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The cover
Author Carl Sagan
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date September 1985
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 432 pp
ISBN 0-671-43400-4
OCLC Number 12344811
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 19
LC Classification PS3569.A287 C6 1985

Contact is a science fiction novel written by Carl Sagan and published in 1985.

A film adaptation of the novel starring Jodie Foster was released in 1997.


Plot summary

Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway is the director of "Project Argus," in which scores of radio telescopes in New Mexico have been dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Before long, the project does, indeed, discover the first confirmed communication from extraterrestrial beings, a repeating series of the first 261 prime numbers (a sequence of prime numbers is a commonly predicted first message from alien intelligence, since mathematics is considered a "universal language," and it is conjectured that algorithms that produce successive prime numbers are sufficiently complicated so as to require intelligence to implement them). Further analysis of the message reveals that two additional messages are contained in different forms of modulation of the signal. The second message is a primer, a kind of instruction manual that teaches how to read further communications. The third is the real message, the plans for a machine that appears to be a kind of highly advanced vehicle, with seats for five human beings.

In one scene, Ellie is shown interacting with a pair of Christian preachers, informally debating God's existence. Placing the burden of proof on her opponents, she argues the agnostic viewpoint, saying "there isn't compelling evidence that God exists... and there isn't compelling evidence that he doesn't."

Ultimately, a machine is successfully built and activated, transporting five passengers—including Ellie—through a series of wormholes to a place near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, where they meet the senders in the guise of persons significant in the lives of the travelers, whether living or dead. Some of the travelers' questions are answered by the senders, with the senders ultimately hinting at proof of a Universal Creator contained inside one of the transcendental numbers. Upon returning to Earth, the passengers discover that what seemed like many hours to them passed by in only twenty minutes on Earth, and that all their video footage has been erased, presumably by the time changing magnetic fields they were exposed to inside of the wormholes. They are left with no proof of their stories and are accused of fabrication.

Thus, though Ellie has traveled across the galaxy and actually encountered extraterrestrial beings, she cannot prove it. The government officials deduce an international conspiracy, blaming the world's richest man in an attempt to perpetuate himself, embarrass the government and get lucrative deals from the machine consortium's multi-trillion-dollar project.

The message is claimed to be a fabrication from a secret artificial manmade satellite(s) that cannot be traced, because the message stopped once the machine was activated, a feat that is impossible unless one considers time travel feasible, and Ellie and other scientists are implicated.

Ellie, a life long religious skeptic, finds herself asking the world to take a leap of faith and believe what she and the others say happened to them. But one of the only people who is willing to do so is a minister/ love interest introduced early in the book.

In a kind of postscript, Ellie, acting upon a suggestion by the senders of the message, works on a program which computes the digits of π to record lengths and in different bases. Very, very far from the decimal point (1020) and in base 11, it finds that a special pattern does exist when the numbers stop varying randomly and start producing 1s and 0s in a very long string. The string's length is the product of 11 prime numbers. The 1s and 0s when organized as a square of specific dimensions form a rasterized circle.

The extraterrestrials suggest that this is an artist's signature, woven into the very fabric of space. It is another message, one from the universe's creator. Yet the extraterrestrials are just as ignorant to its meaning as Ellie, as it could be still some sort of a statistical anomaly. They also make reference to older artifacts built from space time itself (namely the wormhole transit system) abandoned by a prior civilization. A line in the book suggests that the image is a foretaste of deeper marvels hidden even further within Pi. This new pursuit becomes analogous to SETI; it is another search for meaningful signals in apparent noise. This idea, among other plot points, was omitted from the film version.

Publication History

In 1981, Simon & Schuster gave Sagan a $2 million advance on the novel. At the time, "the advance was the largest ever made for a book that had not yet been written."[1]

Sagan named the novel's protagonist, Eleanor Arroway, after two people: Eleanor Roosevelt, a "personal hero" of Sagan's wife, and Voltaire, whose last name was Arouet.[1]

See also

Similar books


  1. ^ a b Davidson, Keay. Carl Sagan: A Life. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

External links



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