Thursday, 19 May 2016

First Contact

"First Contact" means the first encounter of human beings with any extraterrestrial intelligence. There can only be one "First Contact." However, we might then talk about first contacts with different rational species. Thus, the second installment of Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, "Wings of Victory," describes first contact with Ythrians although not First Contact. Will it become easier or will each new contact present an entirely new set of communication problems?

This story concentrates mainly on the discovery that these winged beings are indeed intelligent. The establishment of linguistic communication and mutual comprehension are referred to only briefly at the end. By the time of the following installment, "The Problem of Pain," Ythrians attend a human University and employ human beings to help them explore a planet.

Obviously, it is harder to describe establishment of communication and comprehension. In one installment of Anderson's Psychotechnic History that I have not yet read, human beings colonize an extrasolar planet without yet realizing that one of its species is intelligent.

During a First Contact story, is it legitimate to switch to describing events from the point of view of one of the aliens? Glancing ahead, I get the impression that this happens in Gregory Benford's and Larry Niven's Bowl Of Heaven. Should the authors not stay with the more difficult task of describing how the human beings cope with and respond to the mysterious others? (This is a question, not a rhetorical question!)

For Poul and Karen Anderson's Ysans in the fourth century, a trans-Atlantic crossing was their nearest approach to an interplanetary journey. Maeloch finds an account of the new world plausible precisely because it describes an as yet uncivilized and undeveloped territory without any unicorns or Elven palaces.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

And don't forget Anderson's "The Word To Space." That story focuses both on the difficulties of communicating with an alien race AND how the dominant religion of that was affecting communications with human beings.