First Contacts: Tales From The Vintage Years of Science Fiction

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Categories: Science Fiction
Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks | Date published: 11/29/2011


Countless stories have been written about this first meeting, this first established contact between aliens and human beings. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they look like? And more importantly, will they come in peace or war? This unique collection of short stories deals with that imagined first contact. It gathers both well known writers in the field as well as lesser known authors whose work nevertheless speak for themselves. Are all meetings successful? It ultimately depends on how we define success. In Poul Anderson's "Green Thumb," for example, man has successfully colonized a planet that they had thought uninhabited. But is it really devoid of sentient life? Or maybe man was just incapable of seeing them in their form? The same selective perception can be seen in Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Wind People." An explorer ship landed on an Earth-like planet. In the months that they stayed there, they had not met with any native beings. One pregnant crew member who knew that her child would not survive the trip in space decided to stay behind and raise her son on the planet. In her years of living there, she could sense some kind of presence--there one moment, gone the next. Was she going mad, or were there, in fact, native inhabitants on the planet that she had colonized by herself? Indeed, it can be frustrating, on both humanity's and the alien's side, if somehow, there is no contact made, despite much effort at communication. In a small beach in California, millions of small organisms washed up on the beach daily. They were neither animal nor vegetable, and they moved voluntarily but had no respiratory or digestive organs. In Miriam Allen de Ford's story, these "Margenes" came, but had no way of telling humans what they were or what they wanted on Earth. The difference in the relative sizes of aliens and human beings was also the central theme of Katherine MacLean's "Pictures Don't Lie." A radio decoder for the army stumbled on a communication from outer space and succeeded in establishing contact over the airways. The date and time for the aliens' arrival on Earth has been set, the appointed ambassador to outer space was ready with his speech, and all the world were focused on the historic meeting. The time of their arrival came and went, and according to the aliens, they have indeed arrived. Why, then, couldn't the humans see them? Missed communication, however, could not be only due to size, as one blue-skinned alien learned in Richard Wilson's "Farewell Party." He could be seen in his native form and he could be talked to. He attended parties and mingled with people. Unfortunately, nobody could understand him, much less know that he has come from outer space. The other stories in the anthology deals with more successful first contacts, in the sense that communication was established and there was a face-to-face meeting. In James McConnell's "Avoidance Situation," however, the space explorers probably wished they had not met the alien in the first place. They landed in an uninhabited planet and met with an alien who was not native of that world. Centuries ahead of humans in technological superiority, the alien gave the humans two choices: racial extinction or slavery. How will the ship's crew--who stood to represent the whole planet Earth--counter the threat? Was it possible to have a third choice? Earth as doomed is also in Lester del Rey's "Spawning Ground." The Sun will go nova in a few years, and Earth needed new homes for humans. In most of the worlds the explorers found, it was not certain that humans would survive. Earth needed a new spawning ground for men to breed in; and del Rey's story showed how far men are willing to go to find this perfect place for humankind. The aliens in Jack Williamson's "The Masked World" did not knowingly show themselves as well, but for more sinister reasons. It was up to a dead woman, one of the murdered captains whose ship had been sent to explore the planet, to find ways to successfully warn humanity to stay away from the planet. In "Lorelei," Charles deVet gave the exact opposite; the alien was the dream creature of everyone on board. She could take the form of whomever the men wanted; their wives, fantasy women, long-lost lovers?. She was lonely on the planet and wanted the men to stay. Given that she could fulfill all their dreams, one at a time, would the crew have the willpower to leave? This benevolent alien can also be seen in Edgar Pangborn's "Angel's Egg." A very small, humanoid, winged creature revealed to an aging bachelor their race's wish for humanity. They have the power and the wish to help humans; for they have seen that without their influence, there would be war and chaos, and a risk for human extinction. This process of influencing takes a long time, though, and by then, it may be too late for humans to be helped. To help speed up this process, a terrible price must be paid. Indeed, kindness is not in short shrift in this anthology. In Hal Clement's novella "Planetfall," a highly advanced alien landed on Earth. The story was seen through his eyes, and his desire to conserve the planet and its inhabitants in general could be seen in his persistence and patience in establishing a mode of communication with men. Two stories of first contact, however, are more lighthearted in nature. Sylvia Jacobs' "The Pilot and the Bushman" told of a successful businessman who sold the idea of Earth as a primitive travel destination to more technologically advanced aliens. As a result of his aggressive advertising strategies in other worlds, scores of aliens arrived on Earth to experience how "barbarians" lived. And James E. Gunn's "When the Shoe Fits" is a fun retelling of the Cinderella story. An exploring party found a Level 6 type world, one that is ready for terrestrial contact. Their mission was purely observation to categorize the planet's culture level. When the chief of that planet held a party for his heir, their crew's female colleague was tasked to attend it. The resulting events roughly followed the plot for Cinderella, although in this one, there was no happy ending for the female spacer. This unique collection of stories show that our fascination with aliens already started decades ago, when the possibility of conquering space was first entertained. These tales, published in the 1950s, reflected the anxiety and excitement of the times at meeting our neighbor in space. Until made real, this idea of a first contact will continue to fascinate the imagination not only of SF writers, but of anyone in general who is convinced that we are not alone in the universe.