Carl Sagan Memories

OK, here are a couple of my own. After Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan was the writer who alerted me to the wondrousness of reality, of the universe, of everything beyond ordinary life and antique religious verities. As a teenager I was sufficiently up-to-speed about current books to put The Cosmic Connection on my Christmas want-list, distributed as was our custom to other family members. In those days if a bookshop didn’t carry a particular title, you had to place a special order and wait 2 or 3 weeks for it to be delivered. My grandmother placed such an order and made it her gift to me. I’m sure she must have blanched at the image on the back cover — the Pioneer 10 plaque engraving, which shows a naked man and woman alongside a diagram of the solar system — but she never said anything.

A few years later there was Cosmos, the TV series, which at the time I watched on my 12-inch black and white TV. I’d read enough astronomy books so that the material was mostly familiar, but the presentation was mesmerizing, and some of the musical selections, Shostakovich’s 11th symphony and the electronica of Vangelis, have remained favorites.

And then came Contact, a surprisingly intelligent novel, I thought, by someone not known for fiction and whom one might suspect had hired a ghostwriter. I talked about it at work one day with a friend, a week later saw another employee who I think had overheard us reading it himself. (I was irritated by the movie, which gave all the best lines to Jodie Foster’s evangelical critic, played by Matthew McConaughey.)

I’ve read most though not all of the later books, of which The Demon-Haunted World may be the most significant, and prescient, in light of the current, remarkable and gratifying, books by Michael Shermer and Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and others about atheism and reason against the rising tide of religious fanaticism.

I never met Carl Sagan, or even saw him in person.

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