To Serve Man

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"To Serve Man"
Author Damon Knight
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction short story
Published in Galaxy Science Fiction
Publication type Periodical
Publisher Galaxy Publishing Corporation
Media type Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date November 1950

"To Serve Man" is a science fiction short story written by Damon Knight. It first appeared in the November 1950 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction and has been reprinted a number of times, including in Frontiers in Space (1955), Far Out (1961), and The Best of Damon Knight (1976).[1] The title is a double entendre, meaning either "to perform a service for humanity" or "to serve a human as food".


The story is set in the United States in what appears to be the then-present time (i.e., 1950) and is told in first-person narrative by a United Nations translator. The story opens at a special session of the UN where three alien emissaries, the pig-like "Kanamit", are testifying that the purpose of their mission to Earth is to "bring to you the peace and plenty which we ourselves enjoy, and which we have in the past brought to other races throughout the galaxy". The aliens soon supply Earth with cheap unlimited power, a device that suppresses explosions, and drugs for prolonging life. As a further token of friendship, they allow humans to visit their home planet via ten-year "exchange groups".

A friend of the narrator, a UN translator named Gregori, steals one of the Kanamit books, and he and the narrator attempt to translate it, via a basic Kanamit-English dictionary provided by the aliens. After some weeks, they determine that the title is "To Serve Man". Two weeks later, the narrator returns from a trip to find Gregori distraught. Grigori says that he has managed to translate the first paragraph of the book, and has determined that "it's a cookbook".


The story was written in 1950, while the author was living in Greenwich Village in New York City. Knight has stated that he wrote the story in one afternoon, while his wife was out with another man.[2]


In 2001, the story was awarded a Retro Hugo Award as the "Best Short Story of 1951".[3]


Knight's story was adapted for use as a 1962 an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone.[4]

The second segment of The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror "Hungry are the Damned" makes use of a similar plot device.

References in other works[edit]

In John Ringo's book A Hymn Before Battle,[5] "To Serve Man" is mentioned as a classic example of aliens seeming to be benevolent, while in fact using humans for their own purposes.

George Scithers wrote a cookbook[6] and Cattle Decapitation titled an album after the story. Buffy the Vampire Slayer[7][8] and Madagascar reference the famous climax in gags. James Michener's Space features characters reading the story.

In World of Warcraft you can find the item "An Exotic Cookbook" subtitled "How to serve man",[9] clearly referencing "To Serve Man". The recipe within is as follows: 1. Get one or eight man 2. Hit man hard 3. Hit man more 4. Put man in fire 5. Eat man


  1. ^ Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections
  2. ^ Malzberg, Barry N., ed. (1976). The Best of Damon Knight. Nelson Doubleday. 
  3. ^ 2001 Retro Hugo Awards
  4. ^ Belasco, Warren James (2006). Meals to come: a history of the future of food. University of California Press yo bro. p. 130. ISBN 0-520-24151-7. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  5. ^ Ringo, John (2000). A Hymn Before Battle. Riverdale: Baen Books. ISBN 0-671-31941-8. 
  6. ^ To Serve Man: A Cookbook for People at Google Books
  7. ^ Whedon, Joss (September 24, 2002). "Buffy Episode #123: "Lessons" Transcript". BuffyWorld. Retrieved 2013-01-04. 
  8. ^ Ostow, Micol; Brezenoff, Steven (2003). The Quotable Buffy. New York: Simon Pulse. p. 112. ISBN 0743410173. 
  9. ^

External links[edit]