To Serve Man
|"To Serve Man"|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||Galaxy Science Fiction|
|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). The title is a double entendre, the ergative verb meaning either "to perform a service for humanity" or "to serve a human as food".
The story is set in the United States in a time that appears to be contemporaneous with the story's 1950 publication date. It 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 humans "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, boundless supplies of food, a device that disables all modern armies by suppressing all explosions, and they commence work on drugs for prolonging life. As a further token of friendship, they allow humans to visit their home planet via ten-year "exchange groups".
While the narrator has trusted the Kanamit from the time of their arrival, his friend and fellow translator Gregori has not. Gregori dismisses any notion of disinterested altruism and is certain the Kanamit must have an ulterior motive underlying their actions. Determined to discover what the Kanamit stand to gain by helping humans, Gregori takes a job at the Kanamit embassy to learn their language. This affords him access to a Kanamit-English dictionary, and he later steals a Kanamit book, hoping to translate it. The narrator has also left the UN to work at the Kanamit embassy, and working together with Gregori, the two manage to determine that the book's title is How to Serve Man. Two weeks later, the narrator returns from a trip to find Gregori distraught. Gregori 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 first marriage was breaking up and his wife was out with another man.
References in other works
George Scithers wrote a cookbook and Cattle Decapitation titled an album after the story. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear 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". The recipe 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."
- Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections
- Malzberg, Barry N., ed. (1976). The Best of Damon Knight. Nelson Doubleday.
- 2001 Retro Hugo Awards
- 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.
- Ringo, John (2000). A Hymn Before Battle. Riverdale: Baen Books. ISBN 0-671-31941-8.
- To Serve Man: A Cookbook for People at Google Books
- Whedon, Joss (September 24, 2002). "Buffy Episode #123: "Lessons" Transcript". BuffyWorld. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Ostow, Micol; Brezenoff, Steven (2003). The Quotable Buffy. New York: Simon Pulse. p. 112. ISBN 0743410173.