(I mean, for something more than being the guy who made my high school physics class interesting. We watched some video and I was like, “Hey, this is that The Dragons of Eden guy!” Or for being a great science-popularizer.)
I’m reading the novel he wrote, Contact, right now, and despite the obvious criticisms many have made — such as that the novel is the postmodern response to the Femi Paradox: if there are no aliens, mankind shall have to invent them — there are a few things that are pretty striking about the first third (or so) of the book.
One of them is on the first couple of pages of Chapter 8, where he discusses the future of TV. Reality TV (which he dubbed, eerily, “REALI-TV”) was something he seemed to think would be good for people’s minds, involving analysis of old news programs for their propagandistic or falsehood-laden content, exposing broken campaign promises.
He also was suitably cynical about the role that religion would take on in the American Republic or, at least, this seems the case as of a chapter or two later, though also right there at the start of Chapter 8, where we see the cluster of religious TV channels also chattering about The [SETI-intercepted] Message. But he’s also fairminded enough to set up a religious antagonist who, while he is a fundamentalist, also hates a lot of the same things in fundamentalist Christianity that most non-religious or even mainstream religious people hate about fundamentalism. (Again, as of somewhere in Chapter 9, which is where I am now..)
What did he miss? The same thing most people missed, though as far back as John Brunner, it had been imagined: the impact of the Internet. There’s some sort of videogame being advertised on TV, in a context of would-be users ordering away for floppy discs to use and play at home. MSOffRPG (Massively Single Offline Role Playing Game were are far as Sagan imagined, by Chapter 8.) And yeah, the Soviet Union still exists, but in 1985, it wasn’t apparent to so many that it wouldn’t. Hell, we may yet again see a Russian Empire of some sort in our lifetimes, the way things are going.
Still, I’m enjoying the book well enough, and I have a vague sense that Ellie is a creditable (and respectfully drawn) female character, though I’m curious what female readers thought of her.
UPDATE: There’s an interesting review of the book and movie here.