The best accessible first contact sci-fi novels

Who am I?

I'm the published author of five speculative fiction novels, which comment allegorically on the politics and morals of our present world. These books explore how we deal with the new, the strange, and the unexpected. How do we communicate with a foreign species and determine whether its intentions are friendly or hostile? The books I've chosen are allegories of the situations we face in modern life in our own world. We have a choice. Do we remain insular and protective, or should we be open, welcoming, and collaborative? We should seek solutions and not augment problems. We can all learn from these characters. My choices represent a benchmark against which to measure my own writing.


I wrote...

The Visitors

By Owen W. Knight,

Book cover of The Visitors

What is my book about?

Fourteen years after Peter saved the world, Emily and two strangers receive coded invitations from Emily’s brother Peter to return to the hidden village of Templewood. 

Templewood is home to the Sect, a secretive organisation pursuing ambitions of global power. They have infiltrated many Governments and are collaborating with the Visitors, alien invaders who have brought gifts of advanced scientific and genetic discoveries. These gifts will provide enormous potential benefits for humanity and will facilitate the Sect’s bid for power. But at what cost and what is the Visitors' motive? Why are they taking, then returning, increasing numbers of the local population? Peter, Emily, and their friends must uncover the truth before their worst fears are confirmed.

The books I picked & why

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The Three-Body Problem

By Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (translator),

Book cover of The Three-Body Problem

Why this book?

I admire how this trilogy, which is wide-ranging and complex, remains accessible while posing original problems and quests for solutions.

Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist, is recruited into a covert military group searching for extraterrestrial life. Independently, she discovers a new method of sending interstellar messages. One of her messages is responded to by an inhabitant of a dying planet. She ignores the warning not to respond, prompting the aliens to locate Earth and launch an invasion. 

The invasion divides humanity into three factions. One group welcomes the threat of the annihilation of the world’s population. A second proposes assisting the invaders in solving the three-body problem which plagues their planet with ‘Chaotic Eras’. A third group advocates helping the invaders in exchange for saving their lives at the expense of the rest of humanity.

The Three-Body Problem

By Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Three-Body Problem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the award-winning, critically acclaimed, multi-million-copy-selling science-fiction phenomenon - soon to be a Netflix Original Series from the creators of Game of Thrones.

1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China's Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.

Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang's investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable…


Solaris

By Stanislaw Lem, Steve Cox, Joanna Kilmartin

Book cover of Solaris

Why this book?

The extended first contact in Solaris is one-way. I like the way that the encounter is described through the extraterrestrial incursion into the minds of the astronauts.

Solaris is unusual in that the life form encountered by the scientists on board an orbiting space station is an ocean. Despite years of attempting communication with the life form, they are unable to progress beyond recording observations of the planet’s swirling surface, which they speculate to be a living entity. 

Shortly before the arrival of a new scientist, Kris Kelvin, they bombard the planet with high-energy X-rays. The planet responds by manipulating the scientists' thoughts, memories, and feelings. Kelvin is confronted by a realistic materialisation of his former partner, reawakening his feelings of guilt over her suicide. The boundaries between dreams and reality break down.

Solaris

By Stanislaw Lem, Steve Cox, Joanna Kilmartin

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Solaris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface he is forced to confront a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others suffer from the same affliction and speculation rises among scientists that the Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates incarnate memories, but its purpose in doing so remains a mystery . . .

Solaris raises a question that has been at the heart of human experience and literature for centuries: can we truly understand the universe around us without first understanding what…


Stories of Your Life and Others

By Ted Chiang,

Book cover of Stories of Your Life and Others

Why this book?

I like Story of Your Life for its unusual aspect and mystery. We do not discover why the aliens visit Earth briefly before leaving again. While their spacecraft hover, mirror-like objects land in various locations, each acting as a means of communicating with their vessels. Their visit profoundly affects the life of linguist Dr. Louise Banks, who is assigned to establish how to communicate with them.

She discovers they have separate spoken and written languages. Unlike terrestrial languages, where each sentence proceeds serially, theirs are delivered in their entirety. Understanding their written language allows her to develop the capability to think similarly, merging the past, present, and future and the ability to foresee her future life. This raises the philosophical problem of free will and the possibility of changing our destiny.

Stories of Your Life and Others

By Ted Chiang,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stories of Your Life and Others as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Exhalation, an award-winning short story collection that blends "absorbing storytelling with meditations on the universe, being, time and space ... raises questions about the nature of reality and what it is to be human" (The New York Times).

Stories of Your Life and Others delivers dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar, often presenting characters who must confront sudden change—the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens—with some sense of normalcy. With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty,…


The Midwich Cuckoos

By John Wyndham,

Book cover of The Midwich Cuckoos

Why this book?

I find The Midwich Cuckoos chilling as it describes how the survival instinct of an alien species overrides any attempt to cohabit with or integrate it. 

The story describes the consequences of the day a spacecraft lands and what happens during that day in which time stands still. Months later, every woman of childbearing age is confirmed as pregnant. The sixty-one resulting children bear no resemblance to their parents. They exhibit common physical characteristics and develop far faster than human children. They use their telepathic abilities to protect each other and control the minds of others. They react to perceived threats by killing and have no apparent empathy with their hosts.

As their aggressive and unpredictable behaviour accelerates, the villagers plot to kill them.

The Midwich Cuckoos

By John Wyndham,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Midwich Cuckoos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A genre-defining tale of first contact by one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant—and neglected—science fiction and horror writers, whom Stephen King called “the best writer of science fiction that England has ever produced.”

“In my opinion, [John] Wyndham’s chef d’oeuvre . . . a graphic metaphor for the fear of unwanted pregnancies . . . I myself had a dream about a highly intelligent nonhuman baby after reading this book.”—Margaret Atwood, Slate

What if the women of a sleepy English village all became simultaneously pregnant, and the children, once born, possessed supernatural—and possibly alien—powers? 

A mysterious silver object appears…


The War of the Worlds

By H.G. Wells,

Book cover of The War of the Worlds

Why this book?

I like this classic as an allegory of colonisation, imperialism, and exploitation, as seen from the viewpoint of the oppressed. War of the Worlds is a commentary on the excesses of empire. Ordinary people are tyrannised by ‘superior beings’; the only response is to flee, hide or covertly resist the superior strength of the invaders.

When all hope appears lost, the solution and relief from the problem occur through an unforeseen accident. Behind the apparent invincibility of an oppressor, a weakness will sometimes emerge, unexpected but beneficial, restoring order to a troubled world.

Many of the problems described in books written decades ago remain relevant today.

The War of the Worlds

By H.G. Wells,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The War of the Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

But planet Earth was not only being watched - soon it would be invaded by monstrous creatures from Mars who strode about the land in great mechanical tripods, bringing death and destruction with them. What can possibly stop an invading army equipped with heat-rays and poisonous black gas, intent on wiping out the human race? This is one man's story of that incredible invasion, from the time the first Martians land near his home town, to the destruction of London. Is this the end of human life on Earth?


5 book lists we think you will like!

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