This book was recommended to me by a co-worker who noticed how much I was reading last year in my breaks between students at work, and wanted to hear my opinion on this Science Fiction novel. As I’ve said before, I like it when friends lend me books they’re interested in because it’s an opportunity to have an abstract glimpse into their psyche. This recommendation is written by the famous astronomer Carl Sagan who inspired many other famous intellectuals such as Neil Degrass Tyson, Bill Nye and Brian Cox.
I was surprised how poetic and beautifully composed his writing was. Especially the first chapter which provided background on the main character of Ellie and the nature of her familial relationships in her upbringing. I loved this chapter so much, that I think it might be the best first chapter I’ve ever read in a fictional novel. Didn’t think that I would ever have a favourite first chapter, but Sagan managed to write a really interesting, heartfelt yet succinct back story. With what I thought was a very realistic first person voice for a lead female character. I was seriously stunned at how familiar and real his take on a female lead was. I think film-makers of today could seriously take note on how he managed to write a genuinely strong story line using a lead female character, without implying any awkward clichés and weak motives. His writing really showed me that we can have interesting stories with female leads, without having to re-make previously male based story lines.*cough, ghostbusters and oceans 8*
Although I did find the middle section too detailed on the exact science of every concept they were exploring in order to continue making contact with aliens on the planet of Vega. Which is really good because he managed to make this science fiction novel as real as it could possibly feel, but for the purpose of a well paced fictional novel it made for a really slow story. It also took way too long for Ellie to make contact with the aliens in person. I know that in reality this kind of process of meeting aliens wouldn’t be a short venture at all, but for the possibilities there are in playing around with time in fiction, means it doesn’t have to feel like such a drag.
Initially the eventual relief I experienced in reading Ellie meeting the aliens of Vega – the Vegans, ended up being quite lack lustre. Because she didn’t really get the clear cut answers to the earth’s and the universe’s existence, that herself, world leaders and religious leaders all desired. Which did make it interesting when she attempted to fulfil the last section of her hero journey. Where she reported back on her experience based findings to her superiors, and discovered that no one would believe her. Her, even with her scientific career and work history, meant that even she wouldn’t be able to persuade a whole world on the existence of other beings living in the universe. Putting her in an almost similar position to religious leaders who dedicate their lives to keeping the faith alive in their God and prophecies amongst the masses of believers and non-believers, of whom they serve.
The existence of strong spiritual themes in this novel surprised me a lot. It made sense once religious leaders began interacting with Ellie and other political leaders. Because everything they were living their lives by, depended on what signals the aliens from Vega were sending. That they hoped or feared would confirm their beliefs – whether it was from God or Satan. I was expecting just a lot of aliens and their stereotypical spaceships, but what I received was a really sophisticated interpretation on the interaction of humans and aliens.
Oh and big plot twist right at the end. Made me audibly gasp and look up from where I was at the time. Seriously came out of nowhere. Not to do with the aliens, but just when you’re about to reach the end of the yellow brick road to Sagan’s Emerald City, Ellie in her figurative ruby red slippers finds home in unexpected scenarios.
Overall this was a very well written novel about topics I didn’t realise I would be interested in, but through Sagan’s expert knowledge of astronomy and understanding of people, it made to be a really interesting novel.
“Why should God be so clear in the bible and so obscure in the world?”
“You represent the entire human species, past, present and future. Whatever happens, your place in history is secure. You are heroes of our planet. Speak for all of us. Be wise. And…come back.”
“It was not glory she was seeking…not mainly, not much…but instead a kind of liberation.”
“She was a wonder junkie.”
“Her romanticism had been a driving force in her life and a fount of delights. Advocate and practitioner of romance, she was off to see the wizard.”