First contact (science fiction)

First contact (science fiction)

Ask a question about 'First contact (science fiction)'
Start a new discussion about 'First contact (science fiction)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
First contact is a common science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

Science fiction themes
-Overarching themes:*Cosmology*Creation of the Universe*The future *History **Alternate history **Historical cycles: history repeating itself **Scientific prediction of the future **Secret history*Language...

 about the first meeting between human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s and extraterrestrial life
Extraterrestrial life
Extraterrestrial life is defined as life that does not originate from Earth...

, or of any sentient
Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences. Eighteenth century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think from the ability to feel . In modern western philosophy, sentience is the ability to have sensations or experiences...

 race's first encounter with another one.

The theme allows authors to explore such topics such as xenophobia
Xenophobia is defined as "an unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange". It comes from the Greek words ξένος , meaning "stranger," "foreigner" and φόβος , meaning "fear."...

, transcendentalism
Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the New England region of the United States as a protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian...

, and basic linguistic
Natural language
In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

s by adapting the anthropological
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 topic of first contact
First contact (anthropology)
First contact is a term describing the first meeting of two cultures previously unaware of one another. One notable example of first contact is that between the Spanish and the Arawak in 1492....

 to extraterrestrial cultures. Though beyond the scope of this article, the concept of 'first contact' extends into philosophical realms, particularly when discussing how the human race would react to such events.


Murray Leinster
Murray Leinster
Murray Leinster was a nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins, an award-winning American writer of science fiction and alternate history...

's 1945 novelette
A novelette is a piece of short prose fiction. The distinction between a novelette and other literary forms is usually based upon word count, with a novelette being longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella...

 "First Contact
First Contact (novelette)
"First Contact" is a 1945 science fiction novelette by Murray Leinster credited as one of the first instances of a universal translator in science fiction. It won a retro Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 1996.-Plot summary:...

" established the term "first contact" in science fiction, although the theme had previously appeared in e.g. H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

' The Time Machine
The Time Machine
The Time Machine is a science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, published in 1895 for the first time and later adapted into at least two feature films of the same name, as well as two television versions, and a large number of comic book adaptations. It indirectly inspired many more works of fiction...

(1895), The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds is an 1898 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells.The War of the Worlds may also refer to:- Radio broadcasts :* The War of the Worlds , the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles...

(1898) and The First Men in the Moon
The First Men in the Moon
The First Men in the Moon is a 1901 scientific romance novel by the English author H. G. Wells. The novel tells the story of a journey to the moon undertaken by the two protagonists, the impoverished businessman Mr Bedford and the brilliant but eccentric scientist Dr. Cavor...


There have been entire series devoted to this theme. One classic series is the "interstellar trader" series by Andre Norton
Andre Norton
Andre Alice Norton, née Alice Mary Norton was an American science fiction and fantasy author under the noms de plume Andre Norton, Andrew North and Allen Weston...

. More modern treatments, using radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 rather than spaceships
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....

, include The Hercules Text by Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt is an American science fiction author whose novels frequently deal with attempts to make contact with alien races, and with archaeology or xenoarchaeology....

, A for Andromeda
A for Andromeda
A for Andromeda is a British television science fiction drama serial first made and broadcast by the BBC in seven parts in 1961. Written by the noted cosmologist Fred Hoyle, in conjunction with author and television producer John Elliot, it concerns a group of scientists who detect a radio signal...

by Fred Hoyle
Fred Hoyle
Sir Fred Hoyle FRS was an English astronomer and mathematician noted primarily for his contribution to the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and his often controversial stance on other cosmological and scientific matters—in particular his rejection of the "Big Bang" theory, a term originally...

, Life on Another Planet by Will Eisner
Will Eisner
William Erwin "Will" Eisner was an American comics writer, artist and entrepreneur. He is considered one of the most important contributors to the development of the medium and is known for the cartooning studio he founded; for his highly influential series The Spirit; for his use of comics as an...

, and Contact
Contact (novel)
Contact is a science fiction novel written by Carl Sagan and published in 1985. It deals with the theme of contact between humanity and a more technologically advanced, extraterrestrial life form. It ranked No. 7 on the 1985 U.S. bestseller list....

by Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye
The Mote in God's Eye
The Mote in God's Eye is a science fiction novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, first published in 1974. The story is set in the distant future of Pournelle's CoDominium universe, and charts the first contact between humanity and an alien species. The title of the novel is a...

was written to be, in Niven's words, "the epitome of first contact novels.". Here it is humanity that plays the role of visiting aliens, as the religious, technological, political, psychological, military, cultural, and biological implications of first contact are explored.

The Star Trek
Star Trek
Star Trek is an American science fiction entertainment franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. The core of Star Trek is its six television series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise...

television series explored the theme in depth, and introduced the concept of the Prime Directive
Prime Directive
In the universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive, Starfleet's General Order #1, is the most prominent guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets...

: a law forbidding first contact (or covert interference) by the peoples of the Federation (humanity and its allies) with any races not sufficiently advanced for such an encounter (i.e. capable of interstellar travel). There is also the movie, Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: First Contact is the eighth feature film in the Star Trek science fiction franchise, released in November 1996, by Paramount Pictures. First Contact is the first film in the franchise to feature no cast members from the original Star Trek television series of the 1960s...

, which depicts the human race's first contact with an alien culture, the Vulcan race. The anniversary of the day is celebrated and called "First Contact Day". A Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry as part of the Star Trek franchise. Roddenberry, Rick Berman, and Michael Piller served as executive producers at different times throughout the production...

episode, also named "First Contact", explored the scenario from the other end of the spectrum - after Commander Riker
William Riker
William Thomas Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes, is a fictional character in the Star Trek universe primarily appearing as a main character in Star Trek: The Next Generation...

 is injured, and his true nature discovered, while secretly observing a race on the cusp of warp capability, the Enterprise
USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D)
The USS Enterprise is a 24th century starship in the Star Trek fictional universe and the principal setting of the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series...

crew must walk a tightrope revealing themselves to the certain high-ranking officials from that planet while hiding their existence from the general population.

By contrast, in the works of Iain M. Banks, the Contact division of the galactic civilization calling itself the Culture
The Culture
The Culture is a fictional interstellar anarchist, socialist, and utopian society created by the Scottish writer Iain M. Banks which features in a number of science fiction novels and works of short fiction by him, collectively called the Culture series....

 (which features in the majority of Banks' science fiction) frequently manipulates less advanced civilizations, steering them towards peaceful progress, especially those that may become aggressive or dangerous, under the pretext of maintaining the balance of galactic power; a notable exception being the short story The State of the Art
The State of the Art
The State of the Art is a short story collection by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 1991. The collection includes some stories originally published under his other byline, Iain Banks as well as the title novella and others set in Banks' Culture fictional universe.-Summary:*Road of...

, in which the Culture decides not to contact Earth so they can use it as a control to measure their manipulations of other societies against. Novels such as The Player of Games
The Player of Games
The Player of Games is a science fiction novel by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 1988. It was the second published Culture novel...

and Look to Windward
Look to Windward
Look to Windward is a science fiction novel by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 2000. It is Banks' sixth published novel to feature The Culture.-Plot introduction:...

delve into the psychology of first inter-species contact in considerable depth. In the novel Excession
Excession, first published in 1996, is Scottish writer Iain M. Banks's fourth science fiction novel to feature the Culture. It concerns the response of the Culture and other interstellar societies to an unprecedented alien artifact, the Excession of the title.The book is largely about the response...

, Banks coins the phrase Outside Context Problem in relation to first contact.

The novel The Gods Themselves
The Gods Themselves
The Gods Themselves is a 1972 science fiction novel written by Isaac Asimov. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1972, and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1973....

by Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

 explores simultaneously the potential unity of all races, and the possibility of conflict inherent in all first contacts: even as members of different races understand each other, their disparate ways may endanger both their worlds, even the fabric of their respective universes. This gap between individuals and their respective societies is characteristic of the First Contact plot of E.T.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a 1982 American science fiction film co-produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Melissa Mathison and starring Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, and Peter Coyote...

Other explorations of the theme in popular culture include encounters with predatory or semi-sentient races as in Alien
Alien (film)
Alien is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature which...

and Independence Day
Independence Day (film)
Independence Day is a 1996 science fiction film about an alien invasion of Earth, focusing on a disparate group of individuals and families as they converge in the Nevada desert and, along with the rest of the human population, participate in a last-chance counterattack on July 4 – the same...


Examples of the mutual inscrutability and the potentially unbridgeable gaps between races which—by their very natures—are just too different to bond or even to accept each other, include Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter is a prolific British hard science fiction author. He has degrees in mathematics and engineering.- Writing style :...

's Xeelee Sequence
Xeelee Sequence
The Xeelee Sequence is a series of novels and short stories by British science fiction author Stephen Baxter. The novels span several billions of years, describing the future expansion of Mankind, its war with its arch-nemesis , and the Xeelee's own war with dark matter entities called photino birds...

 concept of the dark matter photino birds, the god-like Firstborn from Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, famous for his short stories and novels, among them 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein,...

's Time Odyssey series, and Stanisław Lem's planet Solaris
Solaris (novel)
Solaris is a 1961 Polish science fiction novel by Stanisław Lem. It is about the ultimate inadequacy of communication between human and non-human species....

 and the events of the novel Fiasco. In other cases, such as Greg Bear's The Forge of God
The Forge of God
The Forge of God is a 1987 science fiction novel by American writer Greg Bear. Earth faces destruction when an inscrutable and overwhelming alien form of life attacks....

and Anvil of Stars
Anvil of Stars
Anvil of Stars is a book by Greg Bear and a sequel to The Forge of God. In the novel, volunteers from among the children saved from the recently destroyed Earth are sent on a quest by a galactic faction called "The Benefactors" to find and destroy "The Killers", the civilisation who sent the...

, or Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix
Schismatrix is a science fiction novel by Bruce Sterling, originally published in 1985. The story was Sterling's only novel-length treatment of the Shaper/Mechanist universe. Five short stories preceded the novel...

, aliens are presented as falling into a highly diverse spectrum, some easily relating with humans, others too alien for meaningful communication.

Peter Watts's Hugo
Hugo Award
The Hugo Awards are given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards...

-nominated Blindsight
Blindsight (science fiction novel)
Blindsight is a hard science fiction novel by Peter Watts, published by Tor Books in 2006. On 29 March 2007, it was nominated for the Hugo Award in the Best Novel category. Watts has also released the novel online under the by-nc-sa Creative Commons license...

(2006) is one of the latest works to explore the theme of first contact.

A major theme of a number of works of Stanislaw Lem
Stanislaw Lem
Stanisław Lem was a Polish writer of science fiction, philosophy and satire. He was named a Knight of the Order of the White Eagle. His books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 27 million copies. He is perhaps best known as the author of the 1961 novel Solaris, which has...

, most famous being Solaris
Solaris (novel)
Solaris is a 1961 Polish science fiction novel by Stanisław Lem. It is about the ultimate inadequacy of communication between human and non-human species....

, is the inherent impossibility of meaningful contact with alien races.

The theme of first contact, ranging from friendly collaboration to menace or conflict, has been visualized a number of film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

s and television series
Serial (radio and television)
Serials are series of television programs and radio programs that rely on a continuing plot that unfolds in a sequential episode by episode fashion. Serials typically follow main story arcs that span entire television seasons or even the full run of the series, which distinguishes them from...

. Amongst the more famous are Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg
Steven Allan Spielberg KBE is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, video game designer, and studio entrepreneur. In a career of more than four decades, Spielberg's films have covered many themes and genres. Spielberg's early science-fiction and adventure films were seen as an...

's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film stars Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, and Cary Guffey...

and the television series V
V (TV series)
V is a science fiction franchise created by American writer, producer and director Kenneth Johnson about an invading alien race known as the "Visitors" – reptilian humanoids disguised as human beings – trying to take over Earth, and the human Resistance group attempting to stop them.It...


The A.R. Curtis short story Best discusses the subject in some detail, as local civilians and police fight off the military and the aliens in an attempt to prevent nuclear sanitization.

In the Halo
Halo (series)
Halo is a multi-million dollar science fiction video game franchise created by Bungie and now managed by 343 Industries and owned by Microsoft Studios. The series centers on an interstellar war between humanity and a theocratic alliance of aliens known as the Covenant...

 expanded universe novel Halo: Contact Harvest
Halo: Contact Harvest
Halo: Contact Harvest is a science fiction novel by Joseph Staten, set in the Halo universe. Staten is a longtime employee of Bungie, the developer of the Halo video game series; he directed the cut scenes in the video games and is a major contributor to Halos storyline...

, humanity's first contact with aliens is on a human agricultural colony, where an initially peaceful meeting (although preceded by aliens walking into an anti-insurgent trap set up human military) with an alien alliance known as the Covenant
Covenant (Halo)
The Covenant are a fictional theocratic military alliance of alien races who serve as the main antagonists in the Halo video game series. They are composed of a variety of diverse species, united under the religious worship of the enigmatic Forerunners and their belief that Forerunner ringworlds...

 turns violent, eventually resulting in a 27 year war. The backstory of Mass Effect
Mass Effect (series)
Mass Effect is an award-winning, bestselling series of science fiction RPG third-person shooter video games developed by the Canadian company BioWare and released for the Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows and, from the second installment, for the PlayStation 3...

 features the First Contact War, caused by an alien military patrol observing a human ship, which was unknowingly breaching galaxy-wide conventions, attacking it and occupying a seemingly poorly-defended colony, only to learn of humanity's military prowess in a swift counterattack. The conflict was quickly smothered by the galactic comminuty, but the reputation and bitterness persist until the events of the games.

See also

  • First contact (anthropology)
    First contact (anthropology)
    First contact is a term describing the first meeting of two cultures previously unaware of one another. One notable example of first contact is that between the Spanish and the Arawak in 1492....

  • Outside Context Problem
  • SETI
    The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is the collective name for a number of activities people undertake to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. Some of the most well known projects are run by the SETI Institute. SETI projects use scientific methods to search for intelligent life...

  • Contact (novel)
    Contact (novel)
    Contact is a science fiction novel written by Carl Sagan and published in 1985. It deals with the theme of contact between humanity and a more technologically advanced, extraterrestrial life form. It ranked No. 7 on the 1985 U.S. bestseller list....

  • Contact (film)
    Contact (film)
    Contact is a 1997 American science fiction drama film adapted from the Carl Sagan novel of the same name and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Both Sagan and wife Ann Druyan wrote the story outline for the film adaptation of Contact....

Further reading

  • "Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters" by Ronald Story (2001) ISBN 0-451-20424-7 (It was the result of a collaborative Extraterrestrial Encyclopedia Project (ETEP); excerpts online)