First contact stories make up a significant portion of science fiction narratives. This doesn’t come as a surprise: that first encounter between humans and aliens has long been a source of interest for humanity. It follows, then, that it has also been a source of inspiration for all kinds of artists, writers especially. Over the years, there have been so many stories with this theme at its center that it has become its own sub-genre. This was cemented by a 1945 novelette, First Contact by Murray Leinster, whose title took on a life of its own and became the unofficial name of this sci-fi niche.
Although the central topic is the same, first contact stories can differ wildly. How do humans and aliens first come into contact? Do aliens have good intentions? Do humans have good intentions? Does the encounter take place face-to-face, or is it established through technology? If it’s the former, where does it take place – Earth or another planet? What do aliens look like? How does human-alien communication work? There are endless possibilities, which is why authors and readers alike so enjoy diving into this topic. Whether you’re a seasoned reader of first contact stories, or you’re just now dipping your metaphorical toe in this sub-genre, these eight stories will hit the spot.
Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) by Octavia Butler
Waking up in an alien spacecraft hundreds of years after your last memory isn’t fun. Just ask Lilith Iyapo, a woman who’s grieving her lost husband and son. Oh, and did I mention that humanity is near-extinct? Near, not completely, because of the Oankali.
The Oankali swooped in right in time to prevent humanity’s extinction. But they survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations, and they don’t think to ask for permission. Now, when Lilith leads them back to Earth, a new species will arise.
The Eternaut by Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López
First published as a serialized comic between 1957 and 1959, this Argentine novel starts with a bang: Juan Salvo and a group of friends are playing cards in his house when an unexpected snowfall begins. This snow isn’t simply unexpected, however: it’s lethal; the first step in an alien invasion that seeks to exterminate humankind.
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
It’s the year 1348. Father Dietrich, priest of the small village of Oberhochwald, is worried about the Black Death. He isn’t worried about potential alien contact, which turns out to be shortsighted: an interstellar ship crashes nearby, marking the first contact between humanity and alien life.
Flash forward a few centuries. Tom and Sharon, historian and theoretical physicist respectively, become interested in the disappearance of a small German town, Eifelheim. Eifelheim, previously known as Oberhochwald, vanished without a trace in 1349.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Three people’s lives are changed forever when they make contact with Ayodele, an alien ambassador. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, the book is centered on the interactions between Ayodele and marine biologist Adaora, soldier Agu, and hip hop musician Anthony. But there are other people, and other creatures, involved – and they may not always have the best intentions.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Written in the last decade of the 19th century, this novel is one of the first to deal with this topic. When Martians invade the South of England, an unnamed protagonist and his younger brother are in for a world of trouble.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
When a secret military project attempts to contact aliens, the project doesn’t go quite as planned. An alien civilization captures the signal and decides it’s their cue to invade Earth. Meanwhile, Earth becomes fractured in different camps: yay to alien invasion or nay?
Semiosis (Semiosis Duology #1) by Sue Burke
Humans aren’t particularly good at peaceful coexistence with other humans (source: history), so peaceful coexistence with sentient indigenous plant species? Yeah. Ouch. Nevertheless, when a group of human colonists unwittingly land on planet Pax, they have no choice but to make the attempt – that is, if they want to stay alive.
The Lives of Tao (Tao #1) by Wesley Chu
Waking up with voices in your head is bad enough. Having that voice belong to a member of an alien race in the midst of a centuries-long civil war? Truly, there’s not enough ice-cream in the world to soothe that pain.
This is the predicament in which Roen finds himself. But he’s not the only one who’s unhappy with the situation: Tao’s last host was a trained secret agent. Being in an out-of-shape IT technician’s mind this time? A significant downgrade for someone who has a war to win.