Coming right on the heels of “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” firmly cemented Steven Spielberg as the director of his generation. While “Jaws” was a perfect thriller, “Close Encounters” was more indicative of Spielberg’s range and creative ability. In many ways, “Close Encounters” is Spielberg’s masterpiece – a tightly constructed and awe-inspiring exploration of the possibility of other life in the galaxy, of obsession, and humanity’s place on a grand cosmic scale. It remains a remarkable, and singular, cinematic experience. The film is turning forty years old this year and as a result will see a one-week re-release in theaters across the country beginning on September 1. In the meantime, we can offer up a few suggestions from for literary encounters to satisfy your curiosity for all things extraterrestrial. Let’s have a look.
Mary Doria Russell
In this imaginative and often profound blend of speculative fiction and philosophy, a Jesuit priest and linguist named Emilio Sandoz leads a team on a mission to make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The Sparrow is an engrossing, insightful, and challenging read.
Michel Faber’s novels have always defied easy categorization and his latest is no different. The Book of Strange New Things is the provocative and thought-provoking tale of a devout missionary named Peter who is sent to a distant planet that is home to an alien population struggling against a dangerous illness. Back on Earth, his wife Bea’s faith begins to falter as the world is devastated by natural disasters and crumbling governments. Through their stories, Faber teases out and confronts complex and challenging questions of faith, love, and responsibility.
John A. Keel
Mysterious lights moving across the sky, strange apparitions appearing out of nowhere, bizarre occurrences with no clear explanation: The Mothman Prophecies has all of the elements of a grade-A UFO/first contact tale. Beginning in 1966, the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, became home to a series of increasingly strange instances centering around a winged apparition known to locals as the Mothman that culminated in a terrible disaster. Originally published in 1975, this one remains a must-read.
“Arrival” was one of 2016’s better films and certainly a thought-provoking exploration of grief, time, and perception told within the confines of a first contact narrative. The basis for “Arrival” was a novella titled Story of Your Life from Ted Chiang’s 2002 collection, Stories of Your Life and Others. Like most of Chiang’s fiction, Story of Your Life is an elegiac and thought-provoking piece of speculative fiction well worth your time.
William J. Birnes and Philip Corso
The Roswell UFO Incident has become one of the most infamous UFO sightings in history and has turned Roswell, New Mexico, into something of a mecca for UFO true believers and conspiracy theorists. In this bestseller, retired Colonel Philip J. Corso lays bare what he claims was a government cover-up of an actual extraterrestrial event in Roswell. While generally viewed as something of a literary hoax, The Day After Roswell is nonetheless an entertaining – if controversial – read.
If you’re looking for the ring of authority in your first contact/UFO sci-fi, it’s hard to go wrong with Carl Sagan’s Contact. Sagan, the celebrated astrophysicist and science communicator, crafted this novel about a multinational team of scientists establishing first contact with a technologically advanced extraterrestrial life form.
Arthur C. Clarke
Written while Arthur C. Clarke was working with Stanley Kubrick on the groundbreaking film of the same name, 2001: A Space Odyssey is based in part on various short stories Clarke had written in the years previous. Like the film, it is a heady and thought-provoking examination of man’s place in a greater cosmic scheme.
Ursula K. Le Guin
The classic The Left Hand of Darkness from sci-fi maven Ursula K. Le Guin tells the story of a lone human sent to an alien world whose population can choose and change their gender. It was a groundbreaking work in 1969 given its exploration of sex, gender, and psychology and remains an intriguing read today.
A novel by the author of Ready Player One
Ernest Cline’s sophomore effort brings his considerable pop-culture acumen to bare in this alien invasion thriller. The novel centers on Zack Lightman, a young sci-fi aficionado who finds himself in the middle of a spacefaring adventure to defend Earth from invasion after spotting a flying saucer. Much like Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One, Armada is a rollicking, self-aware, coming-of-age thriller.
Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record
In UFOs, investigative reporter Leslie Kean pulls together a thorough and intriguing collection of UFO sightings from around the world alongside Kean’s own examination of hundred of documents recounting the phenomena. It’s a deep and thoughtful look into an endlessly controversial and fascinating subject.