Close Encounters of the Bookish Kind: 10 of the Best Alien Books

Alien Drive

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Unsplash

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 turned forty years old this year and as a result we saw a one-week re-release in theaters across the country in September. Here are a few suggestions for literary encounters to satisfy your curiosity for all things extraterrestrial. Let’s have a look.

The Sparrow by 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.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

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.

The Mothman Prophecies by 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 (Stories of Your Life MTI) by Ted Chiang

“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.

The Day After Roswell by 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.

Contact by Carl Sagan

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.

2001: A Space Odyssey by 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.

The Left Hand of Darkness by 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.

Armada by Ernest Cline

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 OneArmada is a rollicking, self-aware, coming-of-age thriller.

UFOs by Leslie Kean

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.

 

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I WANT TO BELIEVE

Happy World UFO Day!

I can't identify it!

I took this one from my backyard.   ……   No, not really. But how cool would that be?

Whether you are a true believer, a skeptic, or just curious, today is the day to get your alien costumes on (or your human costumes off – you know who you are) and indulge in all things extraterrestrial, especially objects of the flying and unidentified variety. According to worldufoday.com there are several ways to be aware of World UFO Day; the simplest being to read UFO/alien themed books and watch UFO/alien themed films or TV shows and have UFO/alien themed conversations with friends or family or strangers. Well, maybe not strangers.

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, Moline Library has you covered. You can browse our collection for books and movies that will scratch that little-green-men-and-women-in-flying-saucers itch and then stop in at the Java Lab Cafe for a well-caffeinated discussion about the possibility of life on other planets with your friends. Enjoy and remember, ‘Klaatu barada nikto‘ in case of rampaging Gorts.