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Sciencecience fiction has always had a love affair with aliens, as far back as the early days of the pulps, with their BEM1 covers and stories such as John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”2 (written as by Don A. Stuart in Astounding Science Fiction, August 1938) and Murray Leinster’s “First Contact” (in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1945).

I don’t recall my age at the time, but I had the misfortune to be home alone on a Saturday afternoon when Invaders from Mars was the featured matinee movie on television. And to tell you the truth, I’ve not watched the movie again since! I’m going strictly by memory here, so bear with me if all the details in this brief recap aren’t completely accurate (though I did look up the characters names on the Internet Movie Database).

As I recall, ten-year-old David MacLean wakes up one morning to a loud noise and bright lights outside. He rushes to his bedroom window in time to see a flying saucer land in the sand dunes just beyond the fence. He tells his father, who goes outside to investigate, but his father doesn’t return home until the following day—and when he does, he behaves differently: moody, sullen, quick to anger. And, David spots an unusual, albeit small, scar on the back of his father’s neck. Soon, the same personality change (and scar) affects his mother, the police chief, and other townspeople. David finally turns to, and confides in, a local doctor, Pat Blake, and she, in turn, confides in a local astronomer, Stuart Kelston. Together, they convince the Army of the danger, and the Army intercedes. The good doctor is captured by the aliens, but she is rescued just before the mind-controlling device is inserted in the back of her neck. At the climax of the film, the Army endeavors to blow up the UFO bunker, as the UFO itself attempts to lift-off. David, Doctor Pat, and others are racing down the hill, away from the UFO and the pending explosion—while the recent events pass before David’s mind’s eye—and then...

David awakes as from a dream, to a loud noise and bright lights outside. He rushes to his bedroom window in time to see a flying saucer land in the sand dunes just beyond the fence.

Whew! That was a creepy ending. Dream becomes reality?—not something I had ever seen in a movie, at least at that point in my young life. I can’t say I had actual nightmares of that movie, but certain images were burned in my mind for many years, particularly the evil-looking alien head with the wriggling tentacles, encased in a large glass bubble, carried by two Martians: green, seven-foot-tall, primitive-looking creatures with insect like eyes. As I said, I haven’t seen Invaders from Mars probably since I was around David’s age, but the images, and feelings, still remain. (I will also admit that I haven’t seen the movie Alien, either, since its original theater run—and a midnight showing at that; but I’ll never shake the image of the alien bursting out of Kane’s [John Hurt] chest.)

For me personally, it’s a love/hate relationship with alien tales: they can freak the bejesus out of me—particularly movies—but I keep coming back for more. Something about the unknown, and the unknown possibilities—and the hope that, just maybe, there really is an ET out there somewhere.

This is why, in 2007, after Nick Gevers and I decided to work together on an original anthology project, I jumped at the prospect of doing Fermi Paradox-themed Is Anybody Out There?3—even though Nick presented me with a number of excellent anthology ideas.

And this is also why, on August 27, 2008, when I visited the house of Night Shade in San Francisco, and met with Jeremy Lassen, Editor-in-Chief, to discuss ongoing and future projects, I proposed an anthology of previously published “alien contact” stories. In the course of contacting authors for Is Anybody Out There? a few had expressed to me the fact that they had already written their Fermi Paradox story, or their first contact story, and thus weren’t particularly interested in writing yet another such story. This got me to thinking: Classic Golden Age stories like Leinster’s “First Contact” and Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” have been collected in numerous anthologies [I strongly recommend The Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology series], but not so these “contemporary classics” from, say, the past thirty years or so. Periodicals are ephemeral, and online ’zines even more so (if SCI FICTION4 is any example). So, it falls on editors and anthologists to ensure these stories are collected for present as well as future readers.

Author James Gunn, professor emeritus of English, and director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, both at the University of Kansas, postulates that “humanity/the individual and the alien” is one of the fourteen Basic SF Plot Elements. Right up there with time travel, AIs, dystopian SF, space travel, etc.—though Gunn has a far more elegant way of stating these in his list.5

My goal with anthology Alien Contact is to present readers not only with an outstanding selection of fiction from the past thirty-plus years, but also to showcase just a sampling of the myriad ways writers tackle this basic plot element. When I read through these stories I just shake my head in utter awe, thinking: How did she/he do that? When everything comes together, just so, in a story it can simply be mind-boggling.

Though I had a number of stories in mind already, I posted a request for additional story suggestions on newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written, on private e-list fictionmags, and on various online SF news and information sites. I contacted about a dozen “name” authors (or their agents) to determine if each author was open to my using a particular story in a reprint anthology of this nature. Jeremy and I further discussed the project on Saturday, February 28, 2010, at Potlatch 18, held at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale (California). And I made another trip to the city on Thursday, June 10, 2010, to visit the new Night Shade warehouse (they had moved the previous November), at which time Jeremy and I had yet another opportunity to chat about the project. (You can’t say that I’m not persistent!)

However, due to scheduling, the down economy, and other such factors, my alien contact anthology was sort of like the ongoing SETI project: just out of range of discovery.6 Finally, on October 20, 2010, I received an email from Jeremy with the subject line: “Alien Contact: Let’s Do It!”

I’ve been maintaining an online database of alien contact stories7, which currently has nearly 175 stories listed. And yet, I’m sure this list of stories barely puts a dent in the subject matter. So there is certainly no shortage of quality stories.

I’ve had an extremely difficult time deciding on the twenty-six stories that I eventually selected for Alien Contact. I even had some friends and contacts read a few of the stories just to garner additional opinions. At least a half-dozen of the stories I selected were from authors who each had two (or more) stories that were perfect fits for the book—some of these stories award winners—and it nearly drove me crazy having to make a decision between the two. I also did my best to avoid overlapping plots and/or content—though I found it intriguing that so many stories have aliens as bug/insectlike beings, but the similarity ends there. And, quite often, length was simply the deciding factor on whether I included a story or not.

I could discuss each of the stories here, with little tidbits like “art as an expression of the alien” or “the alien as both self and other”—isn’t that what an introduction is all about?—but to do each story justice I would need far more words than any publisher ought to allow for a book’s introduction. Besides, I would rather the stories—and their respective authors—speak for themselves.

Via email, Twitter, and posts to my Facebook page, readers had been requesting the list of stories selected for the anthology. And, as is their wont, the authors also wanted to know who their fellow contributors were. Most editors, when they’ve finalized the contents of an anthology, simply post the list of stories; but that list is neither intriguing nor exciting, it’s merely, well, a list. Sure, a reader might become interested in a book that includes fiction by, say, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Charles Stross, but it’s still merely a list of names and story titles. So, I decided to reveal the contents of Alien Contact in a rather different way: I blogged about one story each week, in their order of appearance in the book, beginning the first week of May, and on through the next twenty-five weeks. Thus by the end of October, readers—and authors—had the full contents of the anthology, just in time for the book’s publication in November. The blog posts contained comments, when available, from the author on the origin of their story, and when I felt it appropriate—and not too great a spoiler—I also included quoted text from the story. At least I knew at the end of April what I would be blogging about for the next twenty-six weeks.

If you think of this book as a DVD, then these DVD extras can be found on my blog, More Red Ink, on the dedicated Alien Contact page:

I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoyed gathering them all together in this volume.

Marty Halpern

May 2011


1 BEM = Bug-Eyed Monster.

2 The story “Who Goes There?” has been adapted three times on the big screen: The Thing from Another World (1951), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), and a prequel to the 1982 film, also entitled The Thing, which was released in October. The story is available online in its entirety:

3 Is Anybody Out There? was published by Daw Books in June 2010. A number of the stories in that anthology would have been a perfect fit for inclusion in Alien Contact, but I wanted to give voice to other stories. My blog has a dedicated IAOT? page, which includes links to the full text of six of the stories:

4 SCI FICTION, edited by Ellen Datlow, was an online magazine of sorts that published original and classic short fiction; after five and a half years, the sponsor, the SciFi Channel (now Syfy), eliminated the site because it did not generate revenue. Some online archives may still be available.

5 James Gunn’s list of fourteen Basic SF Plot Elements (courtesy of author Kij Johnson): 1. Far traveling; 2. the wonders of science; 3. humanity/the individual and the machine; 4. progress; 5. the individual and society; 6. humanity/the individual and the future; 7. war; 8. cataclysm; 9. humanity/the individual and their environment; 10. superpowers; 11. superman/superwoman; 12. humanity/the individual and the alien; 13. humanity/ the individual and religion/spirituality; 14. Miscellaneous glimpses of the future and past.

6 Sadly, after I published this introduction on my blog on April 25, the San Jose Mercury News online posted an article that evening with the headline: “SETI Institute to shut down alien-seeking radio dishes”—“Lacking the money to pay its operating expenses, Mountain View’s SETI Institute has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen Telescope Array, a field of radio dishes that scan the skies for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations”:

7 A link to the Google Dogs-based online database can be found here:

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