His Master's Voice Hardcover – January 1, 1983
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- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Hardcover : 199 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0151403600
- ISBN-13 : 978-0151403608
- Publisher : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 1st edition (January 1, 1983)
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
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Stanislaw Lem has a great knack for explaining complex ideas and theories in a single sentence. He combines far-reaching thoughts on who we are as a species and where we are going with witty turns of phrase that seem almost calming until you realize how little faith he has in us, especially the powers that be.
This book is a story written from the first person memoirs of a scientist who was called to the desert by the U.S. government during the height of the Cold War to work on a secret project. A signal has been discovered from the deep reaches of the Universe. He recounts the tasks of deciphering the signal along with the operations endless red tape, interoffice politics and conflicting ideas about what the true message or use of the discovery could be.
My favorite parts of this book are the almost throw-away thoughts concerning our species and where we stand in the grand scheme of things.
This book is absolutely worth a read for anyone looking for a sci-fi book that could easily take place right now if it's not already taking place.
Like Solaris, His Master’s Voice aims far above run-of-the-mill sci-fi. You can see it in the depth and breadth of the author’s reflections and in the quality of his prose. Lem touches on on the birth and death of the Cosmos; the structure and limits of language, culture, and mathematics; how the fundamental laws of physics and thermodynamics manifest in both biology and culture, and much more.
It’s one of those books you can read a dozen times, coming away with a different reading each time. As in Solaris, Lem packs more thought into a single volume than many writers cover in their entire ouvre. Put this one on your list. You’ll be thinking about it long after you finish reading.
Like the rambling Ishmael of Melville, or the detached Miles Coverdale of Hawthorne, the narrator's thoughts wax philosophical in long arcs of meditation on the nature of humanity and existence. The narrator, Dr. Hogarth, has been recognized in the field as an iconoclast of scientific principles; it is his ability to immediately draw out hasty assumptions of theoretical and mathematical proofs that is both his burden and virtue. The character is left wandering through a philosophical wasteland, a kind of temperate nihilism, though his own biases are soon unearthed by his colleagues.
Ultimately, His Master's Voice is about the pretension of ultimate knowledge. For a work that insists on science, it is highly critical of the biases of the methodology; and yet, there are numerous diatribes against individuals who rest solely upon the imagination, as well. The hesitancy of the narrator (and I would extend this to Lem) to propose a positive argument with any hint of certainty is the epistemological crux of the novel. Even the narrator tires of the futility and impossibility of comprehending the signal, a signal that may very well originate from non-human organisms, in a language which does not presuppose the binaries at the base of our language (if such binaries even exist), from a civilization that has so surpassed our own that their reality is beyond our understanding. Or--particularly mystifying--the signal may be entirely natural in origin, a possibility which challenges our ability to distinguish between nature and artifice. In the final pages, the author tries to force an order onto the chaos of the project, and yet he cannot bring himself to any more evidence for his beliefs than intuition--a difficulty that he both rejects and embraces. There is a kind of Romantic postmodernism at play in Lem, and this novel is (in my opinion) a better expression of it than even Solaris.
The experience of reading Lem is like that of reading Kafka. The text is dense, difficult, and draining. In fact, it's more difficult than Kafka because there are extremely dense (and very well-informed) philosophical discussions on various topics spread throughout the text. The protagonist (and the reader) often realize as the story progresses that they know less and less. This is certainly the case in "His Master's Voice". But Lem isn't nearly as bleak and hopeless as Kafka. Lem seems to think that there's real value in understanding our limitations, even if there's no way of transcending them.