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Alien Contact [Paperback]

Orson Scott Card , Stephen King , Neil Gaiman , Cory Doctorow , Ursula K Le Guin
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Nov 2011
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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books; First printing of this edition edition (1 Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597802816
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597802819
  • Product Dimensions: 3.5 x 15 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 803,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary Sci-Fi 17 April 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As always Amazon service up to the mark . Still looking in vain for well written , mature sc-fi, based on physical laws ( actual and potential ) in the Clarke or Bear genre . This one didn't quite make it .
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4.0 out of 5 stars What's Missing 21 Feb 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, for contractual reasons the e-book is missing the short story "I Am The Doorway" by Stephen King that appears in the printed edition.

It is also missing an active Table of Contents that would enable the reader to easily select the order in which they might to choose to read the stories, an omission which is truly unforgiveable nowadays, and which (together with the above missing story) resulted in the loss of a 5-star rating.

On a brighter note, the selection of stories themselves is excellent.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great collection of alien contact stories (though NOT "first contact") 26 Jun 2012
By R. Friesel Jr. - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Marty Halpern presents us with an anthology of science fiction short stories predicated on (what else?) *alien first contact*. I was looking for an anthology like this. In my desperation for such a thing, I decided to start a rumor that John Joseph Adams (currently my favorite anthologist) was going to create such an anthology. And to this, JJA replied via Twitter that Halpern had already done this. So I immediately rushed out and bought it.

Overall? I liked it very much; many stories I loved, and a few I could do without. That said, composite rating of all short stories: an even *3.5*

Individual story reviews:

"The Thought War" by Paul McAuley : Doesn't align well with *my* idea of what a "first contact" story is, but it fits with a modified view of that trope within the genre. It has a few moments, and the style works pretty well. 3.5 of 5

"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman : Another one that doesn't align with my idea of a "first contact" story, but is a great story just the same. Though Gaiman gives us what is more like an extended metaphor for our relationships with the opposite sex [1] than with an alternate species. Quaint and sentimental and not *overly* cloying. 4 of 5

"Face Value" by Karen Joy Fowler : This is more like what I was looking for in a first contact story, albeit another one that uses inter-sex and/or romantic friction as the anvil for the theme's hammer blows. That said: this is a wonderfully crafted tale. 5 of 5

"The Road Not Taken" by Harry Turtledove : A quirky take on the first contact theme; I enjoyed some of the inversions, not to mention the way he explored the non-linear nature of technological development (as alluded to in the title). [2] Turtledove's style isn't my favorite though, even if I otherwise enjoyed the story. 3 of 5

"The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, *Everything*" by George Alec Effinger : Feels like another inversion of *what I think of* as a first contact story--like the preceding short story, only more from the human point of view, and without an alien race that's into conquering. [3] Good sense of humor in there, but always with the "one generation to interstellarism"... 3 of 5

"I Am the Doorway" by Stephen King : No surprise -- this one is more of a horror story in scifi clothing. There are some elements to work with here but mostly you've got the entertaining fright factor. Typical King. 3.5 of 5

"Recycling Strategies for the Inner City" by Pat Murphy : Really enjoyed this, all the way through. Neat take on the subject, especially the bit about comparing cars to horses. 4 of 5

"The 43 Antarean Dynasties" by Mike Resnick : Equal parts humorous and sad. Though not (strictly speaking) a first contact story, it does have some elements that fulfill (or at least stand in for) that role. Quaint little allegory about conquest and racial tension. 4 of 5

"The Gold Bug" by Orson Scott Card : Effectively an "Ender" story. (Of course?) Not one that I particularly enjoyed; tedious and too wrapped up in its own mythology. By the time any introspection happens around being but one of multiple species in the universe... well: that gets lost in the noise. 1 of 5

"Kin" by Bruce McAllister : First read this in Dozois' 24th. I find this one so difficult to relate to; it feels forces. It also doesn't really seem internally consistent with respect to the ethics in its own little morality play. It has some interesting ideas, but doesn't hold up beyond some surface-level speculation. 2 of 5

"Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song" by Ernest Hogan : Quirky and a bit enigmatic, but that's what you need when you're talking about art--and esp. when you're talking about art as the only viable lens through which to view an alien mind. Hogan strikes the right notes here for what is (and isn't) said, for *how* it's said, and for giving us such a frustratingly perfect narrator. 5 of 5

"Angel" by Pat Cadigan : I first encountered this story... oh, about ten years ago, and it was over ten years old at the time. It doesn't focus on the "first contact" aspect, but the themes are there: the focus on the *alienness* of the alien, and the alienness of ourselves. When McAllister wrote "Kin", I imagined that he had something like this in mind as inspiration. But this one is pitch-perfect. 5 of 5

"The First Contact with the Gorgonids" by Ursula K. Le Guin : Le Guin is amazing, and there is something special (and comic) about the first contact story embedded here. You'll feel like it's the send-up for some baffling sci-fi slapstick comedy, but there's something more going on in there with the gender politics. 4 of 5

"Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's" by Adam-Troy Castro : In my mind, I went between a two- and a four-star rating several times. Where are the aliens? Where is the first contact bit? Why does it feel so rambling? But there's also this: "Occasionally I glanced at the big blue cradle of civilization hanging in the sky, remembered for the fiftieth or sixtieth or one hundredth time that none of this had any right to be happening, and reminded myself for the fiftieth or sixtieth or one hundredth time that the only sane response was to continue carrying the tune." And that made it worth it, for sure. 3 of 5

"A Midwinter's Tale" by Michael Swanwick : Like the story that precedes it in the collection, there is an element of stylistic fancy here. Foreign, second-hand narration embedded in and interrupted by other, unreliable (and possibly fabricated) narration. Aspects of it remind me of China Míeville's Embassytown, but stronger notes of cannibalism. 4 of 5

"Texture of Other Ways" by Mark W. Tiedemann : That there is a first contact situation, and that we have no basis for establishing communication with the alien species: this I understand. That we hastily engineer not-quite telepaths to bridge that communication gap: this I understand. That *our* species does this because (the story suggests) *our* species is impatient: this I understand. That those alien species also seem impatient enough to permit that to happen that way? I do not understand. (Also: parts of the story, especially the end, seem unnecessarily oblique?) 2.5 of 5

"To Go Boldly" by Cory Doctorow : Back and forth on this story, back and forth. That a species or civilization might be so advanced that it doesn't even recognize what you're doing as anything but a game? Clever; cute, even. And there was something endearing about the hammy lampooning style here. But also something sort of... smug? [4] 2.5 of 5

"If Nudity Offends You" by Elizabeth Moon : The approach was good, the narrator was just about pitch-perfect; but I couldn't help but wonder about their motivation, and given the colloquial narrative style, I couldn't help but wonder: "if she forgot about it all together, why tell the story like she's telling it from her front-porch?" 3 of 5

"Laws of Survival" by Nancy Kress : If this isn't one of Kress' best, please point me to better so that I might exalt. It's a little long, but the first contact element is played well, and in such a way that it informs her deeper themes (and not fitting those themes to the first contact element). 5 of 5

"What You Are About To See" by Jack Skillingstead : The alcoholism bit felt a bit heavy-handed; and the bit with the alien was played more for the "weird" factor (an excuse to do some time-slipping) than it was for the first contact element. I guess it came together in the end, but I found myself more frustrated than not. 2 of 5

"Amanda and the Alien" by Robert Silverberg : Pruriently amusing at times and but so that makes you feel a little creepy? [5] In the same vein as "If Nudity Offends You"--sort of. In the same vein as "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"--sort of. 2 of 5

"Exo-Skeleton Town" by Jeffrey Ford : A slight whiff of Naked Lunch? and/or a taste of Gun, with Occasional Music (Harvest Book)? Surreal and twisted up and though the aliens are not all that *alien*, there is a great story in here. 4 of 5

"Lambing Season" by Molly Gloss : Some lovely writing, but somewhere the story gets lost in the poetics. (And I couldn't even ding it for falling back hard on one of the obviously-inevitable slain-lamb metaphors which, though we had a slain lamb, never quite tied in with the story in a meaningful way.) 2 of 5

"Swarm" by Bruce Sterling : Not strictly "first contact", but "first contact with *them*". Reminds me in many ways of Blindsight by Peter Watts, [6] particularly with respect to its twisty little ending. And this is my favorite kind of first contact story--where some seemingly innocuous species turns out to be unimaginably older and more mature than some arrogant human species, and one that has written off "intelligence" as a cancer. (Only some small-ish points off here for aspects of the style.) 4 of 5

"MAXO Signals" by Charles Stross : Pitch perfect in every way. The right length, just the right twist, and just the right little joke to stab at you *contra* to "Swarm" (which you just finished reading). 5 of 5

"Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter : As the title suggests, almost an *anti*-first contact story. But's understated, and has the perfect tone on which to end the anthology. 5 of 5


[1] I'm being a little too heteronormative there. The story would go after the same point if Vic and Enn were gay. So in that way, it's more about entering the foreign country of sexual maturity than it is entering the foreign country of "girls". The key points remain the same though: let's confront what it means to grow into our sexuality, and let's use aliens on Earth as the backing trope.

[2] That said, at one point when reading this my thought was: "Did he just finish playing Civilization? or Alpha Centauri? or something?" (And then I noticed it was first published in 1985 so... probably not.)

[3] So... an inverted version of the previous inversion?

[4] I swear I don't say this about every Doctorow piece. I really don't. I really did like this story so much better than (say...) "When SysAdmins Ruled the Earth"; but...

[5] Who writes teenaged girls like this? Maybe I just don't understand the Bay Area?

[6] Though in all fairness, "Swarm" predates by <em>[book:Blindsight|48484]</em> by 24 years.


[PS] Halpern pointed out to me over Twitter that this is "just alient contact" and not necessarily "first contact".
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Table of contents 2 Dec 2011
By Matthew T. Carpenter - Published on
My copy has not yet arrived but I am posting this table of contents for potential buyers. I wish Amazon would do this for all collections and anthologies. Pretty impressive list of authors. I will amend this review after I've read the book.

Marty Halpern -- "Introduction: Beginnings..."
Paul McAuley -- "The Thought War"
Neil Gaiman -- "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"
Karen Joy Fowler -- "Face Value"
Harry Turtledove -- "The Road Not Taken"
George Alec Effinger -- "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything"
Stephen King -- "I Am the Doorway"
Pat Murphy -- "Recycling Strategies for the Inner City"
Mike Resnick -- "The 43 Antarean Dynasties"
Orson Scott Card -- "The Gold Bug"
Bruce McAllister -- "Kin"
Ernest Hogan -- "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song"
Pat Cadigan -- "Angel"
Ursula K. Le Guin -- "The First Contact with the Gorgonids"
Adam-Troy Castro -- "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's"
Michael Swanwick -- "A Midwinter's Tale"
Mark W. Tiedemann -- "Texture of Other Ways"
Cory Doctorow -- "To Go Boldly"-
Elizabeth Moon -- "If Nudity Offends You"
Nancy Kress -- "Laws of Survival"
Jack Skillingstead -- "What You Are About to See"
Robert Silverberg -- "Amanda and the Alien"
Jeffrey Ford -- "Exo-Skeleton Town"
Molly Gloss -- "Lambing Season"
Bruce Sterling -- "Swarm"
Charles Stross -- "MAXO Signals"
Stephen Baxter -- "Last Contact"
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Turtledove at his best 17 Feb 2012
By W Boudville - Published on
The editor came up with the nifty idea of bringing together First Contact short stories from the last 30 years. Tales too young to be the classics, and perhaps have fallen through the cracks of going out of print. Typically, most of the stories in this book came out in various scifi magazines of limited circulations.

Of these, I was pleased to see that the editor saw fit to include Turtledove's "Road Less Taken".

[Warning: Plot spoilers!!!]

We all know of the conventional storylines where a civilisation, human or otherwise, achieves a high level of ground based technology, before making spaceships. But Turtledove posited something quite novel. What if an alien civilisation was at the level of the Conquistadors, with the corresponding rapacious ethics. And they stumbled upon a hyperdrive that was possible with that technology. That is the premise; the deux ex machina. Turtledove laid out that this would totally short circuit any scientific development. No computers; no germ theory; no weapons beyond the blunderbuss and the like. The aliens then go conquering. Until they come to 21st century Earth. Landing at UCLA. They kill the human diplomats who go to greet them, and are then taken down by US soldiers. Humans decipher the hyperdrive. The story ends here. But was the launching pad for a series of his stories that alas did not make it into an entire book. The sheer audacity of the plot shows Turtledove at his best. He truly found a mindbender.

The other stories in Alien Contact are certainly good, but none as memorable as this.
5.0 out of 5 stars Love the classic stories 6 May 2014
By A.Right - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
These are entertaining and surprising, usually ending in unexpected situations. Love the ironies and styles. I am taking it slowly so i can enjoy the stories fully. I have read 5 of them and have not been diisappointed.
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your money or time!!! 14 April 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was terrible! Truly and completely a waste of time and money for everyone involved. From the readers who suffered through it to the publishers who put it in print. I would venture to say that the guy who pitched the idea and selected the stories is rich because he could probably sell refrigerators to Eskimos. This is a collection of the worst writing of the genre. There were a couple of stories (only two) that were worth the read but the rest were so bad, the good stories were overshadowed. One was of a boy and an assassin and the other was of an invading alien armada who still used oil lamps and flintlock rifles (?) and mistakenly invaded Earth, thinking mankind inferior because of lack of space travel.

There is so much better sci-fi out there...come to think of it, anything is better than this, so please look elsewhere for a better read.

My apologies for not remembering the titles of the stories I thought were well done. Overall the book was so bad I don't even want to look through the Kindle to find them.
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