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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The landscape changed. There was no longer so much sand. Instead rocky shelves rose at a slant from the ground. Many detours were necessary. Conversation was impossible because of the noisy engines and the oxygen masks covering their faces. Conscientiously the men scanned the horizon, again and again finding the same picture: huge rock piles and big chunks of well-weathered stones. Finally the ground began to slope downwards. At the bottom of a basin-shaped valley they discovered a small brook with a narrow trickle of water that glittered in the red light of the dawn. Both banks were lined with wide deposits of round, polished stones, indicating that the brook occasionally must carry considerable amounts of water.

They halted briefly and examined the water. It was limpid but rather hard, and contained ferric oxide and tiny traces of sulphide.

They continued their march at a faster pace than before, since the caterpillar tracks could make better headway on the rocky ground. To the west rose low rocky cliffs. The last vehicle maintained communication with the Invincible. The radar antennae kept turning; the observers sat in front of their radar screens, constantly adjusting their headsets and chewing grains of energy concentrate. Once in a while a stone was flung out from beneath the turbo-drive vehicles as if by a tiny tornado, propelling it high up the stony slopes. Then their way was blocked by softly arching hills. Without slowing down they picked up a few rock samples. Fitzpatrick called out to Rohan that the gravel-like soil might be of organic origin.

Finally, as they sighted the blue-black surface of the ocean, they also found some limestone formations. They drove toward the shore. The ground was now covered with small, flat stones over which the vehicles proceeded noisily. The hot vapors from the motors, the screeching of the caterpillar chains, the hum of the engines were all instantly stifled as they halted suddenly about one hundred yards offshore. The green-gray ocean stretched out ahead of them, looking no different than the Atlantic Ocean on Earth.

Now a rather complicated maneuver had to be executed: the energo-robot in front of the column had to advance deep into the water in order to maintain the protective energy screen above the whole group. The machine was made watertight, then it rolled into the waves, steered by remote control from another robot. The first robot sank slowly deeper and deeper, disappearing underneath the surface, and could be seen only dimly as a dark spot. Then, obeying a radio signal, the immersed colossus pushed its Dirac emitter above the surface of the water. As soon as the energy field had become stabilized, arching an invisible hemisphere over a part of both the shore and the ocean in front of it, the men could start their examinations.

The salinity of this ocean was slightly less than that of terrestrial sea water, but the results of the analysis were anything but sensational. Two hours later they knew little more than before, so they steered two television probes far out over the ocean, observing their paths on television sets. Not until the probes had disappeared on the horizon did the crew receive signals that were of any interest to them. Some living organisms inhabited the ocean; they resembled fish. As the probes approached, the creatures scatterd with enormous speed, seeking shelter in the depths of the ocean. Sonic depth finders located the first sign of organic life on Regis 150 yards below the surface of the ocean.

Broza insisted on catching one of the fish. The probes pursued the shadows as they flitted about in the darkness of the ocean, shooting electrical charges at them. But the fish were incredibly agile; it took many misses before finally one of the creatures was stunned and could be grabbed by hooks lowered from the probes. The crew recalled the probe immediately to shore.

In the meantime, Koechlin and Fitzpatrick had guided another probe over the ocean, collecting samples of fibers that were drifting in the deeper layers of the sea. The men believed them to be a type of local algae. Finally they sent the probe all the way down to the ocean floor, which at this point reached a depth of 250 yards. Down below were strong currents that made remote-control steering rather difficult. The probe was constantly pushed off course and collided all the time with the rock heaps on the ground. With great effort some of the stones could finally be rolled over. Just as Koechlin had suspected, a whole colony of tiny cilia-covered creatures had been hiding underneath the shelter of the big stones.

After the two probes had safely returned to their base, the biologists began their task. In the meantime a hut had been erected where they could take off the bothersome respirator masks. Rohan, Jarg and the five other men ate their first hot meal that day.

For the rest of the day they were busy collecting mineral specimens, examining the radioactivity of the ocean floor, measuring the amount of insultation and carrying out the manifold tasks that were irksome yet had to be performed with accuracy if they wanted to obtain reliable results.

By dusk everything that they had set out to do had been achieved. Rohan felt a sense of accomplishment as he stepped to the microphone to answer Horpach’s call from the Invincible. He reported that the ocean was full of living organisms, all of which avoided coming anywhere close to the shore regions. Nothing unusual had been detected when they had dissected the one fish they had caught. The evolution of life on Regis III must have been going on for approximately several hundred million years. They had also discovered considerable amounts of green algae; this should account for the presence of the oxygen in the atmosphere. There was the same division of observed organic forms as on Earth and other planets, namely into flora and fauna. Also the skeletal structure of the vertebrates seemed to be typical. However, one organ had been found in the fish specimen for which no corresponding terrestrial structure was known to the examining biologists. This seemed to be a special organ of sense that reacted strongly to minute variations in a magnetic field.

Horpach ordered the crew to return immediately to the spacecraft. He closed the conversation by reporting an important item of news: they had apparently succeeded in discovering the place where the lost Condor had landed.

Despite the violent protests on the part of the biologists (who insisted they would need at least several weeks to complete their investigations), Rohan had the huts dismantled. The engines started and the column began its way back in a northwesterly direction. Rohan was unable to give any further details to his crew, who were eager to learn more about the Condor. He was certain, however, that it was advisable to hurry back, for he assumed that the commander would give out new assignments that most likely would supply them with more rewarding answers. Of course, the first step would consist of a thorough examination of the area where the Condor was supposed to have landed. Rohan drove as fast as the engines would permit. Their return trip was accompanied by a hellish noise as the caterpillar tracks rattled rapidly over the gravel ground, crunching and cracking and spewing out the stones in their path.

At the onset of darkness they switched on their big headlights; before their eyes the flickering light cones drew from the darkness huge, shapeless, apparently mobile silhouettes — which turned out to be nothing but big boulders, the last remaining remnants of an eroded mountain chain.

Several times they were forced to stop before some deep rifts in the basalt that had to be cautiously circumnavigated.

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