Literature / His Master's Voice

His Master's Voicenote  is a science fiction novel by Stanisław Lem, published in Polish in 1968 and translated into English by Michael Kandel in 1983.

The plot concerns some noise readings of an innocuously empty sector of space around Canis Minor which, by a series of contrived coincidences, are discovered by the U.S. government and thought to be the creation of extraterrestrial intelligence. They assemble a team of scientists of all sorts to analyze the message and discover what exactly it means.

Rather than being a story about aliens, however, Lem's novel is about the process of scientific analysis itself. A critique of the idea of objective science, the book's characters are led and misled by their own biases and petty dislikes rather than any actual scientific data.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Hard on Soft Science: The viewpoint character is a statistician, and doesn't have the best of opinions of non-"pure" sciences. (Which is a bit odd, since the soft sciences often make more and better use of statistics than the hard sciences do.) For their part, the psychologists and sociologists aren't too fond of the physicists and mathematicians either.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Scientists try to decode the message, but they can't.
  • Take That!: At some of the more extreme soft sciences. Also, Lem's dislike of pulp science fiction is displayed.
    • The character "Wilhelm Eeney" is a reference to one particular party-loyal critic of Lem.
  • Unbuilt Trope: It's about deciphering of extraterrestrial signal. Sounds like Contact? Only it's from 1968, and it ends in a failure.