Title: The Invincible
Author: Stanislaw Lem
Publisher: Wydawnictwo MON, Seabury Press
Publication Date: 1964
Number of Pages: 162
An interstellar 2nd-class cruiser called Invincible, lands on Regis III which seems bleakly uninhabited, to investigate the loss of sister ship, Condor. The crew finds evidence of a form of quasilife, born thru evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines. The evolution was controlled by robot wars. The survivors are swarms of minuscule, insectoid machines. Individually or in small groups they’re harmless & capable of only simple behavior. However, when bothered, they form huge swarms displaying complex behavior arising from self-organization & are able to defeat an intruder by a powerful surge of EMI. Some members of the crew suffer complete memory erasure as a consequence. Big clouds are also capable of high speed travel to the troposphere. The angered crew attempts to fight the enemy, but eventually recognize the meaninglessness of their efforts in the most direct sense of the word.
ReviewThis book takes a completely new twist on evolution and the fight for survival. The group that is the most advanced will win, hasn’t that been the lesson from our own human history? Let me tell you man, I always find the insects that swarm in the present day pretty scary, the ones in The Invincible take it to a whole new level. It is truly horrific and kind of amazing the capabilities of this mysterious swarm, but at the same time the malevolence you typically get from any story is missing. It’s easy to hate something that is out to get our heroes because of some desire to do harm. The swarm isn’t targeting anyone out of spite or to destroy, it acts as any other creature would – doing what it needs to survive. This is what makes the events that take place that much more unsettling, calling into question man’s place as king of the food chain.
In essence, the idea explored in the story is whether or not it is man’s right to interfere with things that don’t affect them directly. A question that has been ever present in discussions about our right to meddle with nature. If history is any indication, we certainly do love to stick our noses where they don’t belong, even when it comes to our fellow man. Who or what has the right to survive? There is a quote that really struck me that I had to write down immediately after reading it because the general thought can be applied to so many things.
“How many extraordinary phenomena like this, so foreign to human comprehension, might lie concealed in space? Do we need to travel everywhere bringing destructive power on our ships, so as to smash anything that runs counter to our understanding?”
It takes a while for the story to get rolling, but once it does it creeps up on you fast. There is a lot of action and the story is legitimately tense, I was left guessing what was going on and wonder how the scenario would play out the entire way through.
There were a lot of characters that come and go in the story and I found it hard to keep track of them. The only characters I found myself remembering well and caring about are Rohan and the commander, Horpach. I can’t decide if this is a good or bad thing, since the story is so focused on the point of view of Rohan it doesn’t become too bogged down. At the same time, all these other names are constantly tossed in and I gave up trying to remember who they were. It makes sense for there to be a lot of characters, this is a story about a star ship crew after all, but it would have been nice if there was a little more to these other characters. It makes the whole drama of the attacks a little less gut wrenching as I’m sure they could have been if it had been characters I actually cared about.
Despite my complaints about the characters and the slow start, I have a newfound love for adoration for Stanislaw Lem and science fiction.
RatingStrengths: Incredibly imaginative take on evolution and a first encounter story
Weaknesses: Extremely slow start with a lot of technical terms which may alienate folks that are not used to hard science fiction, a lot of filler side characters that aren’t very memorable