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 authors 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.



  • 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)




  • 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.
  • 2016: Arrival, film adaptation of the 1998 novelette Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, by Brooks Landon, p. 81


  • "Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters" by Ronald Story (2001) ISBN 0-451-20424-7 (It was the result of a collaborative Extraterrestrial Encyclopedia Project (ETEP); excerpts online)