Estimated reading time: 25 minutes
First Contact has been in the science fiction lexicon since 1935. According to the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, Murray Leinster first employed the term in his story “Proxima” that appeared in Astounding Stories in March 1935. In the following decades, Clifford Simak, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, Greg Bear, and innumerable others wrote stories about First Contact. In fact, it’s likely that every author in the field who has created a significant body of work has done so. But one writer has outdone them all with a remarkable First Contact book series he promises to extend to 25 books.
Would you believe a series of 25 First Contact novels. . . and counting?
Australian science fiction author Peter Cawdron has been writing this remarkable series of novels for more than a decade, all of which explore the theme of First Contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. This is not a series in the traditional sense. Each of the entries in this First Contact book series is a standalone novel with its own, unique cast of characters. (Okay, there are a couple of exceptions, including one that is a collection of four linked novellas that explore the Rare Earth Hypothesis.) As of this writing, Cawdron has published twenty-one of these novels. I’m slowly making my way through the list. Below you’ll find teaser reviews of eighteen of them. As the months go by, I’ll fill in the blanks and do my best to keep up with Cawdron’s extraordinary output.
Although Cawdron self-publishes these books, they’re far, far better than the generally awful science fiction and fantasy that comes from the vanity houses. In fact, it’s a mystery to me why none of the major publishers in the genre—Tor, DAW, or any of the others—hasn’t yet grabbed the chance to republish the whole series. Together they constitute one of the most ambitious, and successful, projects in all of science fiction.
This post was updated on January 1, 2024.
Commentaries that illuminate the the text
Most writers let their stories speak for themselves. Many even go so far as to decline to answer questions about them. Not so Peter Cawdron. He appends several pages of commentary at the conclusion of each book. There, he discusses the scientific issues, the philosophical questions, or the psychological implications of First Contact. These commentaries are invariably thought-provoking and well worth reading.
Below you’ll find Cawdron’s First Contact stories listed in order of their publication, followed by a short blurb about each book, plus the page-count and my rating from ★★★☆☆ to ★★★★★.
1. Anomaly (September 2011)—Extraterrestrial contact changes everything in this SF novel
Anomaly is a thought-provoking look at how the public might react to the news of First Contact. Suffice it to say that the picture is not pretty. As a tagline on the cover of the Kindle edition puts it, “First Contact changes everything.” And, sad to say, the story as Cawdron tells it comes across as entirely believable. In Anomaly, extraterrestrial contact brings out the worst in human nature. 375 pages. ★★★★☆ Read the review.
2. Galactic Exploration (2012)—Galactic exploration yields conflicting views of extraterrestrial life
Three enormous starships depart Earth on a mission of galactic exploration in the twenty-fourth century. Each harbors a crew of two hundred highly trained specialists. None of them is armed. “The Serengeti had gone north, above the galactic plane in search of intelligent life in other galaxies, and the Savannah had been commissioned to explore the outer reaches of the Milky Way, charting the star-forming regions of the galaxy. The Rift Valley had been given the core,” where stars are packed tightly together in the galaxy’s most ancient region. And in a series of four closely linked novellas under the title Galactic Exploration, Australian science fiction phenomenon Peter Cawdron explores the divergent experiences of the three starships. Cawdron’s literary mission is to examine the Rare Earth Hypothesis from several different angles. It’s endlessly fascinating. 374 pages ★★★★☆ Read the review.
3. Xenophobia (June 2013)—The human race comes off poorly in this insightful First Contact novel
Xenophobia opens in the not-too-distant future at a tiny jungle hospital in Malawi operated by Médecins Sans Frontières. There, two European doctors and a staff of local nurses struggle against disease and the wounds of civil war under the constant threat of attack by rebel soldiers. A small peacekeeping detachment of US Army Rangers protects them. Suddenly, the helicopter they were expecting to deliver supplies instead arrives with orders for both the soldiers and the doctors to evacuate the hospital. Mysteriously, both the US and the United Nations are pulling out of the country. Only later will they learn that the appearance of an extraterrestrial starship in orbit around the Earth has caused worldwide hysteria. 396 pages. ★★★★☆ Read the review.
4. Little Green Men (September 2013)—Is communication between human and extraterrestrial intelligence likely?
It’s the year 2241. Michaels and Johnson have ventured out onto the frozen wastes of an alien world to gather samples for analysis in a mining venture. They’re suddenly attacked by a horde of fast-moving creatures resembling Little Green Men. The creatures tear off one of Johnson’s arms and scuttle away, leaving him dying of blood loss in the sub-zero cold. Does this encounter represent First Contact? At first, Michaels isn’t inclined to believe that. “The Confederacy has searched over two hundred star systems, almost three thousand surveyed planets, and God knows how many moons, and there hasn’t been a shred of evidence for extraterrestrial life, but you think this muddy hellhole is different?” And those Little Green Men rushed past him and Johnson so blindingly fast that he has trouble persuading himself they were real. 189 pages. ★★★★☆ Read the review.
5. Feedback (February 2014)—Time travel dominates this tale of First Contact
Feedback opens “twenty years ago” off the coast of North Korea. A helicopter of the South Korean Coast Guard is ferrying eight US Navy SEALs on a mission to rescue a child who appears to have emerged from—get this—a flying saucer after it crashed into the sea. When the helicopter comes under fire from a North Korean MIG fighter jet, the pilot, Captain John Lee, ditches it in the ocean and floats to shore, only to be captured by North Korean soldiers. In escaping from the camp where he was tortured, Lee learns that the “star child” was not a girl, as he had expected, but a small boy. Like him, the boy is ethnically Korean. And he will reappear “twenty years later.” 462 pages. ★★★½☆☆ Read the review.
6. My Sweet Satan (October 2014)—A space travel story full of surprises
You may think you can imagine what these six astronauts will experience on their journey to one of Saturn’s smallest moons. After all, this novel is one in a series of First Contact tales describing what might happen when human beings finally encounter extraterrestrial intelligence. The Copernicus is on its way to Bestla in response to a mysterious radio message. But they don’t have a clue what’s in store for them. Nor will you. From beginning to end, My Sweet Satan is full of surprises. Trust me. You will not anticipate what happens in this gripping story. (2014) 264 pages ★★★★☆ Read the review.
7. Alien Space Tentacle Porn (July 2015)—A funny story about alien abductions
There’s something hilarious in the accounts of alien abductions by “UFOs” that proliferated decades ago following the infamous Roswell incident. Yet it should be no surprise that many Americans continue to credit these reports even after the US government’s recently released study on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. After all, millions believe the most absurd nonsense about the lopsided result of the 2020 presidential election and other fantasies propagated by the defeated candidate. So, it’s fitting that a science fiction author might tackle the subject with humor. Peter Cawdron does that in Alien Space Tentacle Porn, and the book is a surprising contrast with his other work. But it’s one of the least successful efforts in his long-running series of standalone novels about First Contact.
The conceit on which Cawdron builds his tale is straightforward. Extraterrestrials have, indeed, arrived on Earth, and in fact have been here for centuries. From time to time, it seems, there have been alien abductions. But the aliens hide behind the absurd reports of anal penetration and other silliness that no one with any sense could possibly believe. These reports, it would seem, constitute “Alien Space Tentacle Porn.” 166 pages. ★★★★☆ Read the review.
8. Starship Mine (March 2016)—A novel twist on First Contact with alien intelligence
Let’s assume some extraterrestrial civilization has embarked on a SETI-like quest for intelligent life on other planets. How would they communicate with us? How could they possibly cross such vast distances? After all, Sol’s nearest star is 4.2 light-years distant. That’s 24.7 trillion miles—when we’ve only recently mastered long-distance telephone calls on Earth. And even assuming they could somehow overcome this daunting roadblock, how might they understand us, or us them? Australian science fiction author Peter Cawdron has an intriguing answer to these questions in his charming novella about First Contact with alien intelligence, Starship Mine.
The novella is the ninth and one of the best entries in Cawdron’s First Contact book series. The twenty-fourth is on the way as I write. And in this monumental effort to examine the theme of humanity’s first encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence from every conceivable angle, he surprises at almost every turn. That’s certainly the case in Starship Mine. 114 pages ★★★★★ Read the review.
9. Welcome to the Occupied States of America (April 2016)—These alien invaders aren’t what you might expect
If you imagine Martian death-rays or eight-foot-tall bipedal lizards, think again. These alien invaders are called grubs, and for good reason. They travel in enormous packs. They’re “minuscule, maggot-like creatures” capable of aggregating in huge numbers and assuming any desired shape. And they consume just about everything in their path. Including trees and humans—trunks, clothing, and all. They arrived seven years ago in pods that fell all across Earth’s temperate zone. And now, seventy million dead humans later, they occupy most of the continental United States.
Ashley Kelly “was ten when the alien horde arrived.” She and her parents were on their farm in North Carolina when they sighted the first pod reported. Her father lost his life distracting the grubs from his wife and daughter. Now, at seventeen, Ash “has spent seven years learning to walk again” after a cluster bomb meant for the grubs damaged her spine. Confined to a wheelchair, she is evacuated from her last refuge, a Mexico City hospital, and transferred to a massive refugee camp south of the Texas border. She’s been told her long-lost mother is living there. Then things start to get really interesting. 307 pages. ★★★★☆ Read the review.
10. Nosferatu (May 2017)
I have not bought, much less read, this book because it’s a story about vampires. I loathe books about mythical creatures that populate so much fantasy fiction.
11. Maelstrom (July 2017)—Worlds collide with Earth in an entertaining First Contact story
The Bermuda Triangle. Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster. The Mary Celeste. Legends like these never seem to die. But is there a common thread that links them other than what how unlikely they seem? You’ll never find a more colorful answer than in Maelstrom, the eleventh novel in Peter Cawdron’s long-running series of standalone tales of First Contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. A skein of three closely-linked stories, Maelstrom skillfully explores the fanciful notion that other worlds collide with Earth.
In “Collision,” the first of the three stories, the protagonist is Dr. Elizabeth Callie, an American surgeon working in a poor rural Chinese clinic. There, she encounters an impossible patient—a Neanderthal. And when she attempts to accompany him back to his people in the desert, they stumble into a top-secret Chinese military facility. There, the story takes an even stranger turn.
Book Two of Maelstrom is entitled “Impact.” And it seems to bear no connection to Dr. Callie and Ax, the name she’s given the Neanderthal. The scene has shifted to Central Park in New York City. There, our attention moves to a young police officer named Mark Janos and Victoria Selena Mendes, a medic. The two find themselves caught up in a massive explosion that has obliterated a huge portion of the park and the adjoining Harlem neighborhood. But what’s even stranger is that the pair encounter a family of wandering sauropods and a theropod resembling Tyrannosaurus Rex. But even this astonishing development isn’t the oddest thing to occur.
The two threads of the tale intersect in Book Three, which is even stranger than the first two. It’s all a wonderful adventure into the mysteries of parallel worlds. 280 pages. ★★★★☆ Read the review.
12. Losing Mars (September 2018)—A fact-based novel about exploring Mars
Over the past three years, Apple TV+ has been streaming an ambitious series about exploring and colonizing Mars. For All Mankind stars Joel KInnaman as astronaut Ed Baldwin, heading a large and diverse cast in a difficult struggle to reach and tame the red planet. It’s great drama. But anyone with experience in space must be laughing their heads off over the technical errors in the story. It’s all too typical of the fare on television and the big screen about interplanetary exploration. You can find a more realistic portrayal of the challenges involved on the printed page. And one of the best examples I’ve come across is Peter Cawdron’s thrilling novel, Losing Mars. 374 pages ★★★★☆ Read the review.
13. 3zekiel (August 2019)—A thoughtful treatment of First Contact in this new sci-fi novel
Have you ever given serious thought to what First Contact with an alien race from the stars might be like? Not what you might have come across on film or in a novel like The War of the Worlds, but a picture based on reason and known science? Well, that’s what you’ll find in the latest novel from Australian science fiction author Peter Cawdron. It’s a truly thoughtful treatment of First Contact. 3zekiel is nothing short of brilliant.
3zekiel is set in the jungle of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, the teenage son of a rogue Catholic missionary tells the tale. Joshua Chambers and his friend Jana, a local girl, are sixteen when an alien satellite descends into a fixed orbit in the sky hundreds of miles above them. Sometime later, American helicopters descend on the village, and a small team of soldiers and scientists emerge. Petty Officer Garcia of SEAL Team Two leads the troops. A senior Indian-American scientist named Pratul Arjun Khatri-Lagharin (known as Pretzel) is the lead in what is expected to involve First Contact. 409 pages. ★★★★★ Read the review.
14. But the Stars (March 2020)—An alien encounter that questions the nature of reality
The Acheron has sped eighty-eight light years at 96% of the speed of light toward a fictional star called WISE 5571. The ship has landed on a rocky planet known only as P4. Twenty-five years have elapsed on board, although the crew has been in stasis nearly all the way and have not aged appreciably. (More than ninety years have passed on Earth.) Soon after landing, they come into “contact” with intelligent aliens who “can’t read minds, but they can manipulate thoughts.” In short order, the crew is profoundly disoriented. As one asks, “Who am I really? I’m conscious, but I can’t explain what that means or why I happen to be me.” 449 pages. ★★★★☆ Read the review.
15. Wherever Seeds May Fall (January 2021)—One surprise after another in this brilliant First Contact novel
Wherever Seeds May Fall opens in the near future as a newly discovered comet heads deeper into the solar system from Saturn on its way to Jupiter. There, the object named Comet Anduru—the word in Sinhalese loosely translates as “The Dark Prince”—is expected to crash into the clouds of Jupiter much as did Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in July 1994. But Anduru instead glances off the outer atmosphere of the gas giant and speeds, somewhat more slowly, toward the inner solar system—and Earth. 361 pages. ★★★★★ Read the review.
16. Déjà Vu (March 2021)—A weird science fiction novel that will keep you guessing
This book starts out spooky. Then it gets really weird. If you’re up for that, join Peter Cawdron for a wild ride through space and time in another original First Contact adventure. Déjà Vu might be characterized as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke meet Groundhog Day. It’s one of seventeen standalone novels Cawdron has written to date to explore the many possibilities inherent in a first meeting between the human race and extraterrestrial intelligence. But it’s the first that can be called weird science fiction.
It’s 2132. Astrobiologist Jessica Rowe is one of a crew of eight astronauts on the starship Intrepid. It’s the first mission planned for an interstellar journey to Procyon Alpha A in humanity’s initial effort to spread beyond the solar system. They’re two days out from leaving Earth’s orbit. On a spacewalk to explore problems that have cropped up in the ship, Jess is in mid-conversation with her colleagues when the Intrepid suddenly explodes. She and everyone else on the mission dies in an instant.
Then it happens again. And again. And again . . . until Jess wakes up in the far-distant future in a research facility on a moon circling a gas giant called Styx around Procyon Alpha. 332 pages. ★★★★★ Read the review.
17. Jury Duty (May 2021)—First Contact Down Under. Way down under.
Welcome to Antarctica. Slip into your muffler and mittens, and get ready for the coldest, bleakest setting you’re ever likely to encounter. In Peter Cawdron’s seventeenth standalone novel exploring the theme of First Contact, Nick Ferrin arrives on the southernmost continent, pressed into service as a “juror” on behalf of the United Nations. And, no, he doesn’t understand what’s going on anymore than you do. But why would he? Nick is heading off for First Contact Down Under. Way down under.
Unknown to the public, scientists have stumbled on the wreckage of an extraterrestrial vessel buried a mile under Antarctica, where it crashed 430,000 years ago. But the leaders of the world’s nations don’t trust one another. The UN Security Council is divided against itself. Instead, the jury—comprising two members from each of the five permanent Security Council nations—is to decide what may be done with the knowledge gained from the wreckage. But now it appears that the impossible has happened. There are signs that extraterrestrials are somehow still alive under the ice. And pretty much everything goes wrong shortly after Nick arrives. His “jury duty” proves to be a life-threatening experience—and not for Nick alone . . . 390 pages. ★★★★★ Read the review.
18. Cold Eyes (October 2021)—First Contact with the people of a Super-Earth
Dali Patel wakes up screaming. He thinks at first that he’s dead. He’s naked, trapped inside a narrow glass cylinder, and covered with goo. A young woman helps him out onto his feet. She explains that Dali is, in fact, a clone, hatched at the age of 18 aboard the UN starship Magellan. The two of them are half of the ship’s crew. She’s Sandra Anderson, the commander. But she is troubled that he doesn’t recognize her. Sandy, it turns out, was his wife of 42 years when they both inhabited the bodies of the people from whom they were cloned. And something has gone very, very wrong. Thus begins Peter Cawdron’s impressive tale, Cold Eyes, a novel about humanity’s First Contact with the people of a Super-Earth. 395 pages. ★★★★☆ Read more.
19. Generation of Vipers (2022)—A compelling new alien invasion novel
Fair warning: before you read Generation of Vipers, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Wherever Seeds May Fall, the 15th entry in Peter Cawdron’s long-running series of standalone First Contact novels. (I reviewed it at One surprise after another in this brilliant First Contact novel.) It’s possible to read Generation of Vipers on its own as simply another alien invasion novel, but reading the prequel will make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable. You’ll have a head start on meeting the central characters of the story, and you can plunge right in to unraveling the plot. Seeds was brilliant, and together with Vipers the two stories constitute a truly outstanding contribution to the science fiction genre. 436 pages ★★★★★ Read more.
20. Clowns (2022)—Where are all the aliens?
For six decades, astronomers around the world have been scanning the skies for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos. In 1984, the effort led to the creation of a program called Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Surely, the organizers of SETI believed, someone, somewhere on one of the 100 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy would be reaching out in hopes of establishing a connection. However, as we know all too well, SETI’s efforts to date have come to nothing. Decades ago, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi famously asked, “Where are all the aliens?” The lack of an answer has come to be called the Great Silence. And in Clowns, the latest entry in his long-running series of standalone novels about First Contact, Australian science fiction author Peter Cawdron offers a plausible explanation. 473 pages ★★★★★ Read the review.
21. The Tempest (2022) —Shakespeare’s magic rendered into advanced alien technology
At what point does hard science fiction cross the line into fantasy? Read the work of any of the field’s most revered practitioners—Arthur C. Clarke is the most prominent among them—and you’ll see that any story which ventures into the far reaches of advanced alien technology becomes indistinguishable from magic, as Clarke himself so famously noted. Australian author Peter Cawdron crosses that line, too, in the latest addition to his long-running series of First Contact novels, The Tempest. In this tale, inspired by William Shakespeare’s play of the same name, twenty-third century interstellar voyagers encounter advanced alien technology at least a million years more evolved than theirs. And, yes, magic happens, as Shakespeare’s story requires. 389 pages ★★★☆☆ Read the review.
22. Apothecary—First Contact in the 16th Century
Bloody Mary reigns in England as this remarkable novel opens. It’s 1558. Shakespeare had not yet been born, and the queen who would give her name to the Elizabethan Age was months away from gaining the throne. Mary’s agent, the notorious Bishop Blaine, is terrorizing London with wild accusations of heresy—and burning his victims at the stake, with explosive collars around their necks. Scenes like this dominate the opening chapters of Apothecary, Peter Cawdron’s brilliant sci-fi historical fiction mashup. (2023) 412 pages ★★★★★ Read the review.
23. The Art of War—China and the US are on the brink of war. Or are they?
Most portrayals on film or in novels of an alien invasion are along the lines of the Will Smith blockbuster Independence Day or H. G. Wells’ 1898 science fiction classic, The War of the Worlds. There are a lot of explosions, and millions die. So, it may come as a pleasant surprise if you pick up a copy of Peter Cawdron’s new alien invasion novel and find there nothing of the sort. Of course, if you’re familiar with the Chinese classic of military strategy, The Art of War, written nearly 2,500 years ago, you may be better prepared for the story. Because its author (or authors) viewed the aim of war as achieving peace, avoiding battle whenever possible. So, get ready for a brilliant lesson in strategy as the Joint Chiefs of Staff understand it—because they, too, have studied that Chinese classic.
24. Ghosts—Human nature complicates First Contact
Beware: the title is misleading. Peter Cawdron’s novel, Ghosts, is not a ghost story. It’s hard science fiction, the 24th in his series of standalone novels exploring the innumerable ways that First Contact with aliens might play out. He’s written about what seems like every conceivable possibility—but there’s still more. And Ghosts delivers it. Here, Cawdron focuses more tightly than ever on the wildly contrasting ways that people on Earth receive the news of First Contact. After all, in an age dominated by competing world powers, partisan and religious differences, and nonstop conspiracy theories, we could hardly expect people to react in the same way. And those differences make for a tense, suspenseful story.
25. The Artifact—Why have aliens never contacted us?
The Great Silence. The Fermi Paradox. Two names for the same fact: no alien civilization has gotten in touch with us, much less showed their faces on Earth. That, despite the fact that the Milky Way galaxy consists of an uncountably large number of planets circling hundreds of billions of stars, and despite the likelihood that intelligent life has arisen a great many times somewhere among them. But why? What could possibly explain this? To gain purchase on these questions, Australian science fiction author Peter Cawdron offers perspective. In twenty-five standalone novels to date, Cawdron has explored the innumerable forms that First Contact might take. And in his latest effort, The Artifact, he offers a fresh and ingenious explanation for the Fermi Paradox.
About the author
To date, Australian author Peter Cawdron has written 24 standalone novels in his First Contact series as well as scores of other science fiction stories. He is a member of the advisory board of the Lifeboat Foundation, an NGO dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI. Cawdron writes a lively blog, sharing his thoughts on science and science fiction.
For related reading
Peter Cawdron is one of 10 new science fiction authors worth reading now.
I’ve enjoyed many other First Contact novels. You’ll find them at The five best First Contact novels. You might also check out Good books about space travel, including both nonfiction and fiction.
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