Edited by Marty Halpern

Night Shade Books


492pp/$15.99/November 2011

Alien Contact
Cover by J. F. Parnell

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

As soon as the concept of aliens is posited, the question of what the initial contact between humans and aliens will be like naturally occurs. In 1898, H.G. Wells described that first contact as a Martian invasion of England’s Horsell Common resulting in death and mayhem until the aliens are brought low. Murray Leinster wrote about a less dire alien contact in 1945, in which humans and aliens worked to ensure they wouldn’t destroy each other. Editor Marty Halpern has now brought together twenty-six stories of alien contact in a book called, appropriately enough, Alien Contact.

The authors in use a variety of different styles to portray the tales of first contact. Steven King’s "I Am the Doorway" presents an horrific aspect to first contact as an astronaut must deal with a form of possession. It is offset by the humorous side as offered up by Harry Turtledove’s "The Road Not Taken," about an invasion force that assumed everyone followed the same technological course they did. Somewhere in between those two extremes is Adam-Troy Castro nostalgic tale "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's," about an astronaut trying to discover the fates of his long lost companions.

Karen Joy Fowler is responsible for writing one of the strangest first contact stories ever published, the novel Sarah Canary, so the inclusion of her story "Face Value" is quite fitting, and quite different from her famous novel. In this story, as with so many other first contact stories, part of the puzzle that needs to be solved revolves around finding a means of communications between two different species, a theme which dates back to Leinster’s "First Contact."

Science fiction often uses the alien and the different as a means to deal with issues in the real world. Alien contact offers a perfect chance to examine our own society given how many times first contact has occurred between different civilizations. One area of difference is the sense of right and wrong, and Elizabeth Moon explores the taboos of our society in "If Nudity Offends You," to use our preconceptions to allow aliens to hide in plain sight. Mike Resnick mines the lengthy history of his fictional world to point out the sheer size of the universe and reflect on the triviality and insularity which people carry with them in "The 43 Antarean Dynasties."

All too often, the words "science fiction" conjure up images of alien worlds and spaceships, however, Molly Gloss reminds the reader that the other can be found anywhere in her pastoral science fiction story, "Lambing Season" while Ursula Le Guin’s first contact story is set in the Australian Outback, which also shows that places on Earth can be as alien as any world a science fiction author can create.

The stories Halpern has selected not only demonstrates the different slants authors can take on takes of alien contact, but also explore what it means to be alien in different ways and also depicts numerous writing styles, with humor, drama, military, and nostalgia all playing a role. As these stories demonstrate, the science fiction genre provides a playground in which authors cane use the tropes and styles of a wide variety of other genres in crafting entertaining, as well as insightful, stories.

Paul McAuley The Thought War
Neil Gaiman How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Karen Joy Fowler Face Value
Harry Turtledove The Road Not Taken
George Alec Effinger The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything
Stephen King I Am the Doorway
Pat Murphy Recycling Strategies for the Inner City
Mike Resnick The 43 Antarean Dynasties
Orson Scott Card The Gold Bug
Bruce McAllister Kin
Ernest Hogan Guerilla Mural of a Siren's Song
Pat Cadigan Angel
Ursula K. LeGuin The First Contact with the Gorgonids
Adam-Troy Castro Sunday Night Yarns at Minnie and Earl's
Michael Swanwick A Midwinter's Tale
Mark W. Tiedemann Texture of Other Ways
Cory Doctorow To Go Boldly
Elizabeth Moon If Nudity Offends You
Nancy Kress Laws of Survival
Jack Skillingstead What You Are About to See
Robert Silverberg Amanda and the Alien
Jeffrey Ford Exo-Skeleton Town
Molly Gloss Lambing Season
Bruce Sterling Swarm
Charles Stross MAXO Signals
Stephen Baxter Last Contact

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