The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The chapters of The Listeners relate to major characters in the work, but the story titles in magazines refer to the parts of the novel’s radio message. A section titled “Computer Run” after each chapter gives scientific, literary, and philosophical ideas about alien contact and also provides the setting of the novel through short news stories.

In The Listeners, humans attempt to contact intelligent life by listening to radio emissions from outer space. In 2025, Robert McDonald, director of the Project, guides a team of scientists who scan the galaxies with radio telescopes and computers for radio emissions. After his wife, Maria, attempts suicide because of her loneliness, McDonald sees that he failed to communicate adequately with her. He doubts his usefulness to the Project and decides to resign, but after affirming that humans must listen to the stars and one another, he keeps his post.

In 2027, George Thomas, a lonely reporter, comes to the listening center prepared to write a magazine article that will expose the failure of the Project. McDonald plays for Thomas an answer from Capella, a double star in the constellation Auriga. Energy bursts between fragments of a ninety-year-old radio broadcast from the Earth compose this first message. McDonald and Thomas think that an alien civilization is contacting Earth by placing its own message in rebroadcasts of 1930’s radio transmissions. Thomas agrees to help McDonald persuade the world that scientists have received a message from a star 45 light-years away.

In 2028, McDonald protects the Project from the Solidarians, a religion that believes that humans...

(The entire section is 681 words.)