Stanislaw Lem: The Invincible

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Stanislaw Lem The Invincible
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    The Invincible
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    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
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The Invincible: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

Предлагаем к чтению аннотацию, описание, краткое содержание или предисловие (зависит от того, что написал сам автор книги «The Invincible»). Если вы не нашли необходимую информацию о книге — напишите в комментариях, мы постараемся отыскать её.

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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“They could stand a good cleaning. Need to be ground and polished again,” he remarked to his companions.

As they crept out from under the ship’s stern, he noticed the gigantic shadow cast by the Invincible ahead of them, a dark road stretched straight out across the sand dunes, bathed in the light of the setting sun. A strange calm emanated from the monotonously even sandy waves. Blue shadows gathered in the ridges while rosy twilight played on the crests. This warm, delicate pink reminded him of the pastel hues he had seen in picture books as a child. Such incredibly soft colors. His eyes wandered across the dunes, detecting ever new variations of this yellowish-pink glow. Farther away the colors deepened to a rich red interspersed with sickle shaped black shadows. Far off in the distance where the dunes nestled at the foot of bare, threatening volcanic rocks, the warm colors faded into a uniform yellowish gray.

While Rohan stood gazing at the landscape, his men carried out their routine measurements. They worked at a deliberate pace, mechanically employing the skills they had acquired over so many years. They filled small containers with samples of the atmosphere, the soil, the rocks. They tested the radioactivity of the ground with the help of a probe manipulated by the Arctane robot.

Rohan paid no heed to what his men were doing. The oxygen mask covered only his nose and mouth, while his eyes and the rest of his head were exposed to the air. He had removed his protective helmet, and could feel the wind ruffling his hair. Tiny grains of sand were blown against his face and clung to the skin, tickling where they penetrated the gap between the mask and his cheeks. Heavy gusts of wind pulled at the loose trousers of his protective suit. The huge, bloated sun disk was dipping down close to the horizon; it was possible to look straight into the dark red ball for a moment or two. The wind whistled with long drawn-out sighs. Since the energy field around the ship permitted free passage of gases, Rohan could not make out where its invisible wall rose up from the sand.

The gigantic area that stretched endlessly out before him seemed totally devoid of life, as if no living being had ever set foot on it. Could this be the same planet that had devoured a spaceship as immense as their own? A heavy cruiser with a crew of one hundred men, a mighty experienced sailor of the void, capable of developing energies of several million kilowatts within the fraction of a second which could be transformed into protective screens impenetrable by any matter; energies which might be bunched into destructive rays with the soaring temperatures of a burning star, that would change mountain ranges to dust and ashes, or dry out entire oceans. Yet the Condor had disappeared from this very same planet without a trace. How was it possible to explain the fact that a huge steel structure, built on earth, the fruit of a highly developed technology that had already flourished for centuries, could simply vanish in this red and gray desert without so much as even sending an SOS?

This is what the whole continent looks like, he thought. He remembered the view from above: crater after crater with their serrated rims. The only noticeable movement came from floating cloud banks that dragged their shadows across the endless desert dunes.

“Any radioactivity?” he asked without turning around.

“Zero, zero, two,” replied Jordan while slowly getting off his knees. His face looked flushed, his eyes shiny. The mask distorted his voice.

That’s negligible, Rohan thought. That couldn’t have done anything to the Condor’s crew. Besides, they’d know better than to commit any gross negligence. Even if they hadn’t carried out the routine stereotype examination, the automatic controls would have sounded the alarm.


“Nitrogen seventy-eight per cent, argon two per cent, carbon dioxide zero, methane four per cent, the rest is oxygen.”

“Oxygen sixteen per cent? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely sure.”

“Any radioactivity in the air?”

“Practically none.”

That much oxygen. Strange. Rohan was surprised. He stepped over to the robot who held out a cassette containing all the figures for Rohan’s inspection.

Maybe they tried to go without oxygen tanks. He dismissed the thought as absurd. Occasionally a crew member would take off his mask against orders and die of poisoning. Maybe one or two men, but no more than that.

“Are you through with everything?” he wanted to know.


“Then get back to the ship.”

“How about you, Navigator?”

“I’ll stay a while longer. Just go back now, all of you!” He grew impatient in his desire to be alone. Blank swung the strap over his shoulder. The strap held all the containers together that now dangled down his back. Jordan handed the probe to the robot. The men waded clumsily through the deep sand, the Arctane waddling behind them like a man in disguise.

Rohan walked some distance until he could see the broad openings of the energy-field emitters sticking out of the sand. In a sudden surge of childish mischief he grabbed a handful of sand and threw it against the spot where the invisible wall was supposed to be. Not that he needed any confirmation; he just obeyed a playful impulse. The sand arched through the air, then trickled down in a straight line as if it had hit an invisible glass vault. Rohan’s fingers were itching to tear off his mask.. How well he knew that sensation: spit out the plasti-mouthpiece, jerk loose the safety straps, then pump his chest full of air, sucking it deeply into his lungs…

I’m getting emotional, he thought, as he slowly made his way back to the ship. The elevator was waiting for him, empty, the platform nestled softly in the sand. Within a few minutes the wind had already deposited a fine layer of dust upon the entire structure.

In the main corridor of the fifth deck he glanced at the information panel. The commander was in the forward cabin. He made his way up there.

“To sum it up, it’s quite idyllic out there,” was Horpach’s comment after listening to the navigator’s report. “No radioactivity, no spores, fungi, viruses… nothing except this oxygen. Be sure you have some cultures made of those samples.”

“That’s already being taken care of in the lab. Perhaps life has developed on some other continent of this planet.” Rohan’s voice lacked conviction.

“I’d rather doubt that. Not too much solar irradiation beyond the equatorial zone. Didn’t you notice how thick the polar icecaps seemed to be? They must be some five to six miles deep. More likely we’d find life in the ocean. Maybe some algae or seaweeds. I wonder why no living forms ever left the water and adapted to dry land?”

“We’ll have to take a closer look at that ocean,” said Rohan.

“It’s too soon to ask our people for definite data; but the planet seems to be quite old. It must have been around for a good billion years. Even the sun must once have seen better days. Lost all its lustre. It’s almost a red dwarf star. Puzzling that there is no life on land. Perhaps some special evolutionary characteristic that cannot exist outside of water… that would explain the presence of oxygen, but not the mysterious disappearance of the Condor.”

“Maybe there are aquatic life forms down on the ocean bed, some kind of hidden civilization at the bottom of the sea,” ventured Rohan.

The two men examined a huge map of the planet. It had been drawn in Mercator projection about a century earlier, according to the data obtained by automatic probes. The map was inexact, showing only the outlines of the most important continents and oceans, the approximate extent of the polar caps and the largest craters. A red dot marked their landing site, below the eighth parallel of the northern latitude. Horpach swept aside the map impatiently.

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