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

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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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.

“How can you believe such nonsense!” he snapped at the navigator. “Tressor was just as smart as we are. He would never have capitulated to a bunch of fish from the ocean. Besides, let’s assume any intelligent life had evolved in the sea, it would surely have established a foothold on dry land. They could always have used protective suits filled with ocean water. Rubbish. Total nonsense,” he grumbled, not because Rohan’s suggestion was entirely without any merit. His thoughts had raced ahead to something else.

“We’ll stay here for a while” he concluded. He touched the lower rim of the map, which rolled up with a softly rustling noise, then disappeared on one of the horizontal shelves of the big map case. “We’ll just wait and see.”

“And if nothing happens?” Rohan inquired cautiously. “Won’t we start looking for them?”

“Be reasonable, Rohan! Such a — ” The astrogator tried to find a suitable phrase. But the right word would not come. He replaced it by a disdainful wave of his right hand.

“This planet is as big as Mars. How could we possibly send out search parties for them? How can we hope to find the Condor?”

“The soil does contain a lot of iron,” Rohan admitted reluctantly. An analysis of the soil had indeed shown a considerable admixture of iron oxides, so that ferro-induction values would be useless under these circumstances. Rohan did not know what else to say. He was quite convinced that the Commander would find a solution somehow. After all, they could not return home empty-handed. He gazed at Horpach’s heavy eyebrows with their white bristling hairs, and he waited.

“To be frank with you, I’m not so sure that these forty-eight hours we are supposed to wait will help us in any way; but these are the regulations we have to obey,” suddenly confessed the astrogator. “Sit down, Rohan! You bother my conscience. This Regis III is the most idiotic place in the universe. Sheer idiocy to have sent the Condor here in the first place. I can’t imagine why they did it. But that’s neither here nor there. We just have to face the facts of the situation.”

Horpach fell silent. He was in a bad mood, which usually made him quite talkative and liable to become almost confidential. This was fraught with danger, though, for he might cut short such brief periods of intimacy with some nasty remark.

“Let’s come to the point. We must act; we can’t wait. All right then. Place several photographic probes into orbit around the equator. Make sure the orbit will be circular and not too far out. Let’s say about forty miles.”

“But that would still be inside the ionosphere,” objected Rohan. “They’d burn up after a few times around the globe.”

“So what? Let them burn up! As long as they get in a lot of photos. I’d even suggest not going beyond thirty-five miles. They’ll probably burn up after the tenth orbit. But we can’t send them any higher than that and still get usuable shots. Do you have any idea what a rocket looks like seen from sixty miles altitude, even with the best tele-lens? The head of a pin would be as big as a huge mountain next to it. Start right away… Rohan!”

The navigator was halfway out of the door when he turned to see Horpach throw a paper on the table. It was the report with the results of the routine stereotype analysis.

“What is that supposed to mean? What kind of lunacy is that? Who made out that report?”

“The automatic analyzer. What’s the matter?” asked Rohan making an effort to suppress the anger that was slowly rising in him. Now he’s got to get on my back, he thought walking forward with deliberate slowness. “Read that! Here, you see!”

“Methane: four per cent,” Rohan read out loud. “Four per cent!” he exclaimed in a startled voice.

“Four per cent methane, that’s what it says here. And sixteen per cent oxygen. Do you realize what that means? An explosive mixture. Can you explain why the whole atmosphere didn’t explode when we landed with diborane as a propellant?”

“Incredible — I can’t understand it,” stammered Rohan. He hurried over to the control panel, pushed the button of the suction tube which would deliver a sample of the outside atmosphere. While Horpach paced the floor impatiently in ominous silence, Rohan intently observed the analyzers.

“Well, any change?”

“No, the same analysis as before: methane four per cent, oxygen sixteen per cent,” replied Rohan. Although he failed to understand this result, he experienced a certain satisfaction in the knowledge that the astrogator could not put the blame on him.

“Let me see that, will you,” urged Horpach. “Methane: four per cent. Damn it, you’re right. All right, then. Put the probes into orbit and then come over to the small lab. What do we have our experts for? Let them rack their brains a bit.”

Rohan took the elevator down, called two rocket experts to join him in the small briefing area, where he gave them the astrogator’s orders. Then he returned to the second storey. Here were the laboratories and cabins of the experts. He passed several narrow doors, each marked by a name plate bearing nothing but initials: Ch. I, Ch. Ph., Ch. T., Ch. B. The door of the small lab stood wide open. He could hear the monotonous voices of the experts. Now and then they were interrupted by the astrogator’s deep bass. Rohan stopped at the threshold. All the “chiefs” were assembled in this room: the engineers, biologists, physicists, physicians, and the technologists from the engine room. The astrogator sat at the farthest end next to the portable computer. Moderon, holding his swarthy hands folded in front of him, was speaking. “I’m no gas expert. In any event, we are not dealing here with ordinary methane. The energy of the chemical bonds is different, even if it is only a difference of one-hundredth. It will react with oxygen only in the presence of some catalytic agent, and then only with great difficulty.”

“Where does this methane come from?” inquired Horpach, twiddling his thumbs.

“Its carbon is of organic origin, of course. There is not much of it, but beyond any doubt — ”

“Are there any isotopes? How old are they? How old is this methane?”

“Anywhere from 2 to 15 million years.”

“You certainly left yourself a nice amount of leeway!”

“We only had half an hour. I can’t tell you any more than that.”

“Quastler! What’s the origin of this methane, what do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

Horpach’s glance made the round of his experts. He looked close to losing his temper; but suddenly he smiled.

“Gentlemen! After all, you are the experts. We have been working together for quite some time now. Let me have your opinion now, please. What do you suggest we should do, where shall we begin?”

No one was willing to answer, except for the biologist Joppe, one of the few who were not afraid of the astrogator. He gazed calmly at the commander: “This is not an ordinary planet of the class Subdelta 92. Otherwise the Condor would never have vanished. Since they also had experts on board, neither any better nor any worse than we have here, we can safely assume that their knowledge was insufficient to prevent the catastrophe. This leaves us with the only possible solution: We must continue to proceed with the third step routine and examine the mainland and the oceans of Regis III. To begin with, I’d suggest collecting some core samples for geological analysis. At the same time we should obtain various water specimens from the ocean. Anything else would be speculation, a luxury we cannot permit ourselves in our present situation.”

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