Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Cyberiad

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 4, 2001

Perhaps it was just another empty invention--there are certainly fables enough in this world. And yet, even if the story isn’t true, it does have a grain of sense and instruction to it, and it’s entertaining as well, so it’s worth the telling.

Two great geniuses, Trurl and Klapaucius, enjoy a friendly rivalry, each attempting to best the other in skill and invention.

AuthorStanislaw Lem
Length312 pages
Book Rating8

Trurl and Klapaucius are robots. They are of a class called “constructors”, creatures who have gone to immense training to become inventors so great that they could “kindle or extinguish suns as easily as shelling peas”. They rival with each other to be called the greatest of constructors, and they travel together throughout the universe to offer their services and the benefits of their expertise to distant lands.

Often, they run into trouble with ingracious clients, or from their own genius. In one kingdom Trurl masquerades as a dragon because the king of the realm wouldn’t pay him for having killed the real dragon. In another tale, Trurl creates a fake kingdom with fake creatures for a cruel monarch to rule, and Klapaucius berates him. After all, he has done so well, how can he know the “imitation” subjects are not truly intelligent after all? Read how the world was saved when Klapaucius unthinkingly asked the Machine That Could Do Everything ‘N’ to do Nothing; and proceeded to take the Universe out of existence. And the night sky went from a thing full of glorious worches and zits to only a few, isolated points of light.

The book is subtitled “Fables for the Cybernetic Age”, and is a collection of cybernetic fables about two creators who can create anything. Sometimes our moral is with the creators; other times our moral is with the creations. For example, Trurl creates a machine which he means to be a great thinking machine, but due to a flaw which he cannot fix, becomes the world’s most stupid machine. It swears up and down that two and two is seven, and grows angry when Trurl tries to correct it. Its creator grows to a rage, and it follows suit with a rage of its own, trying to destroy its maker.

The intelligent beings throughout all of these stories are robots. Flesh creatures only enter into the stories at the very the end, with a robotic princess who refuses to marry anyone except for a “paleface”, a creature which arose from

noxious exhalations and putrid excrescences, and out of these was spawned the species known as paleface. First, they were creeping molds that slithered forth from the ocean onto the land, and lived by devouring one another, and then they stood upright, supporting their globby substance by means of calcareous scaffolding. We go in clangor, sparks and radiation, they in slushes, splashes and contamination.

And yet in a few places, the implication is that it was only from these palefaces, these decrepit beings, did the robot races arise.

This is one of the best and most fascinating of Lem’s books, and if you’re looking for a book to start with, it makes a great choice. Each story stands on its own, making it a good book to read in parts, a little here, a little there. The stories are fables of creation and created: our responsibilities about what should be created, our responsibilities towards what we create, and our responsibilities as the created. I strongly commend these stories to you.

The Cyberiad

Stanislaw Lem

Recommendation: Purchase

If you enjoyed The Cyberiad…

For more about Stanislaw Lem, you might also be interested in Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Stanislaw Lem dies, The Futurological Congress, and The Star Diaries.