Stanislaw Lem: The Invincible

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Stanislaw Lem The Invincible
  • Название:
    The Invincible
  • Автор:
  • Жанр:
    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Год:
    1973
  • Язык:
    Английский
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    4 / 5
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The Invincible: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A powerful sublight interstellar space ship, a “class two cruiser” called , lands on the planet which seems uninhabited and bleak, to investigate the loss of sister ship, . During the investigation, the crew finds evidence of a form of quasi-life, born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines, apparently left behind by an alien civilization that visited the planet a very long time ago. The evolution was controlled by “robot wars”, and the only form that survived were swarms of minuscule, insect-like micromachines. Individually, or in small groups, they are quite harmless to humans and capable of only very simple behavior. However, when bothered, they can assemble into huge swarms displaying complex behavior arising from self-organization, and are able to defeat an intruder by a powerful surge of EMI. Some members of the spacecraft crew suffered a complete memory erasure as a consequence. Big clouds of “insects” are also able to travel at a high speed and even to climb to the top of troposphere. The angered crew attempts to fight the perceived enemy, but eventually recognizes the meaninglessness of their efforts in the most direct sense of the word. The robotic “fauna” has become part of the planets ecology, and would require a disruption on planetary scale (such as a nuclear winter) to be destroyed. The novel turns into an analysis of the relationship between different life domains, and their place in the universe. In particular, it is an imaginary experiment to demonstrate that evolution may not necessarily lead to dominance by intellectually superior life forms. The plot also involves a Conrad-like dilemma, juxtaposing the values of humanity and the efficiency of mechanical insects. In the face of defeat and imminent withdrawal of , Rohan, the spaceship's navigator, undertakes a trip into the 'enemy area' in search of 4 crew members who went missing in action — an attempt which he and captain Horpach see as probably futile, but necessary for moral reasons. Rohan struck into mountains covered by metallic “shrubs” and “insects” and found these crewmen dead. He gathers some evidence and returns to the ship unharmed because of successful operation of the anti-detection device they managed to create for that purpose.

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“Reactors zero power. Land with cold drive!”

The men’s hearts began to beat faster. They looked at the instruments. Their sweaty hands grasped levers. This last command meant there would be no turning back now. Soon they would be able to step down on terra firma; even if it was only the sand of a barren planet. Nevertheless they would see the sun rise and set again, see a horizon and clouds, and feel the wind.

“Landing dead center at nadir!”

A continuous moan filled the ship: the turbines extruded the fuel in a downward direction. A cone-shaped green column of fire connected the invincible to the rocky steaming ground. Sand clouds obscured the periscopes located on the middle decks. Only the radar screens in the control center showed the constantly changing outlines of the surrounding landscape which rapidly disappeared under the full fury of the raging typhoon.

“Stop at touchdown!”

The colossal descending rocket compressed the fiery column inch by inch. Rebellious flames swirled directly beneath the ship’s stern. Long tongues licked out from this green fiery hell into the quivering clouds of sand. The space between the burned rock and the Invincible narrowed down to a tiny gap, a glowing green line.

“Zero, zero! Cut all power!”

The rocket had come to rest on the ground. The chief engineer kept a firm grasp on both levers of the emergency starter in case the rock might suddenly cave in. They waited; the seconds crept by slowly, painfully. For a while the commander observed the plumb line, but the tiny silvery lamp did not show the slightest deviation to either side.

They were silent. The nozzles of the jets that only a short time ago had glowed white with incandescent heat began to contract while cooling off. This was accompanied by a characteristic sound not unlike a hoarse groan. Little by little the reddish dust clouds that had been hurled into the air several hundred yards high began to drift towards the ground. The spaceship’s blunt nose emerged first, then the rump, blackened by atmospheric friction matching the color of the old basalt rocks. But the red sand still whirled around the ship’s stern, which now stood firmly on the ground as if welded to the planet’s surface. The Invincible seemed to have become a part of this planet, seemed to have rotated along with it sluggishly for many centuries under the violet sky where bright stars now could be seen, growing dim only in the vicinity of the red sun.

“Normal procedure?”

The astrogator looked up from the log where he had just jotted down the exact time of their touchdown next to the name of the planet: Regis III.

“No, Rohan. We’ll start with the third step routine.”

Rohan tried to hide his surprise.

“Fine,” he replied with the note of familiarity that Horpach occasionally tolerated in their conversations. “However, I’d rather not tell the crew myself.”

Seemingly ignoring Rohan’s remark, the astrogator took his officer by the arm and steered him over to the videoscreen.

Gazing through the stereoptic, multicolored screen of the electron transformer as if it were a window eighteen storeys high opening onto the outside, they saw a true image of the landscape surrounding their landing site.

The force of the landing jet stream had hurled the sand outward and piled it up in a ring of dunes surmounting a shallow hollow. They noticed the jagged rocky rim of a crater some three miles away, its western edge blending into the horizon. Impenetrable dark shadows hung below its steep slopes toward the east. The ridges of wide lava streams pushed through the sand like rivers of reddish-black congealed blood. A bright star in the sky was visible at the upper rim of the videoscreen.

The cataclysm, brought about by the arrival of the Invincible, had gradually died down. Now the desert wind — a violent air mass constantly moving from the planet’s equatorial zones toward its poles — was already driving sandy tongues underneath the ship’s stern, as if patiently trying to heal the wound that the fiery jets had torn open.

The astrogator switched on the network of the outside microphones. The distant sound of malicious howling merged with the nearby rustling of sand gusts as they scoured the steely hull of the ship. For a moment the eerie, grating noise filled the high-ceilinged room of the control center. Horpach switched off the mikes and silence returned.

“Well, that’s what it looks like,” he said slowly “But the Condor never returned home from here, Rohan.”

Rohan clenched his teeth. Better not enter into an argument with his commander. Though they had flown together many parsecs, they had never become friends. Maybe the generation gap was too wide, or the dangers they had overcome together had not been sufficiently severe. This man, whose hair was almost as white as the suit he wore, showed no consideration now for his crew.

Nearly one hundred men waited silently at their posts. Behind them lay the tremendous strain of the approaching maneuver, those three hundred hours needed to brake the kinetic energy that was stored in every atom of the Invincible, to swing the ship into the proper orbit and to bring it in for the landing. Almost one hundred men who had not heard the rustling of the wind for many months, who had learned to hate the emptiness of space in the manner of those who have become too familiar with it. But the commander certainly did not take this into consideration now. Slowly he walked across the control center, grasped the back of his chair and growled: “We don’t know what that is out there Rohan.” And suddenly he snapped, “Well, what are you waiting for!”

Rohan hurried over to the panel and switched on the intercom. His voice betrayed his inner resentment as he shouted, “Attention, all hands! Attention! Landing maneuver completed. Terrestrial procedure, third step routine. Deck number eight — get the energy-robots ready! Deck number nine — start the protective screen reactors! All protection personnel to proceed to their stations! The rest of the crew to remain at their usual posts! These are commander’s orders, men!”

As he bellowed these commands into the intercom speaker he kept his eye on the green eye of the amplifier, which oscillated according to the intensity of his voice. Suddenly he seemed to see inside the flickering light the perspiring faces of the men who were turned toward the loudspeakers. He knew the expression on those faces was changing from amazement to cold fury. Now that they had understood, they would start cursing.

“Terrestrial procedure, third step routine started, Astrogator,” he said without looking at the old man. The old man glanced at Rohan and a slight smile showed unexpectedly around the corners of his mouth.

“That’s just for the beginning, Rohan. You should know that. We’ll probably go for long walks when the sun is setting over the horizon. Who knows…”

He took a thin, long book from a small built-in cupboard at the far end of the wall. He opened it and placed it on the instrument panel that was studded with buttons and levers. He asked: “Have you read this, Rohan?”

“Yes.”

“The last signal registered by the seventh hyper-relay station reached the base just a year ago.”

“I know the message by heart.

‘COMPLETED LANDING ON REGIS III. DESERT PLANET OF TYPE SUBDELTA 92. LANDING PARTY FOLLOWING TERRESTRIAL PROCEDURE, SECOND STEP ROUTINE. LEAVING FROM THE EQUATORIAL ZONE OF THE EVANA CONTINENT.’ “

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