Who could be better qualified than the author of the highly successful Cosmos to turn the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence, and humankind's first contact with it, into imaginative reality? This is precisely what Sagan does in this eagerly awaited and, as it turns out, engrossing first novel. The basic plot is very simple. A worldwide system of radio telescopes, in the charge of brilliant astrophysicist Ellie Arroway, picks up a "Message" from outer space. Ellie is instrumental in decoding the message and building the "Machine" for which it gives instructions (despite stiff opposition from religious fundamentalists and those scientists and politicians who fear it may be a Trojan Horse). Then she and fellow members of a small multinational team board the machine, take a startling trip into outer spaceand on their return must convince the scientific community that they are not the perpetrators of a hoax. Sagan's characters, mostly scientists, are credible without being memorable, and he supplies a love interest that is less than compelling. However, his informed and dramatically enacted speculations into the mysteries of the universe, taken to the point where science and religion touch, make his story an exciting intellectual adventure and science fiction of a high order.