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Five Great First Contact Novels

You may know one of the stories on this list, but I’d be surprised if you knew more than that. (Comment if you did!)

Fluency. The recent movie The Arrival reminded me of this novel (which came out years before it). A clever blend of science fiction, romance and character development in the outer reaches of our solar system as a ship arrives that doesn’t speak English… 8/10
(I read the ebook).

Collision Course (Robert Silverberg). A quick read by today’s standards (my early 70s edition has 180 pages), this is more novella than novel. Written in 1959, it was the first novel I read (as a teenager) that really dealt with the politics of alien contact. While it can’t help but be dated (particularly in its imagining of technology), I believe it can stand tall as an excellent example of the genre. If you can find a copy, buy it. 8/10 (I own this in paperback as with the remainder of the books mentioned here).

The Mote in God’s Eye. One of my Top Ten novels of all time. The “Moties” remain an amazing creation, a believable race with a believable history. And the mayhem that abounds when a couple of human ships arrive in their space. Oh, the mayhem…

City of Pearl. While the series of books that followed this novel slowly diluted my interest in the characters and settings, City of Pearl remains a classic of human-meets-alien. Traviss’s writing chops are excellent and on show throughout this book. Thought it is part of a series, Book 1 can be read as a standalone novel. Mixing moral quandries with alien psychology, it’s a dark take on what humans are capable of but still ultimately gripping and charming throughout. 9/10

Ship of Fools. Utterly superb. We experience the story through the eyes of Bartolomeo, a resident of the upper levels of a generation starship, a ship that’s been traveling through the galaxy for so long that no one really knows the ship’s origin. And then it meets an abandoned alien spaceship. And the horror begins. This book by
Richard Paul Russo won a Philip K Dick award and I’m not surprised. 10/10

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