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on 19 February 1999
If you're familiar with Lem, you know he can dash off deep insights as asides. Now imagine his intellect focused on what it means to be human trying to understand the universe. A masterpiece.
This is not his best science fiction (Fiasco gets that honor) nor his most revealing psychological work (ironically that's Cyberiad). It doesn't explore technology to the greatest extent (try the Golem lectures). However, it may stand as simply the most important work of fiction of the information age.
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on 4 July 1999
This book needs desperately to be reprinted. Though not as overtly humorous as many of Lem's other books, or as other scientific satires (Arrowsmith, The Black Cloud), it is nonetheless supreme in its genre. Its humor resides in the blindness of its characters; only one person in the book recognizes this, and his commentary probes concepts that are as disturbing as those revealed by Galileo and Darwin. Namely, that human intellect has fundamental limitations, and is more than likely to be utterly unable to comprehend the product of truly alien intelligence. Lem explores these themes in other books as well, but in not nearly as robust a manner.
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on 8 August 1996
A synthetic signal from outer space is detected.
In Sagan's "Contact", the signal
encodes plans for a spaceship; here it's not so simple.
The signal seems to carry many levels of meaning,
each one more bizarre and mind-boggling than the last.
Lem, as always, weaves together ideas from the fringes
of modern science. He also explores the human aspects
of scientific research.

This book is not light reading.
Many parts require a mental effort like, say,
that needed to play chess.
This can be irritating, even infuriating.
For readers are up to the task, however,
the book rewards the effort many times over.
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on 6 February 2004
This is an insightful and provoking book, whose theme goes hand in hand with many of the greatest Russian SF works. Unlike his Western contempories, who mostly speculated about the unending future acheivements of man, Lem wrote about our fundemental limits, particularly in understanding the universe, and other people. In some ways, it bears a resemblence to the "Roadside Picnic" by the Strugatsky (sp?) brothers.
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on 13 April 2011
This is a book I read first when I was very young, and which has somehow influenced and haunted me all of my life.

In the future humans discover a signal coming from an intelligent source on a far away star. It must be very old, use vast amounts of energy and the attempts to decipher the message end in failure. The book starts out with a thoughtful approach to the structure of the hypothetical message, and how the decryption of certain parts hint at surprising complexity. From a certain point in the book, Lem doesn't speculate any more about the signal, and later on, uses the topic mainly as means to dissect human nature and to warn (impicitly) about a 3rd world war. This is certainly understandable in the context of the time it was written, but it didn't satisfy my curiosity. That he takes this 1 step forward, 2 steps back approach makes me think Lem wanted to write a political book. For which it was certainly relevant during the Cold War, and probably even today, although times have changed a bit.

But although recent analysis puts the probability of this event in a somewhat different perspective, Lem seems to ignore that a contact with an alien civilization is still a possibility. This would be a highly dangerous event, but could it be that human fallacy is only one aspect, and possible only a minor one? I rather ask myself, if we came into contact with a vastly superior intelligence, what plans would they have have with us? Certainly this question is not possible to answer with our inferior intelligence (I say "inferior" according to Lems view, and in all probability), but why shouldn't we speculate? What if they were mostly benign, (because that could be a condition for survival), and the contact would be highly beneficial to us? What if they are purely rational, could we adapt? What if they were truly evil, should we try to hide from them, or prepare us for the event, today? What is the most likely outcome? And last, why does not only Lem, but almost every author portray humanity as an evil and doomed species? Could it be that all speculation of the human future is somehow related with depth psychology?

I rate `The Masters Voice' about as high as `Solaris'. Unfortunately some of Lems other books left me rather underwhelmed, e.g. `Flight to the Stars' and the highly praised `The Invincible'. But all the same a great fellow, this Mr. Lem.
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on 8 February 2009
A highly recommended exploration of genuine alienness. Incommunicable, unfathomable, the kind of encounter that refuses to conform to the frameworks and paradigms that we attempt to enforce. Plot-wise, Lem focuses mainly on the isolated scholarly reflections of Peter Hogarth as he joins The Master's Voice project, set up to decipher a message not of this world.

We get to explore scientific politics and rivalries, potted histories of the project that verge on the Borgesian and a series of intellectual puzzles rendered more thrilling than you would imagine. Lem's true gift is to convey all this without the heavy-handed indulgence of quasi-scientific terms and over-wrought discussions of quantum physics. As a result, the unique alien intelligence not only remains potent today, but is perhaps even more compelling in comparison with the cliched ideas of the alien that currently abound.

If there is a complaint, it is that the unsettling psychological quality which Lem conveys so well is stronger and better-plotted in his best known work 'Solaris'. But this is all well worth your time and attention. It is only a pity that more of Lem's works are not available in contemporary editions. He is woefully under-appreciated.
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on 8 April 1997
I had to read this novel twice to be sure I 'got it'. This I was glad to do, for upon finishing it the first time, I felt that my mind (the rational portion of it) had experienced something akin to an epiphany (and after the second reading, I immediatley sought out the other novels he's written, and always hope for more). This is not the standard line on "first contact"; this is more of a tale of evesdropping by naughty children, with consequences. If you enjoy the way that Buckminster Fuller works with models, mental and physical, you'll love Lem. His commitment to staying within the boundaries of accepted science coupled with his readiness to tweak a few noses make for a most engaging read. I'd say that if "Fox Mulder" read Science Fiction, this book, and this author would be at the top of his list.
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on 4 February 2011
His Masters Voice is the perfect antidote to all those mainstream Hollywood movies that have cannibalised the literary science fiction of the last 100 years. Unlike Sagan's 'Contact' this is a message from the stars that cannot be wholly understood even to the point of them doubting that it was a message at all. The question is left open, no ends are neatly tied and no conclusions reached. If SETI ever recieves a message from the stars I expect it to be as difficult to interpret as the message in His Masters Voice. Not for fans of Star Wars...
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on 28 September 2010
Knowledge can be a powerful tools for good as well as evil. Lem offers an excellent and profound analysis of the relationship between human knowledge, psychology and environment- how its developmnet influences the way we aproach and resolve problems, who decides what types of knowledge and purposes are wanted at a given time and who permits and how restricts access to it.
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on 2 October 2010
What other reviewers forget is that this is a political/philosophical work (in marxist terms there is no difference between the two). Do remember under what circumstances this novel was written. A lot of Eastern European works of fiction were making political points while not publicising that. {In fact, a large part of American SF could be regarded as subversive to an authoritarian mind-set as well!).
So be very careful how you judge this book and in the end, think carefully about what it is saying and make your own mind up.
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