14 November 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Invincible by Stanisław Lem

The InvincibleThe Invincible by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The interstellar cruiser Invincible lands on Regis III, which seems bleakly uninhabited, to investigate the loss of sister ship, Condor. The crew discovers a form of quasi-life born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines. Individually or in small groups they are harmless and capable of only simple behavior. When bothered they form huge swarms displaying complex behavior arising from self-organization and 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.
The novel turns into an analysis of the relationship between different life domains and their place in the cosmos - a thought experiment demonstrating that evolution may not necessarily lead to dominance by intellectually superior life forms. The plot also involves a Conrad-like dilemma, juxtaposing human values and the efficiency of mechanical insects.

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An interesting albeit dated hard sci-fi tale of a starship sent to a planet in search of a missing vessel and crew sent there previously. It's an easy read and relatively short, with a simple yet complex (if that makes sense) story of discovery and realization that "life" in the universe can come in unexpected forms and along varied evolutionary paths. I liked the sense of wonder of the the journey of discovery through the story. As a negative, I found the characters a bit boring and uninteresting for the most part. I just never got to know them, so to speak, and had this aspect been a little more engaging, then I feel the story would have been taken another level. This is how I often feel about older science fiction books from authors such as Arthur C Clarke, great story ideas but minimal and often lackluster characterization, to my more modern tastes, anyway. Overall it was enjoyable, but definitely more of a seasoned sci-fi fan book than one for the "uninitiated". I just found out that the edition that I read was translated from the original Polish via German into English, so maybe this could account for some of the one dimensional characters and their portrayals? I'm going to assume so, and give Mr. Lem the benefit of the doubt.

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