Zeroth Contact
April 1, 2013 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Where can I get some absentee alien stories?

I'm interested in books, short stories, movies, video games, or anything else you can recommend in which Earthlings have found proof of alien life, but the aliens themselves do not appear in the story. I'd like to avoid standard first contact stories.

Some (slightly spoilery) examples include Frederik Pohl's Gateway and Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. Big Dumb Objects are not required, but conclusive evidence of alien life is. Please consider alien liberally; the Myst-series game Uru, would qualify, for instance.

I'd like to stick to works of deliberate fiction, so no "ETs actually built the Egyptian pyramids"-style conspiracy theories, please.

Bonus points for stories that you liked and were good. Thanks!
posted by ddbeck to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Arthur C Clark's short story The Sentinel.

Roadside Picnic

Stanislaw Lem's His Master's Voice.
posted by justkevin at 9:44 AM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Niven's Ringworld might barely qualify. I suppose you sort of meet the prime mover aliens eventually, but there's a lot of the "how do you suppose this works?" sort of thing going on like Rendezvous With Rama had until it turned into the Nicole des Jardins story.
posted by Kyol at 9:50 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Does the story need to focus primarily/exclusively on the absent aliens?

Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Searched was an enjoyable book (and always screamed for a sequel, imo) but didn't primarily focus on the absent aliens (archaeology of such, yes).
posted by bookdragoness at 9:50 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Ah, I came in here to recommend RINGWORLD, but got scooped. :-)
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:23 AM on April 1, 2013

Response by poster: Does the story need to focus primarily/exclusively on the absent aliens?

Nope, it just needs to be a story in which alien life (intelligent or not) is known to exist or to have existed. It doesn't need to be the center of attention. It's okay if the aliens show up eventually, but I'm much less interested in the big reveal than the sense of mystery that precedes it (which is not to say I don't like a first contact story, it's just that they're not unusual).
posted by ddbeck at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Richard K. Morgan has a few books with this theme; "Altered Carbon" is the first, but "Broken Angels" is the one which really gets into it. The idea is that humanity has long ago discovered artifacts of an alien civilization, and used those artifacts to bootstrap its own interstellar exploration, but the aliens themselves are long gone and remain mysterious.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:36 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan. Though it depends on what you mean by "alien".

The basic story hook is that explorers on the moon find a dead man, but all tests indicate he's been there for 50,000 years.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:41 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Boundary (and sequels) by Eric Flint and Ryk Spoor. First clue: shotgun pellet holes in dinosaur bones.

The Engines of God (and sequels) by Jack McDevitt.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:17 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge has a little side plot involving a character searching for alien life and finding only ruins.
posted by jhc at 11:22 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: The Sky People (and sequels) by S. M. Stirling.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:23 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: Arthur C. Clarke also comes to mind with "The Star."
posted by stevis23 at 11:48 AM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: I see it's already been recommended, but Roadside Picnic is fantastic and you should put that at the top of your list. A well-received new translation just came out last year. We talked about it and some other similar sci-fi over here.
posted by echo target at 12:11 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: The TNG episode "Inner Light." Obviously we've met aliens by then, but we haven't met *these* aliens.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:38 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The origin of the aliens in The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula Le Guin, is not exactly straightforward.
posted by glasseyes at 5:29 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: "Permanence" by Karl Schroeder
posted by dustsquid at 9:47 PM on April 1, 2013

Best answer: I love indirect characterization!

Roadside Picnic of course. I'm not sure Lem's His Master's Voice counts as an example of what you're asking for (it could but it doesn't have to). Lem's Fiasco may not count either, but I think it's closer, but then it's also closer to "standard first contact" too. Anyway, they're both good.

It's kind of a spoiler to say this, but Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky is a first contact story which disguises several even greater alien marvels which are only obvious if you read A Fire Upon the Deep first. There's also Iain M Bank's Against A Dark Background which also may or may not disguise the influence of a powerful alien civilization. Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space is a more straightforward working of this theme.

Also, Larry Niven's short story The Hole Man did this really well. If you liked Pohl's Gateway, the short story The Merchants of Venus is also in that universe, and set before the events of the novels. Greg Egan does a great variant of this in the story Riding The Crocodile.
posted by wobh at 11:27 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look at the Spin / Axis / Virtex series by Robert Charles Wilson.
posted by reddot at 4:42 PM on April 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for expanding my science fiction horizons. I can't wait to (eventually) get to all of your suggestions.
posted by ddbeck at 5:19 PM on April 2, 2013

Best answer: Answer Came There None which is the last story in the book Monsters and Medics by James White (it is so much the essence of this question that I searched through my whole book shelf until I found the book that it was in).
posted by anaelith at 7:44 PM on April 3, 2013

Best answer: The Engines of God (and sequels) by Jack McDevitt.

Also, I'm currently reading Cryptic, Jack McDevitt's 2009 collection of short stories. There's at least a couple of zeroth contact stories in there (among many other things).
posted by god hates math at 3:50 PM on April 4, 2013

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