His Master’s Voice is a prime example of the intellectual vigor and honesty that have established Lem in the eyes of many as the greatest contemporary science-fiction writer. Unlike the “space operas” of early science fiction or the inferior efforts of many of his contemporaries, Lem’s novels rest on a solid understanding of scientific principles; he has been able to extend science into imaginative dramatizations of the convincingly possible rather than willfully distorting science into fantasy and melodrama: no bug-eyed monsters for Lem, no cheap apocalypses.
At least as important as Lem’s profound intellectual vigor is his honesty. Lem is one of the few science-fiction writers who have been brave and honest enough not to give the reader all the answers. He recognizes the limitations as well as the exhilarating potential of science, and he is imaginative enough to make limitation and failure interesting subjects for fiction—as His Master’s Voice attests.
While these qualities are found in varying degrees in all Lem’s novels, His Master’s Voice may more specifically be seen as a companion piece to a later novel, Fiasko (1986; Fiasco, 1987). Here, a research team not unlike the one in His Master’s Voice has found evidence of life on a distant planet, and a spaceship is sent out to make contact. The chief problem is how to communicate with the life form. Once again, the situation is complicated by politics, fear of the unknown, the limitations of science, and man’s innate fallibility. And once again, Lem refuses to provide all the answers.