The Invincible – Stanisław Lem (1964)

The Invincible (Polish: Niezwyciężony) is a hard science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem, published in 1964. The Invincible originally appeared as the title story in Lem’s collection Niezwyciężony i inne opowiadania (‘The Invincible and Other Stories’). … A direct translation into English from Polish, by Bill Johnston, was published in 2006. It was one of the first novels to explore the ideas of microrobots/smartdust/etc., artificial swarm intelligence and ‘necroevolution’, a term suggested by Lem for evolution of non-living matter. A very powerful and armed interstellar space ship called Invincible lands on the planet Regis III, which seems uninhabited and bleak, to investigate the loss of her sister ship, Condor. During the investigation, the crew finds evidence of a form of quasi-life, born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines, apparently left behind by an alien civilization ship which landed, with a crew dead from an accident, on Regis III a very long time ago. The protagonists come to speculate that evidently a kind of evolution must have taken place under the selection pressures of ‘robot wars’, with the only surviving form being swarms of minuscule, insect-like micromachines. Individually, or in small groups, they are quite harmless and capable of only very simple behavior. When they feel threatened, they can assemble into huge clouds, able to travel at a high speed and even to climb to the top of the troposphere. These swarms display complex behavior arising from self-organization and can incapacitate any intelligent threat by a powerful surge of electromagnetic interference. Condor’s crew suffered a complete memory erasure as a consequence of attacks from these ‘clouds’. Invincible’s crew mounts an escalating series of attacks on the perceived enemy, but eventually recognizes the futility of their efforts. The robotic ‘fauna‘, dubbed ‘necrosphere’, has become part of the planet’s ecology, and would require a disruption on a planetary scale (such as a nuclear winter) to be destroyed. The novel turns into an analysis of the relationship between different life domains, and their place in the universe.  … In the face of defeat and imminent withdrawal of the Invincible, Rohan, the spaceship’s first navigator, undertakes a trip into the “enemy area” in search of four crew members who went missing in action – an attempt which he and the Invincible’s commander Horpach see as certainly futile, but necessary for moral reasons. …”
LA Times: The World According to Stanisław Lem
Stanislaw Lem, The Invincible
Black Rain [first chapter of “The Invincible”]

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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