First contact (science fiction)

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A scene of a first contact between aliens and humans.

First contact is a common science fiction theme about the first meeting between humans and extraterrestrial life, or of any sentient species' first encounter with another one, given they are from different planets or natural satellites. The theme allows writers to explore such topics such as xenophobia, transcendentalism, and basic linguistics by adapting the anthropological topic of first contact to extraterrestrial cultures.[citation needed]


Murray Leinster's 1945 novelette "First Contact" established the term "first contact" in science fiction,[citation needed] although the theme had appeared earlier. Its roots lie in colonial narratives from the Age of Discovery onward.[citation needed]

Of many variations of the trope, one may recognize the subclasses of the actual interstellar meeting of two civilizations and the "message from space" one.[1]

Notable examples[edit]

An early example of the theme, H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds





  • 1950s: A classic series of stories using this theme is the "interstellar trader" series by Andre Norton.


  • 1960s: A for Andromeda
  • 1960s: The god-like Firstborn from Arthur C. Clarke's Time Odyssey series.
  • 1960s: The Star Trek television franchise explored the theme in depth and introduced the concept of the Federation's Prime Directive— a law forbidding first contact (or covert interference) with any races not sufficiently advanced for such an encounter, using capability for faster-than-light travel as the basic benchmark for first contact. The movie Star Trek: First Contact depicts humanity's first contact with an alien culture, the Vulcan race, in Bozeman, Montana on 5 April 2063, after the passing Vulcans' attention is attracted by the detection of the energy signature from scientist Zefram Cochrane launching humanity's first warp flight. A Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "First Contact" explored the scenario from the opposite viewpoint when a Human, William Riker, is injured on an alien world while disguised as an inhabitant of the planet's civilization (which had no previous knowledge of extraterrestrials). Another notable depiction of first contact in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the episode Darmok where humanity (in this case the United Federation of Planets) makes first contact with a race called the Tamarians, a species that exclusively communicates with metaphors.
  • 1961: Solaris (novel)[2]
    • A major theme of a number of works of Stanisław Lem, the most well known being Solaris (while his most thorough examination can be found in His Master's Voice), is the inherent impossibility of meaningful communication with alien races.
  • 1968: His Master's Voice (novel)


  • 1972: The novel The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov explores simultaneously the potential unity of all races, and the possibility of conflict inherent in all first contacts: even as members of different races understand each other, their disparate ways may endanger both their worlds, even the fabric of their respective universes. This gap between individuals and their respective societies is characteristic of the First Contact plot of E.T. Other explorations of the theme in popular culture include encounters with predatory or semi-sentient races as in Alien and Independence Day.
  • 1974: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye was written to be, in Niven's words, "the epitome of first contact novels". Here it is humanity that plays the role of visiting aliens, as the religious, technological, political, psychological, military, cultural, and biological implications of first contact are explored.
  • 1978: Life on Another Planet
  • 1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    • The theme of first contact, ranging from friendly collaboration to menace or conflict, has been visualized a number of films and television series. Among the more famous are Steven Spielberg's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the television series V.
  • 1979: Alien (film)




  • 2006: Blindsight by Peter Watts
  • 2007: Halo: Contact Harvest
    • In the novel Halo: Contact Harvest, humanity's first contact with aliens is on a human agricultural colony, where an initially peaceful meeting (although preceded by aliens walking into an anti-insurgent trap set up human military) with an alien alliance known as the Covenant turns violent, eventually resulting in a 27-year war.
  • 2007: Mass Effect
    • The backstory of Mass Effect features the First Contact War, caused by an alien military patrol observing a human ship, which was unknowingly breaching galaxy-wide conventions, attacking it and occupying a seemingly poorly defended colony, only to learn of humanity's military prowess in a swift counterattack. The conflict was quickly smothered by the galactic community, but the reputation and bitterness persist until the events of the games.
  • 2008: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, a Chinese science fiction novel (first serialised 2006)



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, by Brooks Landon, p. 81
  2. ^ Ann Weinstone (July 1994). "Resisting Monsters: Notes on "Solaris"". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH Inc. 21 (2): 173–190. JSTOR 4240332. Retrieved 4 February 2021."Lem's critique of colonialism, as he broadly defines it,9 is articulated by Snow, one of the other scientists on the space station, who says in the book's most frequently quoted passage: We are humanitarian and chivalrous; we don't want to enslave other races, we simply want to bequeath them our values and take over their heritage in exchange. We think of ourselves as the Knights of the Holy Contact. This is another lie. We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. (§6:72)"