A Holocaust Survivor's Hardboiled Science Fiction

The New Yorker 

This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from. In "His Master's Voice," a 1968 sci-fi novel by the Polish writer Stanisław Lem, a team of scientists and scholars convened by the American government try to decipher a neutrino signal from outer space. They manage to translate a fragment of the signal's information, and a couple of the scientists use it to construct a powerful weapon, which the project's senior mathematician fears could wipe out humanity. The intention behind the message remains elusive, but why would an advanced life-form have broadcast instructions that could be so dangerous? Late one night, a philosopher on the team named Saul Rappaport, who emigrated from Europe in the last year of the Second World War, tells the mathematician about a time--"the year was 1942, I think"--when he nearly died in a mass execution.

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