The first contact comes when divers off Sumatra encounter black creatures "the size of a ten year old boy", who will trade pearls.
It is soon realised that these creatures can be made to use tools and work. Within a short time, technology, industrialisation and the world economy is dominated by the newt trade. They are a useful commodity and no-one seems to consider that creatures that can learn to speak might have other sensibilities.
The newt population grows at enormous speed, and their need for living space drives them to war against the humans.
This is the basic plot of Karel Čapek's wonderful 1936 novel, War With The Newts.
As is obvious, this is a highly allegorical work, which operates on a many different levels. There are, for example, clear references to the slave trade, to the imperialist tensions of early Twentieth Century Europe, to the Nazi demands for lebensraum, and the totalitarian oppression promised by Stalin's Russia. There are also, no doubt, reflections, on contemporary Czech politics, but disappointingly, there is no explanatory essay in this Penguin Central European Classic
It is told in a many different ways, from straight narrative to newspaper articles and scientific papers, with sections heavy in learned footnotes, others driven by conversations and incidents of high farce.
Early on, Thomas Gregg, a keeper at London Zoo, is surprised when a Giant Japanese Salamander begins to talk. Rather disturbed by the conversations, Gregg decides to divert the newt, Andria Scheuchzer, by giving him a newspaper, in which he reads about crime, horse-racing and football.
A learned professor writes a 16-page article for Natural Science, in which he concludes that:
Andria Scheuchzer can talk, even if inclined to croak; it has a range of about four hundred words; it only repeats what it has heard or read.
... this same salamander can read, but only the evening papers. It is interested in the same things as an average Englishman, and it reacts to them in a similar way,that is in the directon of established general views. Its mental life - if it is possible to speak of such - consists merely of ideas and opinions current at the time.
A brilliant book - highly recommended.