His Master’s Voice (science fiction) was one of the three books (other two were non-fiction and highly recommended – Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss and Drive by Daniel Pink) I had selected for bedtime reading as the clock winds down to the new year and must confess, Stanislaw Lem is the name I missed out coming of age, as a fan of hard science fiction! This story easily o’er-leaps the credibility meter (as is wont of any good science fiction writer) but surprisingly, turns into critical non-fiction and although the story isn’t big, it isn’t what one can read in a go (see Amazon reviews).
I was drawn to it by this post on good holiday books for tech pros (second in the list) and indeed what starts as an attempt to decode a neutrino signal by a cross-section of scientists becomes an impossible Rorschach test not only for mankind but possibly for conscious life that may arise in the universe.
The irony is the very act of trying to understand that message can itself lead a civilization towards new technology and scientific discovery if not sweeping socioeconomic and cultural changes yet one can never ascertain the fact or say exactly, who sent the message, why or what it is about. More importantly, a non benevolent race is unlikely to even get that far…
I found last couple of chapters the most compelling (feel free to skip right to it) as not only it brings out the cherished world views of scientists involved and their final arguments front and center but reminds us philosophy is to be studied not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true but for the questions themselves because they enlarge our perception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and minimizes the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation, whenever we find beliefs challenged.
From the opening chapter of His Master’s Voice: “We stood at the feet of a gigantic find, as unprepared but also as sure of ourselves, as we could be. We clambered on it from every side, quickly, hungrily and cleverly with our time-honored skills like ants. I was one (sic). This is the story of an ant.”