Cyberiad is a wonderful collection of stories "for the cybernetic age". That wonder comes from the idea that a dedicated, educated human can accomplish anything. Anything (1) can be modeled, simulated, and built. The constructors, Trurl and Klapaucius, can do it for something as basic as mathematics (2) or scale it all the way up the workings of a highly developed civilization (12) (14), or even the entire universe (5). The not exhaustive list of subjects Lem writes of contains astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, mathematics, physics, political science, psychology, and sociology. Lem focuses much of his writing on what it means to be sentient or what it takes to create consciousness. He also writes about how societies evolve and develop, and how to influence them.
Mathematical concepts come to life as machines, able to literally decrease the probability of real world events (7). Emotions can be accurately modeled and manipulated (8). Dreams can be created (13), consciousness conjured (12). Often whimsical, sometimes bumbling, Trurl and Klapaucius do not always foresee the ramifications of their constructions. Lem uses this for comedy, but also to make a point on the limits of human ability and the caution we should show when pushing the bounds of technology. The constructors are uncompromising in whatever endeavor the story takes them on. If they do get into trouble they are able to adapt with their clever minds, saving themselves or countless others. I cringe to think what horror Trurl and Klapaucius would unleash on the world if they lacked a decent sense of morality. Lem, I think, believes the ethics of our scientists and engineers is an integral part of progress as well. That is a part of the caution he urges. Humans make mistakes, but a combination of competence and morality, tempers those failures.
Below are summaries of the individual stories:
- How the World Was Saved: Trurl creates a machine that can create anything provided its names starts with the letter N. In attempting to disprove its ability, Klapaucius asks it to create "nothing", almost destroying the universe in the process.
- Trurl's Machine: Trurl builds "an eight-story thinking machine" that fails to compute the simplest mathematical equations. The insults and violence that follow from the frustrated engineer cause his creation to retaliate, chasing Trurl and Klapaucius into a cave.
- A Good Shellacking: Trurl sends Klapaucius a Machine to Grant Your Every Wish. Suspecting a trick, Klapaucius asks the Machine for a Trurl. Out pops a Trurl, but Klapaucius decides to beat it senseless. The Trurl escapes, so Klapaucius visits the real Trurl to congratulate him on the Machine. A shaken Trurl accepts the praise.
- The First Sally or The Trap of Gargantius: Klapaucius and Trurl land on a distant planet, and separate so as to visit the rulers of rival nations. Knowing the leaders will ask the inventors to build weapons of destruction, the two agree to implement the "Gargantius Effect" in that event. The plan ultimately links all the military units of each nation to one consciousness.
That famous culmination of consciousness which the great Gargantius had predicted with mathematical precision was no reached on both sides. For beyond a certain point militarism, a purely local phenomenon, becomes civil, and this is because the Cosmos Itself is by nature wholly civilian, and indeed, the minds of both armies had assumed truly cosmic proportions! Thus, though on the outside armor still gleamed, as well as the death-dealing steel of artillery, within there surged an ocean of mutual good will, tolerance, an all-embracing benevolence, and bright reason. And so, standing on opposite hilltops, their weapons sparkling in the sun, while the drums continued to roll, the two armies smiled at one another.
- The First Sally (A) or Trurl's Electronic Bard: Trurl sets out to build an electronic poet. He reckons that, to be the best, the machine must know the whole history of the universe, so as to draw from it for inspiration. After much tinkering, he succeeds. The resulting bard is so good the true poets of the world seek its removal.
It immediately proceeded to deliver a lecture on the grinding of crystallographical surfaces as an introduction to the study of submolecular magnetic anomalies. Trurl bypassed half the logic circuits and made the emotive more electromotive; the machine sobbed, went into hysterics, then finally said, blubbering terribly, what a cruel, cruel world this was. Trurl intensified the semantic fields and attached a strength of character component; the machine informed him that from now on he would carry out its every wish and to begin with add six floors to the nine it already had, so it could better meditate upon the meaning of existence. Trurl installed a philosophical throttle instead; the machien fell silent and sulked. Only after endless pleading and cajoling was he able to get it to recite something: "I had a little froggy." That appeared to exhaust its repertoire. Trurl adjusted, modulated, expostulated, disconnect, ran checks, reconnected, reset, did everything he coudl think of, and the machine presented him with a poem that made him thank heaven Klapaucius wasn't there to laugh - imagine, stimulating the whole Universe from scratch, not to mention Civilization in every particular, and to end up with such dreadful doggerel! Trurl put in six cliche filters, but they snapped like matches; he had to make them out of pure corundum steel. This seemed to work, so he jacked the semanticity up all the way, plugged in an alternating rhyme generator - which nearly ruined everything, since the machine resolved to become a missionary among destitute tribes on far-flung planets. But at the very last minute, just as he was ready to give up and take a hammer ot it, Trurl was truck by an inspiration; tossing out all the logical circuits, he replaced them with self-regulating egocentripetal marcissistors.
The machine was self-programming, however, and in addition had a special ambition-amplifying mechanism with glory-seeking circuits, and very soon a great change took place.
- The Second Sally or The Offer of King Krool: Trurl and Klapaucius are hired by a ruthless ruler to build the ultimate hunting target. If they fail, King Krool will kill them. If they succeed they'll be arrested for regicide. They must devise a machine that will get them out of this catch-22.
What's a beast without an algorithm?
So they rolled up their sleeves and sat down to experiment - by simulation, that is mathematically and all on paper. And the mathematical models of King Krool and the beast did such fierce battle across the equation-covered table, that the constructors' pencils kept snapping. Furios, the beast writhed and wriggled its iterated integrals beneath the King's polynomial blows, collapsed into an infinite series of indeterminate terms, then got back up by raising itself to the nth power, but the King so belabored it with differentials and partial derivatives that is Fourier coefficients all canceled out (see Riemanns' Lemma), and in the ensuing confusion the constructors completely lost sight of both King and beast. So they took a break, stretched their legs, had a swig from the Leyden jug to bolster their strength, then went back to work and tried it again from the beginning, this time unleashing their entire arsenal of tensor matrices and grand canonical ensembles, attacking the problem with such fervor that the very paper began to smoke. The King rushed forward with all his cruel coordinates and mean values, stumbled into a dark forest of roots and logarithms, had to backtrack, then encountered the beast on a field of irrational numbers (F1) and smote it so grievously that it fell two decimal places and lost an epsilon, but the beast slid around an asymptote and hid in an n-dimensional orthogonal phase space, underwent expansion and came out, fuming factorially, and fell upon the King and hurt him passing sore. But the King, nothing daunted, put on his Markov chain mail and all his impervious parameters, took his increment delta-k to infinity and dealt the beast a truly Boolean blow, sent it reeling through an x-axis and several brackets - but the beast, prepared for this, lowered its horns and - wham!! - the pencils flew like mad through transcendental functions and double eigentransformations, and when at last the beast closed in and the King was down and out for the count, the constructors jumped up, danced a jig, laughed and sang as they tore all their papers to shreds, much to the amazement of the spies perched in the chandelier = perched in vain, for thy were uninitiated into the niceties of higher mathematics and consequently had no idea why Trurl and Klapaucius were now shouting, over and over, "Hurrah! Victory!"
- The Third Sally or The Dragons of Probability: Trurl and Klapaucius set out to stop a fellow scientist from terrorizing a planet with dragons. Dragons only exist if the probability of a dragon is high. So Trurl and Klapaucius use all sorts of probability decreasing weapons. The king won't pay, so Trurl sets up a fake dragon to collect tribute with.
- 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 Connonade of Babies: Trurl is asked to build a machine that will get a prince to stop loving an unattainable woman in another kingdom.
During the flight the magnate, who was Grand Seneschal and Artifactotum to the King, filled Trurl in on the details of the prince's ill-starred enamorization. Directly upon their arrival, after welcoming ceremonies and ticker-tape parade through the streets of the capital, the constructor got down to work. He set up his equipment in the magnificent rotal gardens and in three weeks had converted the Temple of Contemplation there into a strange edifice full of metal, cables and glowing screens. This was, he told the King, a femfatalatron, an arotifying device stochastic, elastic and orgiastic, and with plenty of feedback; whoever was placed inside the apparatus instantaneously experienced all the charms, lures, wiles, winks and witchery of all the fairer sex in the Universe at once. The femfatalatron operated on t a power of forty megamors, with a maximum attainable efficiency - given a constant concupiscence coefficient - of ninety-six percent, while the system's libidinous lubricity, measured of course in kilocupids, produced up to six units for every remote-control caress. This marvelous mechanism, moreover, was equipped with reversible ardor dampers, omnidirectional consummation amplifiers, absorption philters, paphian peripherals, and "first-sight" flip-flop circuits, since Trurl held here to the position of Dr. Yentzicus, creator of the famous oculo-oscular feel theory.
- The Fifth Sally or the Mischief of King Balerion: Trurl and Klapaucius attempted to win a prize for finding King Balerion the best hiding place. Their personality transfer apparatus helps the King jump between several bodies before Klapaucius tricks him into being caught.
- The Fifth Sally (A) or Trurl's Prescription: Trurl attempts to help the Steelypips scare off a seemingly fearless menance with paperwork.
"We are the Steelypips, we have a machine, a dream of a machine, with springs and gears and perfect in every respect, we saved up all our atoms, put them all together ourselves, we hadn't a care, no spats in our vats, no rules, no schools, until something flew up, landed, sat down and won't budge."
"Did you try scaring it off?" Trurl asks with a kindly smile.
"We tried a scarechrome and a servospook and a megalomechanism, all hydraulic and high caliber, spouting mesons like caissons, pi- and mu- and neutrinos too, protons and phontons, but nothing worked."
- The Sixth Sally or How Trurl and Klapaucius Created a Demon of the Second Kind to Defeat the Pirate Pugg: Trurl and Klapaucius encounter a space-monster pirate whom seeks not gold and silver but a booty of information. They create a “Demon of the Second Kind” which produces more information that the pirate can handle.
Pugg sat down next to the barrel, lifted the paper tape to his hundred eyes and read what the Demon had, with its informational net, managed to dredge up out of the eternal prancing and dancing of the atoms; those significant bits of knowledge so absorbed him, that he didn’t even notice how the two constructors left the cellar in great haste, how they grabbed hold of the helm of their ship, pulled once, twice, and on the third time freed it from the mire in which the pirate had stuck them, then climbed aboard and blasted off as fast as they possibly could, for they knew that, though their Demon would work, it would work too well, producing a far greater wealth of information than Pugg anticipated.
Pugg meanwhile sat propped up against the barrel and read, … and it dawned on him that all this information, entirely true and meaningful in every particular, was absolutely useless, producing such an ungodly confusion that his head ached terribly and his legs trembled. But the Demon of the Second Kind continued to operate at a speed of three hundred million facts per second, and mile after mile of tape coiled out and gradually buried the Ph.D. pirate beneath its windings, wrapping him, as it were, in a paper web, while the tiny diamond-tipped pen shivered and twitched like one insane, and it seemed to Pugg that any minute now he would learn the most fabulous, unheard-of things, things that would open up to him the Ultimate Mystery of Being, so he greedily read everything that flew out from under the diamond nib...
And it grew dark before his hundred eyes, and he cried out in a mighty voice that he’d had enough, but Information had so swathed and swaddled him in its three hundred thousand tangled paper miles, that he couldn’t move...In desperation he struggled to free himself from the paper coils and toils, but suddenly grew faint, for though he kicked and tore at the tape, he had too many eyes not to receive, with at least a few of them, more and more new bits and pieces of information, and so was forced to learn … until he shut his eyes and sat there, rigid, overcome by that great flood of information, and the Demon continued to bind him with its paper strips. Thus was the pirate Pugg severely punished for his inordinate thirst for knowledge.
- The Seventh Sally or How Trurl’s Own Perfection Led to No Good: An exiled king asks Trurl to get him his kingdom back. Knowing the king to be ruthless, but still wanting to help, Trurl creates a miniature simulation of a society for the king to rule. Klapaucius points out that ruling Trurl’s simulated reality is no less cruel than ruling a true reality.
- Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius: King Genius hires Trurl to tell him three stories - one each to exercise, entertain, and edify the mind.
1. Mandrillion the Great, leader of the Multitudians, enlists Trurl to build him the Perfect Adviser. The king asks the Perfect Adviser to snooker Trurl out of payment, but Trurl has programmed the adviser not to harm him.Trurl then tries to sue the king for damages, but the robotic lawyer he creates informs him that his “robot law” (a homage to Asimov, maybe, on pg 182) violates the terms of his agreement with the king. So to get paid, he now must battle wits with the Perfect Adviser he created.
2. Trurl tells two tails to King Thumbscrew the Third.
a. Legarian robots “resurrect” a robot whom caused their society great pain, so as to torture him. Trurl does not believe the resurrected robot is responsible for the sins of the dead robot.
b. A king’s assistant attempts to assassinate him by putting him in dangerous dreams.
3. A machine is accidentally brought into being on a garbage-infested planet. It spends its time trying to theorize what the cosmos are made of, what consciousness is, and how consciousness came into being.
4. Klapaucius meets a bitter philosopher who theorizes about the society with the Highest Possible Level of Development.
Lem pokes fun at his story telling:
Suppose that which is taking place here and now is not reality, but only a tale, a tale of some higher order that contains within it the tale of the machine: a reader might well wonder why you and your companions are shpaed like spheres, inasmuch as that sphericality serves no purpose in the narration and would appear to be wholly superfluous embellishment.
Aye, Your Alienness! List and attend … 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. … For in the Beginning there was naught but Formless Darkness, and in the Darkness, Magneticity, which moved the atoms, and whirling atom struck atom, and Current was thus created, and the First Light … from which the stars were kindled, and then the planets cooled, and in their cores the breath of Sacred Statisticality gave rise to microscopic Protomechanoans, which begat Proteromechanoids, which begat the Primitive Mechanisms. These could not yet calculate, nor scarcely put two and two together, but thanks to Evolution and Natural Subtraction they soon multiplied and produced Omnistats, which gave birth to the Servostat, the Missing Clink, and from it came our progenitor, Automatus Sapiens...
Indeed, every civilization that engages in intellectronics strives for nothing else but to construct some Omniac, which, in Its infinite mercy, might rectify the currents of evil and plot the path of righteousness and true wisdom.
each civilization may choose one of two roads to travel, that is, either fret itself to death, or pet itself to death. And in the course of doing one or the other, it east its way into the Universe, turning cinders and flinders of stars into toilet seats, pegs, gears, cigarette holders and pillowcases, and it does this because, unable to fathom the Universe, it seeks to change that Fathomlessness into Something Fathomable, and will not stop until the nebulae and planets have been processed to cradles, chamber pots and bombs, all in the name of Sublime Order, for only a Universe with pavement, plumbing, lables and catalogues is, in its sight, acceptable and wholly respectable.
- Altruzine or A True Account of How Bonhomius the Hermetic Hermit Tried to Bring About Universal Happiness, and What Became of It: Trurl hears the story of Klapaucius finding the society with the Highest Possible Level of Development (HPLDs). They are an apathetic, uninteresting civilization, and don’t want to be bothered. Klapaucius builds a simulation of the society to interrogate, so as to better understand them. The omnipotent beings learned that bestowing happiness on everyone is a bad idea. Klapaucius still wishes to try, so they relent and give him a drug called Altruzine that makes people feel what everyone within 50 yards feels. The first live test of this on Earth is a disaster. pg 264-265:
If you should be afflicted with a hump, for example, but firmly believe the Almighty somehow needs your hump to realize His Cosmic Design and that it was therefore ordained along with the rest of Creation, why, then you may be easily reconciled to your deformity. If, however, they tell you that it’s merely the result of a misplaced molecule, an atom or two that happened to go the wrong way, then nothing remains for you but to bay at the moon.
When a civilization starts straightening humps, believe me, there’s no end to it! You straighten humps, then you repair and amplify the mind, make suns rectilinear, give planets legs, fabricate fates and fortunes of all kinds. … Oh, it begins innocently enough, like discovering fire by rubbing two sticks together, but eventually it leads to the construction of Omniacs, Deifacts, Hyperboreons, and Ultimathuloriums!
Omnipotence is most omnipotent when one does nothing! You climb to reach the summit, but once there, discover that all roads lead down! We are, after all, sensible folk, why should we want to do anything?
Bestowing happiness by miracle is highly risky. And who is to be the recipient of your miracle? An individual? But too much beauty undermines the marriage vows, too much knowledge leads to isolation, and too much wealth produces madness. No, I say, a thousand times no! Individuals it’s impossible to make happy, and civilizations - civilizations are not to be tampered with, for each must go its own way, progressing naturally from one level of development to the next and having only itself to thank for all the good and evil that accrues thereby.
- Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal: A robot prince tries to win the heart of a robot princess who only desires a “paleface” (human). A sage disguises him as a disgusting human and schools him in the ways of humans. The human body to a robot is very inefficient and sloppy. In order to pass the test the princess will administer, the prince must fake bleeding, breathing, and crying.