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The Listeners,

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  342 ratings  ·  47 reviews
A classic of science fiction, this book predicted and inspired the creation of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)—the organization dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life. A tale of contact with alien life hailed by leaders of SETI organizations and today's leading science fiction authors as hugely influential, the story appeals to both science ...more
Unknown Binding, 275 pages
Published January 1st 1972 by Charles Scribner's Sons (NY)
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Sep 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Involvement in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) might be the ultimate job for the extremely dedicated. Most scientists might not be willing to spend their careers listening for signs of intelligence out there, dealing with bureaucratic nonsense, constantly fighting for funding, and knowing that the chances of actually hearing anything are remote.

The Project has spent the previous 50 years listening to the stars, using the "Little Ear" radiotelescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
Scott Kardel
The Listeners is the novel that inspired Carl Sagan to write Contact. James Gunn certainly blazed new trails in writing this in the early 1970s and, while it does go places that Contact never does, it feels a bit dated now as the scientists are men & the women are wives or secretaries. Frankly Contact is a much better novel, so if you are interested in reading a novel about listening for alien life, I would recommend that.

Note Reputation Books printing the paperback edition that I read. I
Dusk Peterson
"Between MacDonald and the sky was a giant dish held aloft by skeleton metal fingers - held high as if to catch the stardust that drifted down from the Milky Way. . . . Then the dish began to turn, noiselessly, incredibly, and to tip. And it was not a dish any more but an ear, a listening ear cupped by the surrounding hills to overhear the whispering universe." I fell in love with this novel as a child. I still think it's one of the finest science fiction novels ever written.
Rio Cornelius
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
are we alone in this entire universe? scary.
Oct 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
...In the end I thought The Listeners featured a little bit too much promotional material for the SETI project but it is a fascinating read nonetheless. Gunn picked a subject that isn't particularly sexy and yields very little in the way of visible or easy to understand results and turned it into a good story anyway. It is a bit melancholic at times, some readers will not particularly care for the characters. I guess I can see why it didn't sweep the awards or turns up in lists of must read ...more
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
This is a fix-up novel, composed from a series of six stories published in the late 1960s and early 1970s, concerning a realistic response of human society to actually receiving a message through CETI.

As a novel, it feels a little padded with lots of quotations after each story, and choppy with repetitions of events from one story to the next. But I found it quite insightful, and respect Gunn's explorations of why we search for other intelligence in the universe, and what we are all about as
Clearly the inspiration for Sagan's Contact, an interesting book about the future that avoids any sort of world building, with the exception of mentioning "the computer" that said, a kind of humanistic sentimental story is told. The fine conclusion reminds me of a particularly fine episode of Star Trek - Next Generation that I will not spoil for interested readers although the book predates THG by many years.
Kelly Flanagan
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great read. No car chases, no gun battles! Just the emotional/mental changes that the world would go through if we received a message back from out in space.
Costin Manda
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
As always, this post will reflect my personal opinion. I know that The Listeners is a classic book, one that has been cited by SETI as a major factor in the project becoming known and supported by others. I know that at that time, doing a reasonable sci-fi book was a feat. I know that the writer was a believer in the contact with aliens and human nature and so on, and thus he must have been a nice guy, with similar desires to mine and other space-looking people. However the book annoyed me to no ...more
The Listeners is a short novel that nevertheless manages to fit in some thought provoking ideas. It's more than a 'first contact' (with extra-terrestrial intelligence)novel. It's a novel of faith.

The novel's focus is on 'The Project' which is the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Since the scientists have no way of sending out messages they are effectively listening for any sign that 'we are not alone'. Robert McDonald is the project's Director who, along with his colleagues has spent
Dec 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick read that feels more like the serialized form of the original story. I can definitely see how James Gunn influenced _Contact_ by Carl Sagan. The book has pages and pages of quotes from the mid 20th century about looking for and finding alien signals. I can also see how the book influenced a whole group of scientists and engineers to help with SETI.

The two most interesting bits are the computer and the Capella civilization. The computer is a monolithic design, patterned after what
Bridgett Brown
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. MacDonald 100% believes that life is out there and that intelligent beings will communicate with humans. He and others like him have been listening for over 50 years, but they've heard only silence. Until now. A cryptic message, but what does it mean? MacDonald gets permission to send a reply. The catch? It takes 45 years for the message to reach the planet it came from and another 45 years for them to send a answer back. So 90 years before a answer gets ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thought provoking and poetic. Like all sci-fi greats, Gunn tells an intriguing story without knocking you over the head with details. He instead lets the reader's imagination piece together the time gaps and implications of each event. This is the first book I read from him and it won't be the last.
Ian Lewis
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite its flaws. The characters are a bit too eloquent, honest, and good. Humanity responds a bit to well to a message from the stars. Would have been nice to have some jerks and dishonest, selfish people. Despite this optimism, the book is still very melancholic about our failings in our interactions with each other. Well written and compelling throughout.
Jon Norimann
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science_fiction
The listeners is a short novel, almost a short story. The form is also short story like. The book is about a SETI scientist missing the forest for the trees. A nice little read with a memorable point.
Eric Vitner
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dan Drew
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Pierre Sotér
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
A wonderful surprise. The science fiction book I liked the most.
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A cool Sci-Fi I found for $.25 at the local book sale. Classic themes with a nice make you think (but not too hard) feeling. Simple and clean.
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
Sci-fi; I am a whore for it. This is a spoiler-alert challenged review.

I ought not be so surprised by the writing coming from American writers in mid to latter-twentieth century. It almost seems more fresh than present-day writing; it was more free, more like deeply breathing clean and cold mountain air.

Written in 1972, about an in-the-future first contact event between humans and a race of alien species, and the sequelae of events that shape humankind because of that communication--cultural,
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
It was so-so.
I am sure the huge collection of citations, that the author gathered, granted him some reward of merit. But in my opinion it did not make a better book. It feels a little pretentious for me.
There are some odd points in the plot that I disliked:
The search has been going on for 50 years and when they FINALLY find something, they are not ecstatic, dancing on the tables. Instead it's more like "oh, and by the way, we found a signal. What's for lunch?".
And then this highly skilled
Charles Dee Mitchell
A few pages into The Listeners I thought I was settling down for a pleasantly boring experience of 1970's science fiction. But halfway through the book, my respect for what Gunn was attempting -- and accomplishing -- began to grow. He writes with subdued passion about the commitment of scientists to what many outside their world consider either a fool's errand or an actual threat to the functioning of society. His "listeners" who work on The Project are fictional incarnations of those who devote ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While the science in this book was believable--if/when we on earth have contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, it is likely to happen in just this way--the human drama was not. That's quite a failing, given the fact the focus of the book was presumably on the characters and how the endeavor of communicating with an alien civilization had on them.

Why do sci-fi authors have so much trouble writing believable characters? Is it because they devote so much of their energy on getting the science
Jan 19, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: literature lovers,
Shelves: sci-fi, literary
I would recommend this book as a sci-fi literary classic: it needs time and patience if you want to get the most out of it. Well worth the effort though.

The book follows the fortunes of a project to listen for extra-terrestrial messages (similar to SETI).

At the beginning of the book, the project is fighting for its existence, trying to appeal to the higher ideals and dreams of its funding body in order to secure finances for another session. The book is interspersed with quotations from
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: america
I had this alongside The Handmaid's Tale, and The Sirens of Titan for my 'Literary SF' week in SF class. While it's still a matter of no small contention as to what is 'literary' and what isn't when it comes to writing (apart from what gets published that way), one of the basic attributes of any form of good literature should be that it's written well, paying due attention to the elements that make up the story, and seeing that they mesh together holistically. From that end, The Listeners ...more
Feb 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
Yet another bk that surprises me. There are, what?, SEVEN editions listed here on GoodReads?! & Gunn was the president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. &, yet, I've only read one other bk by him, wch I liked, & he still seems obscure to me. Thank the Holy Ceiling Light / Astronomical Listening Post / Whatever that there are still SF writers whose work is relatively new to me & interesting. This bk manages to be quite a few things in a somewhat short span: 'human' (ie: ...more
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book is interlocked with spanish, italian, latin and old-english quotes that I absolutely positively hated. Most of them have no connection to the plot whatsoever and only disturb the reader from the main events. There was only one likeable character and that was the protagonist Robert MacDonald. Everyone else was either too mediocre or just deserving frowns. The plot is interesting, but very slow-paced with kickstart introduction and quick ending. Some commonalities can be seen between ...more
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
Thought it'll be like Sagan's Contact, and it was - but not in the way I expected. Listeners predates Contact but has the same sense of indescribable awe, that sense of hunger and loneliness you get when you look up at a starry sky on a quiet night and let yourself think... but that's not all that's similar. Woven through the story of SETI and the intellectual aspect of the search is a beautiful, touching, and very emotional human drama - a story of the people behind the search, of lives that ...more
Jeff Rudisel
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction, 2013
A classic must read, that I finally got around to!

Carl Sagan’s Contact seems to have mirrored much of this book.
The message, the prime numbers, Arecibo, political/religious controversies, etc. all seem to have been almost “lifted” from this earlier work.
But, to be fair, all of the ideas combined herein were thought up first by scientists (including Sagan) in the ‘50s and ‘60s and earlier.
And Sagan is quoted extensively in the book.
So it wasn’t really stealing.

Some naiveté about politics and
Some SETI enthusiasts may like that some "chapters" are collections of quotes related to SETI. For me, they make the book less like a novel. Much of the book is about the challenges of SETI - dealing with the waiting to find a signal, impact on families of those who dedicate their lives to SETI, and the societal issues when a signal is received. In that sense, it's not as much a triumphant "first signal" or "first contact" story as some books. It's probably more a book for those who want a ...more
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American science fiction author, editor, scholar, and anthologist. His work from the 1960s and 70s is considered his most significant fiction, and his Road to Science Fiction collections are considered his most important scholarly books. He won a Hugo Award for a non-fiction book in 1983 for Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. He was named the 2007 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master ...more
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“Logic is our assurance,” MacDonald said calmly. “The only thing worth sending from star to star is information, and the certain profit from such an exchange far outweighs the uncertain advantage from any other kind of behavior. The first benefit is the knowledge of other intelligent creatures in the universe—this alone gives us strength and courage. Then comes information from an alien world; it is like having our own instruments there, even our own scientists, to measure and record, only with the additional advantage of a breadth and duration of measurements under a variety of conditions. Finally comes the cultural and scientific knowledge and development of another race, and the treasure to be gained from this kind of exchange is beyond calculation.” 2 likes
“I, too, have had my revelation. I do not compare it with yours. It has no identifiable source. It is an inner conviction that has grown from a small thought to a large certainty that there is other life in the universe, that to prove its existence is the most gloriously human thing man can do, that to communicate with it would make this vast, incomprehensible place in which man lives, this unexplored forest of the night, a friendlier, happier, more wonderful, more exciting, holier place in which to be.” 2 likes
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