To Serve Man

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This article is about the short story by Damon Knight. For the Twilight Zone episode, see To Serve Man (The Twilight Zone). For the Cattle Decapitation album, see To Serve Man (album).
"To Serve Man"
Galaxy 195011.jpg
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]

Synopsis[edit]

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, and a device that disables all modern armies by suppressing all explosions, and they begin 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 Kanamits 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 determine that the book's title is How to Serve Man. Two weeks later, the narrator returns from a trip to find Gregori distraught, having discovered to his horror that the title is a double entendre. Gregori informs the narrator that he has translated the first paragraph of the book and has determined that "it's a cookbook" (and not a treatise on serving humanity).

Awards[edit]

In 2001, the story was awarded a Retro Hugo Award as the "Best Short Story of 1951".[2]

Adaptations[edit]

Knight's story was adapted for use as a 1962 episode of the television series The Twilight Zone.[3]

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,[4] "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[5] and Cattle Decapitation titled an album after the story.

James Michener's Space features characters reading the story.

In World of Warcraft the item "An Exotic Cookbook" is subtitled "How to serve man".[6] 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."

In The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear during a panic after Dr. Albert Meinheimer's speech, the character Terence Baggett holds a copy of the book "To serve man", proclaiming "It's a cookbook!". The joke is that Terence Baggett is played by Lloyd Bochner, who was the lead in the Twilight Zone adaptation of the story.

In Married... with Children episode "Sofa so good", Al Bundy, off screen, yells to his wife Peggy "Peg, To serve man? It's a cookbook!".

In Futurama episode "My Three Suns", Bender the robot wears an apron bearing the name of the story.

In the first Madagascar movie, when discussing Alex the Lion, one of the lemurs holds up a book titled "To serve Lemur" and proclaims "It's a cookbook!".

In Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, there is a book named "To Serve Man" which contains crafting recipes of food requiring human flesh. The book's description is "It's... it's a cookbook!".[7]

References[edit]

External links[edit]