an adequate answer to what is life. Finding the answer to this question will be of great help with our search for life in the universe because it helps us into improving our search criteria.
Mankind has been looking for life outside the confines of our planet for a long time. Today Exobiologists are dedicated to find life and to make hypothesis on where can they be found. The quest to find out if we are not alone in the universe is something that give us hope. In the worlds of Carl Sagan: I do not know if we are alone in the universe or not. However, if we are this would be a tremendous waste of space.
Faster than light travel