Review: Contact by Carl Sagan

Rating:

Contact by Carl Sagan

Summary: Having now read the book, I have to say that I am more and more impressed with the movie adaptation, and I already considered it one of the better sci-fi movies I’ve seen. The adaptation was able to bring a vital human element to the story that I found missing in the novel, and seemed to be much better focused on what I consider to be the important portions of the characters, story, and overall theme.

Full Review:

I am curious to learn if the very intellectual-sounding voice used throughout the novel was purposefully chosen, given the very intellectual main character Ellie, or if this is just Sagan’s voice. While this voice reflected the tone of the novel very well, with its discussions and thoughts regarding an academic or scientist’s general emphasis on the use of reason over faith and emotions, I thought the objective, intellectual storytelling made it harder to connect personally to the story or the characters.

Even during Ellie’s “affair” – the affair with the national science advisor, not the alleged, and seemingly unlikely, affairs during the period of time we are absent from the character – the tone was almost entirely intellectual. Nowhere in the story off Ken and Ellie, in their actions or thoughts or behaviors, did I see anything close to what I would consider a love affair. Granted both characters involved were academics, but still there were very few examples of what the characters were feeling or doing to feel that they were in love. Perhaps most telling is that shortly after the main character announces that she is in love, the relationship almost immediately falls apart – with as little explanation for why it dissolved as for why it began in the first place. The vagaries involved with this side plot make me wonder if the author was uncomfortable writing this type of emotion – or if it was just another attempt to show how emotionally closed-off the character was. If so, it was poorly executed.

In reading the novel, it is obvious that Sagan’s strengths are the science, rather than the emotions and motivations of his characters. While each of the characters has an interesting tidbit of information attached to them, or an out-of-the-blue page or two of historical background, the driving force of the novel is not the persistence or brilliance or courage or moral testing of the characters, but the science surrounding the Message and the Machine, the detection and pattern recognition and decryption and building and traveling and theoretical discussions for each step along the way.

Overall, having now read the book, I have to say that I am more and more impressed with the movie adaptation, and I already considered it one of the better sci-fi movies I’ve seen. In particular, the storylines and themes the movie chose to pursue, and the merging of certain characters, worked out excellently. The casting of Foster, McConaughey, Skerritt, Morse, and Hurt were also all good choices. The adaptation was able to bring a vital human element to the story that I found missing in the novel, and seemed to be much better focused on what I consider to be the important portions of the characters, story, and overall theme.

10/31/06 CSL

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