Study and Discussion Questions for Murray Leinster's "First Contact" [1945]

"First Contact," written as WWII was nearing its end, addresses some of the same issues covered in "A Martian Odyssey" and "Arena."  Just as Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind [1977] and E.T. [1982] responded to the glut of alien invasion films of the cold war period, Leinster's story offers an alternative to the bug-eyed monster and alien threat narratives that [with few exceptions like Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey"] dominated pulp magazine stories.  However, "First Contact" covers similar issues and thematic concerns.  consider the following:

  1. Does the story contain unself-consciously presented racial and ethnic stereotypes as it draws comparisons between humans and aliens?  What specific language might identify this story as originating in 1940s America?

  2. Both "A Martian Odyssey" and "Arena" to some extent address definitions of the human.  How does this story identify essential human characteristics and use them to draw parallels between the alien and the human?  What specific characteristics are crucial to Tommy Dort's conclusions about the alien race? Why does Leinster have Dort, rather than a higher ranking officer, discover the true nature of the aliens and pose a solution to the problem?

  3. Does Northrop Frye's definition of romance mode apply to this story? If so, how?

  4. Why does Leinster include so much detail about nebulas, photographic records, and the command structure on the ship? 

  5. What about this story might justify its inclusion in a hall of fame volume?  That is, what elements might, in your view, have caused the 1967 SFWA members to select "First Contact" as a story worthy of inclusion in the volume?