Top Ten Tuesday: books about first contact

Top Ten Tuesday bannerTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week we’re looking at Book Club themes, and I’ve chosen first contact.

Today is the first day of SciFi Month, so you can expect a SF twist at every turn. I’ve never had the delight of being in a bookclub that loved a bit of SF, but I think most if not quite all of these novels both deserve and would stand up to a bit of robust discussion in any bookclub.


Contact – Carl Sagan
Book cover: Contact - Carl SaganI saw the movie before I read the book, and have fond memories of both. A classic first contact novel, it features not only a female protagonist (and a female President!) but its focus on the conflict between faith and science makes for excellent discussions.


Damocles – SJ Redling

Book cover: Damocles by SJ RedlingIn Damocles, we have sent a ship in search of distant relatives on other planets, making us the aliens. It’s a neat twist, and the narrative is split between linguist Meg and local Loul Pell in a compelling drama as they struggle to find a common frame of reference before the politics of the situation overwhelms them.


Binti – Nnedi Okorafor

Book cover: Binti - Nnedi Okorafor - a woman paints her face with red earthI didn’t like Binti as much as I hoped, but it is an excellent if sparsely told story with complex themes. What would you endure to pursue your dreams? What would you give up to save your people? There’s plenty of food for thought (and discussion) here, and I will be seeking out the upcoming sequel.


Second Star – Dana Stabenow

Book cover: Second Star - Dana Stabenow (a blue-eyed woman stares out past the curve of the moon)This makes no pretence to being high-flying literature – it’s Alaskans in Space, and deals largely with the trials of an overworked engineer tasked with getting the world’s first orbital habitat operational. It’s loud, it’s brash, it’s very accessible, and it’s all about people politics until the aliens show up.


The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

Book Cover: The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell (a bird in flight against an evening sky)This is a gift for any book club: when a SETI researcher decodes a message from the stars and finds it’s choral singing, the world is left reeling at the implications. The Church recovers first, but the Jesuit mission to Rakhat will be as flawed as the fascinating personalities aboard. Tragedy, drama and humanity in spades.


Intervention – Julian May

Book cover: Intervention - Julian May (an eagle inside a crystal over a lake. Better not to ask, really)Soon, the world will cease being able to deny that psychic powers exist, yet incapable of accepting them. But those powers are our only passport to the greater galactic community. Told by an charming old codger, this story of fear, identity and acceptance is unexpectedly becoming increasingly relevant.


Blindsight – Peter Watts

Book cover: BlindsightOur first contact with aliens is transient and terrifying; the mission we launch into space to try and find them is staffed by a team so heavily modified they are almost alien themselves. Blindsight uses hard SF to explore humanity, prejudice and conscious thought; it’s not easy reading, but brilliant fodder for discussion.


The War of the Worlds – H G Wells

Book cover: The War of the Worlds - H G Wells (a turquoise image of Earth against a rippled background)We’ll end with a classic: it’s not one of my favourite books (although a pivotal scene takes place uncomfortably close to home), but it’s an entertaining slice of classic SF with some genuinely unnerving scenes – and a lot of fun for comparing to modern musical and movie versions!



I recently tried to read Cherryh’s Foreigner, often cited as a great first contact novel, but sadly I didn’t get on with it at all and it ended up a DNF. I read Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama – generally hailed as a classic – and cannot remember a thing about it or its sequels (of which I read at least one); similarly, 2001, although I at least own a copy of that so will revisit it when I get a chance. To be fair, it’s well over 15 (and getting nearer to 20) years ago. Um.

Anyway, moving swiftly on! In spite of the memory gaps, I would really like to read Clarke’s Childhood’s End, as well as Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy and Alastair Reynolds’ Pushing Ice. I generally enjoy first contact as a theme, and the directions it can take a book in.


What SF novels would you recommend for a bookclub read?