The Cyberiad Stories by STANISŁAW LEM
Penguin (2014) RRP $19.40 FIRST PUBLISHED IN Polish in 1965, The Cyberiad is a series of short stories about two ‘constructor’ robots named Trurl and Klapaucius.
Author Stanisław Lem plays fast and loose with physics, creating a world that revels in technological mayhem and still feels fresh, yet strangely grounded, today. He has lots of fun with eastern European literary traditions; there are echoes of Kafka and Gogol here, and perhaps a nod to Czech writer Karel Capek, who first coined the word ‘robot’ in 1920.
The modern appeal of The Cyberiad might lie in the quiet influence it has had on other science-fiction authors – Asimov was a huge fan, for instance. But Lem’s literary boldness shares much with contemporary writers in different fields.
There are similarities in tone and style to absurdist dramatists, such as Beckett and Ionesco. One story, Trurl’s Machine, revolves around an “eight-storey thinking machine”, trimmed in lavender but lacking a “mentation muffler”. When asked to calculate two multiplied by two, it answers, after a long wait, “seven”. Correctly or not, it seems a distant ancestor of Douglas Adams’ Deep Thought.
The Cyberiad is no historical curiosity, however. It is arresting and bizarre and brilliant. A treasure.