The Cyberiad

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The Cyberiad
TheCyberiad.jpg
First Edition (Polish)
Author Stanisław Lem
Original title Cyberiada
Translator Michael Kandel
Illustrator Daniel Mróz
Country Poland
Language Polish
Genre Science Fiction
Publisher Wydawnictwo Literackie (Polish)
Harcourt Brace (English)
Publication date
1965
Published in English
1974
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 295 pages
ISBN 0-15-623550-1
OCLC 11398261
891.8/537 19
LC Class PG7158.L39 C813 1985

The Cyberiad (Polish: Cyberiada) is a series of humorous short stories by Stanisław Lem. The Polish version was first published in 1965, with an English translation appearing in 1974. The main protagonists of the series are Trurl and Klapaucius, the "constructors".

The vast majority of characters are either robots or intelligent machines. The stories focus on problems of the individual and society, as well as on the vain search for human happiness through technological means. Two of these stories were included in the book The Mind's I.

Trurl and Klapaucius[edit]

Trurl and Klapaucius are brilliant (robotic) engineers, called "constructors" (because they can construct practically anything at will), capable of almost God-like exploits. For instance, on one occasion Trurl creates an entity capable of extracting accurate information from the random motion of gas particles, which he calls a "Demon of the Second Kind". He describes the "Demon of the First Kind" as a Maxwell's demon. On another, the two constructors re-arrange stars near their home planet in order to advertise.

The duo are best friends and rivals. When they are not busy constructing revolutionary mechanisms at home, they travel the universe, aiding those in need. As the characters are firmly established as good and righteous, they take no shame in accepting handsome rewards for their services. If rewards were promised and not delivered, the constructors may even severely punish those who deceived them.

The world and its inhabitants[edit]

The universe of The Cyberiad is pseudo-Medieval. There are kingdoms, knights, princesses, and even dragons in abundance. Robots are usually anthropomorphic, to the point of being divided into sexes. Love and marriage are possible. Physical and mental disabilities, old age and death, particularly in case of accidents or murder, are also common, though mechanical language is used to describe them. Death is theoretically avoidable (by means of repair), and sometimes even reversible.

In fact, the teacher of Trurl and Klapaucius, Master Cerebron, is deceased, but can still be reanimated at his tomb. The level of technology of the vast majority of inhabitants is pseudo-Medieval also, with swords, robotic steeds, and gallows widespread. With this co-exist space travel, extremely advanced technology made by the Constructors and futuristic weapons and devices used or mentioned on occasion. There even exists a civilization that has achieved the "HPLD" – Highest Possible Level of Development.

Romantic stories[edit]

Some stories are basically self-conscious parodies of romantic novels about knights, with more profound issues of psychology and social dynamics under a cartoonish and swashbuckling facade. Three of them were published in an earlier collection, Fables for Robots.

A typical example is the fairy tale O królewiczu Ferrycym i królewnie Krystali) ("Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal"). A princely (robotic) knight falls in love with a beautiful (robotic) princess. Unfortunately, the princess is somewhat eccentric, and is captivated by stories of an alien non-robotic, "paleface" civilization (the humans). She declares that she will only marry a "paleface". Therefore, the knight decides to masquerade as a paleface. He covers himself with mud, starting to resemble one, and then comes to woo her.

Meanwhile, a real "paleface" captive arrives, given as a gift to the king. It immediately becomes obvious to the princess who is the "muddier" one, but the "paleface" turns out to be too squishy and overall disgusting. Not wanting to back down at the last minute, however, the princess declares a joust between the two suitors to select the worthier one. When the "paleface" charges at the robot, he splatters himself on the latter's metal chest, revealing the metallic body to all. The princess, beholding the beauty of the exposed robot (compared with the ugliness of the "paleface"), changes her mind. The knight and the princess live happily ever after.

Stories involving technology and the Constructors[edit]

Most of the stories involve Trurl and Klapaucius using their extraordinary technological abilities to help the inhabitants of the medieval planets, usually involving neutralizing tyrants. For example:

Trurl and Klapaucius come to a planet ruled by a king who loves hunting. He has already "conquered" all the most dangerous of predators, and now hires constructors (engineers) to make new, mighty robotic beasts for him to hunt. He has already executed all of the previous constructors who visited because they could not build beasts that would be challenging enough to hunt. When the two famous Constructors arrive, they are arrested and ordered to construct a worthy foe for the king within twelve days.

The two face a dilemma: if they make something that the king will kill, they will be executed by the mad king. But if the king himself is killed, then they will be executed, for the next king will be pressured to show his respect for the previous. They solve the problem by building an animal that survives the hunt (involving both cyber-hounds and nuclear tipped missiles unleashed upon it, in the characteristic cartoonish manner) and takes the king hostage by, nothing less, turning into several police officers and presenting an order for his arrest. All the king's men fail to find and free the king (partially because in searching for the fake policemen one half of the real police force arrests the other half), and he is released only after the Constructors' numerous demands are met.

On another occasion, Trurl and Klapaucius are captured by an interstellar "PHT" pirate. Trurl offers to build a machine capable of turning hydrogen into gold (something he can do manually, which he demonstrates by hand, mixing up protons and putting electrons around). However, the pirate turns out to have a PhD and cares not for the riches, but for knowledge (and in fact points out that gold becomes cheap if it is abundant). Trurl therefore makes a modified Maxwell's demon for him, an entity that looks at moving particles of gas and reads information that is, coincidentally, encoded in their random perturbations. This way, all the information in the universe becomes easily available. The demon prints out this information on a long paper tape, but before the pirate realizes most of the information is completely useless (although strictly factual) he is buried under the endless rolls of tape, ceasing to bother anyone.

Stories involving the search for happiness and ideal society[edit]

Lem was very interested in the issue of the nature of an ideal society: compare his Peace on Earth, The Futurological Congress and Observation on the Spot.

The Highest Possible Level of Development civilization. A gravely injured hermit comes to Trurl's house and tells Trurl of Klapaucius's adventure: Klapaucius wanders across an old robot, who tells him that he has logically deduced the existence of a civilization that reached the highest possible level of development (hence "HPLD"). He has inferred the existence of such a civilization by figuring that if there are different stages of development, there will be one that is the highest. He was then faced with a problem of identifying that one; as he noted, everyone claimed that theirs was the HPLD.

Upon much research and thought, he decided that the only way to find it is by looking for a "wonder", i.e. something that has no rational explanation. Eventually Klapaucius discovers one such wonder: a star in the shape of a cube, orbited by a planet also shaped like a cube with the huge letters HPLD written on it. He lands and meets its inhabitants: a group of about 100 individuals lying around doing nothing. When the HPLDs grow tired with Klapaucius's efforts to extract answers from them, they teleport him and his ship far into outer space, albeit after filling the ship with gifts.

Seeing how he will not get anywhere this way, Klapaucius constructs a massive machine capable of simulating the entire universe, including a member of the HPLD civilization. Upon questioning the simulation, he is informed that over six million such interrogations took place in the past. The simulation also reveals that the civilization in question has long since achieved the HPLD, and thus has nothing else to strive for.

When Klapaucius asks why the HPLD civilization does not continuously engage in helping other, less advanced civilizations, the simulation explains that their attempts to do so in the past have proven extremely counter-productive. For instance, having dropped some millions of wish-fulfilling devices on a planet, they saw it blow up in a matter of hours. Eventually, the HPLD representative provides Klapaucius with the formula for "Altruizine" – a substance that allows individuals within a limited area to completely share all feelings and emotions, including both pain and joy. The idea behind Altruizine is that people who feel each other's pain as their own should treat each other as they would themselves.

Altruizine. Klapaucius produces a large quantity of the substance and sends the above mentioned hermit (who is eager to help others) in human guise to experiment on the population of a single planet. Some of the results include villagers feeling the birth pains of a cow, depressed people being violently attacked and driven off and a crowd storming the house of the newlyweds to vicariously participate in their unaccustomed sensations.

Eventually, the hermit is identified for a robot (because he does not feel the humans' pain), is thoroughly beaten and tortured, then shot into outer space via a cannon. He then lands near Trurl's house, where the story began. Concluding his tale, the hermit assures Trurl that his thirst for altruism has vanished.

Trurl and the construction of happy worlds. Trurl is not deterred by the cautionary tale of altruizine and decides to build a race of robots happy by design. His first attempt are a culture of robots who are not capable of being unhappy (e.g. they are happy if seriously beaten up). Klapaucius ridicules this. Next step is a collectivistic culture dedicated to common happiness. When Trurl and Klapaucius visit them, they are drafted by the Ministry of Felicity and made to smile, sing, and otherwise be happy, in fixed ranks (with other inhabitants).

Trurl annihilates both failed cultures and tries to build a perfect society in a small box. The inhabitants of the box develop a religion saying that their box is the most perfect part of the universe and prepare to make a hole in it in order to bring everyone outside the Box into its perfection, by force if needed. Trurl disposes of them and decides that he needs more variety in his experiments and smaller scale for safety.

He creates hundreds of miniature worlds on microscope slides (i.e. he has to observe them through a microscope). These microworlds progress rapidly, some dying out in revolutions and wars, and some developing as regular civilizations without any of them showing any intrinsic perfection or happiness. They do achieve inter-slide travel though, and many of these worlds are later destroyed by rats.

Eventually, Trurl gets tired of all the work and builds a computer that will contain a programmatic clone of his mind that would do the research for him. Instead of building new worlds, the computer sets about expanding itself. When Trurl eventually forces it to stop building itself and start working, the clone-Trurl tells him that he has already created lots of sub-Trurl programs to do the work and tells him stories about their research (which Trurl later finds out is bogus). Trurl destroys the computer and temporarily stops looking for universal happiness.

Note that the last section of the story, does not appear in Michael Kandel's English translation of The Cyberiad, and neither does in Italian translation.

Quotation[edit]

"We want the Demon, you see, to extract from the dance of atoms only information that is genuine, like mathematical theorems, fashion magazines, blueprints, historical chronicles, or a recipe for ion crumpets, or how to clean and iron a suit of asbestos, and poetry too, and scientific advice, and almanacs, and calendars, and secret documents, and everything that ever appeared in any newspaper in the Universe, and telephone books of the future…"

Stanisław Lem, The Cyberiad (tr. Michael Kandel)

Adaptation[edit]

In 1970 Krzysztof Meyer composed Cyberiada – an opera to his own libretto based on selected stories.

References[edit]

External links[edit]