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Literature / The Cyberiad

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The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age (Cyberiada in the original Polish) is a series of short stories by Stanisław Lem, usually following the adventures of the "Constructors" Trurl and Klapaucius. As Constructors, they have the skills and ability to build almost anything imaginable. This doesn't stop them from getting into trouble when they try to sell their abilities, however.

In the late '80s, the story The Seventh Sally, or How Trurl's Own Perfection Led to No Good was adapted for public television as The Perfect Imitation, with the principals changed from Ridiculously Human Robots to Human Aliens (but nonetheless quite well-cast.)

Not to be confused with the Cyberman Hive Mind, or the Andrei Konchalovsky film Siberiade.

Cyberiad contains examples of:

  • Beware the Skull Base: The throne room of king Krool resembles the interior of a giant animal skull, with a roughly spherical shape, two eye-like windows at the opposite of the throne, and a death pit placed where the spine should be. One of two main characters remarks that due to king's Krool macabresque hobby the throne room may very well be a real skull of a real beast.
  • Body Surf: In "The Fifth Sally, or the Mischief of King Balerion" King Balerion of Cymbronia, a great lover of hide-and-seek, promises a royal reward to anyone who will instruct him on the best hiding place in the world. Trurl and Klapaucius enter the contest with a "portable personality transformator", a device which, when worn on the head, can swap one's personality with that of another person by simply bumping them in the head. Balerion at once uses the apparatus to go on a mind-swapping spree through his capital, willfully causing chaos and shifting into another body whenever he has got the old one injured or got it into trouble with the law. As Balerion is unresponsive to all exhortations to use the device responsibly, Trurl and Klapaucius eventually punish him by transferring his personality into a cuckoo clock, and shifting the personality of one of his victims into the royal body to be king in his place.
  • Fantastic Aesop: Often as Spoof Aesop.
    • How the World Was Saved: "Do nothing" isn't "create nothingness". Make sure your Literal Genie has "Undo" button.
    • Trurl's Machine: Computers are stubborn.
    • A Good Shellacking: Professional jealousy is ugly.
  • Feudal Future: Almost everyone is a robot, the constructors can build pretty much everything, space travel is easy. Most planets/countries are medieval-style kingdoms.
  • Framing Device: A few short stories bring together stories published earlier.
    • Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius, which goes metafictional several times.
    • Upbringing of Cyfranek, where Trurl and his son Cyfranek find a robot and an Artificial Human frozen in a comet, thaw them and listen to their stories.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In The First Sally of Trurl and Klapaucius two kings unbeknown to each other join their respective armies into Hive Minds to increase their effectiveness. The resulting entities are, indeed, super-intelligent and could easily wipe any enemy. But they are also quite non-militant and refuse to obey the kings, now inferior to them. Just as the Constructors planned.
  • Humans Are Ugly: Almost all characters are robots, and they treat humans with disgust.
  • Impossible Task: To test Trurl's poetry-writing machine, Klapaucius demands that it compose a poem about a haircut that's lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom, is six lines long, rhymes perfectly, and is composed entirely of words that begin with the letter "s". Trurl angrily snaps that it's an idiotic request, but the machine finishes writing the poem before he's even done speaking.
    Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
    She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
    Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed.
    Silently scheming,
    Sightlessly seeking
    Some savage, spectacular suicide.
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: Almost literally how Trurl creates his lawyer - first of the two - in one of the machines' tales in "Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius". When Lem handwaves some scientific or technological issue he does it in a grandiose manner.
  • The Man Behind the Man: In Two Monsters the ancient inscription says: "If a monster is eternal, there's none of it or two..." Which means that the horrors that keep plaguing the planet have an outside cause — humans on their Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Mechanical Evolution: Leading from slime, through humans to robots, then to conscious robots, god-mode robots, and then again to slime and humans. There is some disagreement on the matter amongst robot academicians: "There are legends, as you know, that speak of a race of paleface, who concocted robotkind out of a test tube, though anyone with a grain of sense knows this to be a foul lie..." Clearly, robotic life evolved spontaneously and naturally.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The beings on the Highest Possible Level of Development don't try to help other civilizations, because such efforts invariably make things worse. For instance, when the grandfather of one HPLD being cured 300 hunchbacks "one hundred and twelve of them were immediately boiled in oil, their sudden and miraculous cure being taken for a sure sign that they’d sold their souls to the Devil; thirty, no longer exempt from conscription, were promptly called up and soon fell in various battles under various flags; seventeen straightway succumbed to the shock of their good fortune; and the remainder, since my esteemed grandfather saw fit to further bless them with great beauty of form, wasted away through an overindulgence in erotic activity—deprived of these pleasures for so long, you see, they now hurled themselves into every sort of debauchery, and in such a violent and unbridled fashion, that within two years not one was left among the living."
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They follow the normal dragon template, except that they're highly improbable and can be defeated by weapons that change probability, by locally changing the probability of a nondragon to be higher than that of a dragon.. And they can appear in multiple locations at once.
  • Recursive Reality: At one point a prince is trapped in this. And for added confusion, this takes place within a story.
  • Recycled In Space: Most of the times the plot is based on traditional fable motives.
  • Robo Family: Family is the fundamental unit of Mechanical Evolution. In a story not included in The Cyberiad Trurl builds himself a son Cyfranek (name derived from Polish word "digit, number").
  • Robots Enslaving Robots among other things that robots doom robots to.
  • Self-Deprecation: The only reason why humans are there at all.
  • Shout-Out: A Long List of dragon-related technobabble in the Third Sally includes "high-frequency binomial fafneration" and "simple Grendelian dominance".
  • Starfish Aliens: In one story the constructors try to create a perfect universe. They decide to make the "people" of this universe very different from themselves. Then they realise they can't understand them.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: Klapaucius finds a race that reached the HPLD (Highest Possible Level of Development), near-omnipotent beings that do nothing all day because they realized the vanity and the pointlessness of trying to change the universe.
  • The Tooth Hurts: "Highest Possible Level of Development" has a drug, Altruzine, that causes tele-empathy. A man with a toothache has the painful tooth ripped out by nearby people who don't want to feel his pain.
  • Utopia: In one story (not translated to English), Trurl tries to create a society where everyone is constantly happy. All of his attempts fail miserably. Or hilariously.
  • Vindicated by History: In-Universe. Klapaucius meets an old philosopher called Chlorian Theoreticus the Proph, who was ignored in his entire life. He expects that future generations will discover his greatness - so he writes the book Testament for Descendants, in which he calls them skeleton-kissers and corpse-lickers, who ignore the great thinkers of their own era.
  • Wave of Babies: In the appropriately named The Fourth Sally or how Trurl Built a Femfatalatron to Save Prince Pantagoon from the Pangs of Love, and how Later he Resorted to a Cannonade of Babies.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Trurl has a nasty habit of building sentient machines and then taking them apart when they disappoint him. Nobody seems to see anything wrong with it (even though most of the characters are machines) until near the end of the book his mentor pretty much calls him a monster.
  • Wind-Up Key: Some robots are Clock Punk enough to need those.
    • In How Erg the Self-Inducting Slew a Paleface a curious princess loses hers and an everyrobot hero makes an epic journey to find it to revive her again. He doesn't — he's just good with locks and manages to get another key that fits. All tales of his deeds are lies.
    • In The Tale of King Gnuff the king inspects disused parts of his palace and finds real old soldiers stored there: windable and steam-powered, because electricity wasn't known back then.

Alternative Title(s): Cyberiad