Alien Contact, by Various Authors

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Publication date – November 22, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Are we alone? From War of the Worlds to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, ET to Close Encounters, creators of science fiction have always eagerly speculated on just how the story of alien contact would play out. Editor Marty Halpern has gathered together some of the best stories of the last 30 years, by today’s most exciting genre writers, weaving a tapestry that covers a broad range of scenarios: from the insidious, to the violent, to the transcendent.

Thoughts: I’m not normally much for short story collections, but something about this book just spoke to me, so I couldn’t resist taking the chance to read it, especially after seeing such a stellar (if you’ll encuse the pun) list of contributing authors. Neil Gaiman, Ursula K LeGuin, Stephen King, and yet more. There’s all kinds of talent evident in this collection, and I’ll say right off the bat that this is a book that no sci-fi fan should really be without.

The stories contained within the book’s pages don’t keep to one tone or theme beyond “there are aliens, and we know about it.” There are stories about people accidentally running across extraterrestrials while on vacation, scientists meeting them for the first time, or cases far into the future where we’ve been collaborating with aliens for decades. The aliens themselves range from anything that we can recognise in a humanoid shape, which is sometimes disturbing enough, to completely unlike anything we’ve seen, where the aliens are more blobby insectoids with a hive mind. Sometimes, such as in Stephen King’s tale, the aliens are not so much seperate entities as things that possess and twist humans into something new again. The variety here is rich and highly demonstrative of the varying degrees of creativity that can come when a dozen brilliant literary minds look at the same basic concept in a dozen different ways. Sometimes amusing, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes deeply disturbing, always entertaining.

The fun thing that I find about alien encounter stories is that they end up saying more about humanity than about any alien culture we can dream of. Whether it’s displaying our own human arrogance about the universe and all within it, or displaying our sheer curiosity about what lies beyond us, all stories I’ve found that involve humans and some unknown sentient life form end up showcasing humanity in ways that a human-only cast of characters just couldn’t. There’s suddenly contrast, something to compare ourselves to, which brings out our innate traits in ways that are more difficult in other settings or stories. I find that more than a little fascinating.

As I said previously, this is a book that no science fiction fan can afford to be without. I enjoyed every minute of reading this book, and considering my usual dislike for short story anthologies, I like to think that says a great deal about not just the writers or the editor, but the book as a whole, being more than the sum of its parts. When this one hits the shelves, don’t wait to grab a copy for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)

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