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First Contact

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"'When did life start on your world? —And let me say, that's a nice hat.' And then he or she would say, 'It's my helmet, it's my space helmet, because your atmosphere is just—it's no good for me,' and so on. I'd want to know where they came from. I'd want to know what they wanted; what were they doing asking me what I was doing? It would be great to know, though, we're not alone. That would be a heck of a thing. It would change the world."

Since man has known what sort of sphere we live on, we have looked at the stars and wondered: are we alone? In this vast, empty Universe, are there any other intelligences gazing up at our star from under an alien moon?

A common theme in Speculative Fiction, science fiction writers have loved to speculate for decades what that pivotal moment will be like: the day we first make contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence. Writers have invented everything from truly Starfish Aliens to Rubber-Forehead Aliens and every scenario from aggressive aliens or humans to peaceful coexistence, and everything in-between.

The name for the trope and the term itself comes from the 1945 Murray Leinster novelette First Contact. This is not the same as first contact, lowercase, which describes any first contact between two cultures.

Expect someone to make a statement or speech about what a pivotal moment this is for the human race. You may find religious fanatics who claim the aliens are devils, angels, or even gods. Unless the aliens are Sufficiently Advanced or it is Handwaved, there may be communication difficulties and misunderstandings, sometimes leading to outright warnote . Scientists will want to study the aliens, ofttimes without the aliens' consent. The aliens will usually be more technologically advanced, although not always more sociologically advanced. A specific group of specialists may be formed to create a First Contact Team in order to plan for every contingency.

If taking place in America, it may turn out that First Contact actually happened decades ago in Roswell, New Mexico, and that the government has been keeping it under wraps ever since. When the aliens send an embassy right to the capital, there may be overlap with a Washington D.C. Invasion if the negotiations disappoint.

Speculation about First Contact scenarios has led many scientists and philosophers to consider that the human race may not be ready for such contact — they often argue that the multitude of armed conflicts and the pollution of our own world as reasons that an extra-terrestrial lifeform may pass Earth by, which Hollywood will pick up on when they feel their movie needs a message.

Compare Alien Among Us. Contrast with Absent Aliens. See also First-Contact Math, The Xenophile (who will actively look foward to this), Boldly Coming (a.k.a. Thirty-Fourth Contact), Faeries Don't Believe in Humans, Either, Space Travel Veto (to prevent or avert this trope).

For the novelette, see "First Contact". For the film, see Star Trek: First Contact. For the webcomic, see First Contact.

Naturally, this is the step between The Masquerade and The Unmasqued World.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Macross universe, First Contact occurred during Super Dimension Fortress Macross between the humans and the Zentradi, which resulted in the near-total desolation of Earth and the annihilation of a large Zentradi fleet in its skies. The main conflict (but not all the bitterness) ends when the two sides manage to communicate and realize that they're not so different after all. Oh, and with the songs of an idol singer. Can't forget about that.
    • It is worth noting that the fleet destroyed during the original series was not the main fleet of the Zentradi. There is no such thing, really. It was actually just one of thousands (and increasing) of fleets, each with 4 ~ 5 million ships that are still patrolling the galaxy locked in an endless war with the Supervision Army, who themselves are just Zentradi brainwashed by the Protodeviln. The fact that utter annihilation could stumble upon them at any moment is the driving force behind the combined Human/"cultured" Zentradi settling of every possible planet they can find in later Macross series.
  • The Mobile Suit Gundam 00 movie, Awakening of the Trailblazer, deals with First Contact with an alien species called the ELS. The two species are so completely alien to one another that humanity mistakes their attempts at communication for hostile attacks. In fact, the entire point of Celestial Being in the series (at least before the villains hijacked it) was to prepare humanity for First Contact. The whole reason for the True Innovators was so that humanity would have a reliable way to communicate with alien life, no matter how different they were.
  • Obsolete: The alien Peddlers announce themselves to humanity in 2014 by broadcasting a short message across all human radio frequencies in five languages, telling humanity they will trade technology for limestone, and will trade with anyone on an equal footing. They then refuse all further contact. Attempts at tracking their trading vessels reveal they come from somewhere behind the dark side of the Moon, but there have been no further attempts to seek them out.

    Comic Books 
  • Happens in the Distant Finale in the final issue of Chew. The aliens that have been murdering every human who eats chicken come down and, surprise, they look like giant chicken people. Thanks to the cult that's been preaching the aliens are benevolent the crowd watching the UFO are passive until an elderly Tony Chu, still bitter over all the deaths, stabs the alien ambassador in the chest with a knife. End series.

    Films — Animation 
  • An unintentional one in Planet 51, where the protagonist is an astronaut sent to a supposedly empty planet only to find that he landed in the middle of an alien neighborhood BBQ party. This is portrayed as a First Contact from the aliens' viewpoint, who immediately assume the astronaut is hostile. It turns out the reason why no-one on Earth knew about the aliens is because the robot sent to scout out the world prior to the manned mission is obsessed with rocks and didn't bother sending any images of aliens.

  • "Ancient Aliens" by Lemon Demon is about a caveman struggling to comprehend the existence of an alien being who is implied to be the sole survivor of a spaceship crash.
    I'm not like you
    You fly, you burn my eyes, my eyes
    You speak in my mind
    Your kind all died when you arrived
  • Daft Punk: Implied by "Contact", which opens with an astronaut reporting on a mysterious object in space that's rhythmically flashing and heading towards the Earth, which based on the song's title we can assume to be an alien spaceship.

    Music Videos 
  • The music video to Moby's "In This World" has a few representatives from a civilzation of aliens the size of jawbreakers fly to Earth and attempt to greet humanity, using signs of basic human greetings like "Hello" and "Hola" in lieu of speech (most likely they only knew how to write human language, not speak it). Unfortunately, their tiny size compared to humans makes them nearly impossible to notice, with the exception of one man who gives them a wave...then walks away shortly afterwards. The aliens then return to their home, last seen preparing a bigger sign to carry.

  • In sketch show Son of Cliché, this was a running gag in the in-show serial Dave Hollins - Space Cadet! Whenever Dave tries to speak to alien life forms who are just as bemused with him, misunderstandings inevitably proliferate.
  • Journey into Space: In Journey to the Moon / Operation Luna, the Luna crew makes first contact with the Time Travellers on The Moon in November 1965.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Blobs in Star Realms were the first intelligent aliens humanity made contact with. It doesn't go so well at first.
  • Traveller has many:
    • First contact for humans from Earth revealed that most of the galaxy near Earth was already occupied by an ancient Human Alien empire that had simply considered anyone outside their borders insignificant. The news that space was already colonized - by other humans - did not go over well on Earth, and the Interstellar Wars were the result.
    • First contact for the herbivorous K'Kree occurred when they invented telescopes and found that their moon was inhabited by intelligent carnivores. They quickly invented space travel and began a war of extermination, which they've tried to carry on against any meat eaters anywhere in the galaxy they can reach since.
    • The official story of first contact for the Aslan is that it happened when their first few ships encountered human traders not far from their homeworld. In reality, the Aslan were on the verge of a nuclear war when a human spacecraft crashed on their world. The land-obsessed Aslan quickly resolved their differences, reverse-engineered the human's FTL drive, and began their expansion into the galaxy while keeping their pre-spaceflight tribal culture intact. And they kept the whole affair a secret, claiming they had resolved their differences and invented the jump drive all on their own.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, humans have been interacting with (i.e. fighting) the likes of Eldar and Orks for so long that there is no account of the first contact between the species. In the case of more recent alien encounters:
    • The Tyranids are named after the first Imperial world they devoured, Tyran, in 741 M41. Subsequent studies have revealed that the Genestealers the Imperium had been dealing with for millennia were in fact a Tyranid vanguard organism, and some odder life-forms in the Imperium like the Catachan Devil and Kraken of Fenris are suspected of being descended from Hive Fleets that entered the galaxy in the distant past, but the "Tyranid" name has stuck.
    • The first open contact between humans and Necrons occurred at the Adepta Sororitas convent-world of Sanctuary 101 in 897 M41, when the battle-sisters were slain to the last defending against an unidentified attacker.
    • The Tau were actually first encountered in 789 M35, when an Explorator Fleet reached their homeworld and briefly studied the humanoids there, who had only recently mastered fire and simple tools. The Imperium arranged for them to be exterminated, but the fleet subsequently sent to cleanse and colonize the system was lost in a Warp storm, and internal conflicts made the Imperium lose interest in one world on the Eastern Fringe. Six thousand years later, an unknown alien ship was destroyed while approaching the Imperial world of Devlan after failing to respond to challenges from the local defense fleet, and when the bodies in the wreckage were identified, the Imperial authorities were horrified that the "new" xenos rapidly expanding in that corner of the galaxy were the same species the Imperium had failed to properly purge millennia ago. So then the Tau got to experience the Imperium in the form of the Damocles Gulf Crusade, which ground to a bloody stalemate until Tyranid troubles forced the Imperium's attention elsewhere.
    • The Tau have had First Contact with other alien races, too. They tried to bring the Orks into their federation, but the greenskins proved to be utterly unwilling to cooperate, and gave the Tau their first taste of full-scale interstellar conflict. Then the Tau met the Kroot in 844 M38 while driving the Orks from the Kroot's home system, which led the Kroot to agree to serve the Tau as auxiliaries. The Tau's first meetings with the insectoid Vespid didn't go very well, since the aliens' mindset made them utterly disinterested in the Greater Good, but once the Ethereals in charge of the delegation directed technicians to build "communication helms" to facilitate diplomacy, the Vespids who donned them suddenly became very keen to join the Tau Empire.
    • In another case, a Tau world was under attack from the Tyranids, only for a Necron fleet to show up and slaughter them all. The grateful Tau sent a delegation of diplomats and officers to give thanks and properly introduce the Necrons to the Greater Good. The Necrons slaughtered them all.

    Web Original 
  • The issues involved are explored on this page of the Atomic Rockets website.
  • Should you have come on this page with the intent of finding help, this page should hopefully provide.
  • In EdStories, First Contact is established about 85 minutes after the Andromedans aimed an asteroid into the Earth at 10% light speed.
  • The Journal Entries doesn't cover the actual first contact of Earth in any detail (there are two different things that could count, but the one described at all is just Ken visiting himself in his subjective past on Earth to give himself the Applied Phlebotinum that kick starts the whole series, and that's just mentioned in passing). The first contact between Pendor and Eareth kind of weirds Earth out not because Pendor is peopled by furries with amazing technology and weird social standards, but because Pendor desperately wants Earth culture. (At this point, Pendor has existed for something like a century and everyone is desperate to get at the deep, rich cultural materials Earth has accumulated over several thousand years.)
  • Starsnatcher has this take place in its ending. After the Seizers bring Layla and Kira back home, humanity and the Seizers build friendly diplomatic relations to ensure peace and prosperity in the universe. In the epilogue, lots of scientists (and some little boys) have gathered to see the first Seizer take a step on Earth.

    Western Animation 
  • The Futurama episode "When Aliens Attack" involves first contact between Earth and the people of Omicron Persei 8. However, in the setting of Futurama, humanity has already made contact with numerous alien species, making this an unusual example.
  • In the Rick and Morty episode "Get Schwifty", a race of giant alien heads appear in Earth's sky and command the human race to "Show me what you got." It turns out that this is an invitation to participate in an intergalactic musical reality show. Not realizing this, several Earthlings form a cult worshiping the heads. Sometime later (and offscreen) in "The Wedding Squanchers," formal diplomatic relations are formed with the Galactic Federation and Earth accepts membership. The transition appears mostly peaceful; many aliens appear interested in Earth culture after the planet is opened up to tourism.
  • The concept is Played With in Star Trek: Lower Decks. While everyone makes a big deal about first contact, the USS Cerritos deals with the less-glamorous work of second contact, in which they do the actual work of setting up infrastructure and learning the finer details of alien cultures. Paid off in the second-season finale, "First First Contact," where the Cerritos finally makes first contact with an alien species.


Video Example(s):


Captain Pike's Speech

"Strange New Worlds". After a first contact operation goes badly awry due to faulty intel, Captain Pike makes a second attempt. He lays out to the Kileans the violent history of Earth that led up to World War III (which uses stock footage of civil unrest from the 2010s and early 2020s), and tells them that's where they're headed if they can't put aside their differences. But they have another choice: be better, and join the United Federation of Planets.

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