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Cyberiada is the original Polish language title of polymath cyberneticist Stanislaw Lem's collection of satirical short stories translated into English as The Cyberiad. Trurl and Klapaucius are the primary protagonists as rival cybernetic "cosmic constructors" who create everything from "a machine that could create anything starting with n" to a "Femfatalatron."

From "How the World Was Saved:"

One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n. When it was ready, he tried it out, ordering it to make needles, then nankeens and negligees, which it did, then nail the lot to narghiles filled with nepenthe and numerous other narcotics. The machine carried out his instructions to the letter. Still not completely sure of its ability, he had it produce, one after the other, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naphtha, noses, nymphs, naiads, and natrium. This last it could not do, and Trurl, considerabley irritated, demanded an explanation.

"Never heard of it," said the machine.

"What? But it's only sodium. You know, the metal, the element ..."

"Sodium starts with an s, and I only work in n."

"But in Latin, it's natrium."

"Look, old boy," said the machine, "if I could do everything starting with n in every possible language, I'd be a Machine That Could Do Everything in the Whole Alphabet, since any item you care to mention undoubtedly starts with n in one foreign language or another. It's not that easy. I can't go beyond what you programmed. So no sodium."

Lem's works have been translated into 36 different languages. The Cyberiad in English translation is readily available in libraries and bookstores throughout the civilized world. The following two web sites are excellent starting points for more information about Lem and his works:

The copy of The Cyberiad that I used for this writeup was purchased from the now defunct "oldest science fiction bookstore in America: A Change of Hobbit" in Westwood, California in 1976.

Lem, Stanislaw. The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age. Translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel. Illustrated by Daniel Mroz. Avon : NY, 1974. Original edition Cyberiada. Wydawnictwo Literackie : Cracow, 1967. AVON edition ISBN 038005174
Table of Contents THE SEVEN SALLIES OF TRURL AND KLAPAUCIUS FROM THE CYPHOEROTICON, OR TALES OF DEVIATIONS, SUPERFIXATIONS AND ABERRATIONS OF THE HEART
  • Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal

A lovely mathematical poem from "Cyberiada"...

Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

           -- Stanislaw Lem

This collection of classic science fiction stories spotlights some of Stanislaw Lem's best work. Most of the stories focus on the robots Trurl and Klapaucius, famous constructors skilled at creating machines of impossible complexity, as they travel the universe doing good deeds, wrangling their way out of trouble, one-upping each other, and trying to get paid for their work.

The tales in this book mix hypertech science fiction with medieval fantasy -- Trurl and Klapaucius travel throughout the universe in spaceships and build amazing machines, but nearly every planet they visit is governed by a fantasy king living in a fantasy castle. They even battle dragons, even though everyone knows dragons are impossible!

In among all the science fiction and fantasy elements are some choice bits of philosophical musings -- everything you'd hope from a genius grandmaster of science fiction. It includes everything from the quest for perfect happiness to the evolution of society, as well as questions of romance, beauty, and the desire for knowledge and learning.

But even then, it's an extremely funny book. Many of the stories turn on absurdist and surreal humor, with perfect, advanced civilizations dedicated to lying around and not doing anything, tyrants who can only be defeated through farcically complex schemes, monsters that can be destroyed by aggressive illogic, and robot princes who try to disguise themselves as humans to appeal to robot princesses. There's a machine that can create anything starting with the letter "N." There's a machine that recites the greatest poetry in the universe, including a love poem told through algebra, thus driving all the other poets out of business. There's a chapter with the glorious title of "The Fourth Sally, or How Trurl Built a Femfatalatron to Save Prince Pantagood from the Pangs of Love, and How Later He Resorted to a Cannonade of Babies." 

And there is so much wonderful wordplay in this book, too. Sometimes pages and pages of Lem having fun playing with language. Originally written in Polish, under the name "Cyberiada," the (extremely good) English translation is by Michael Kandel

"The Cyberiad" is a long and daunting book, partly because of its reputation, partly because it's so impressively rich in the language it uses. But it still reads pretty quickly -- it's easy for the reader to get pulled along as Lem plays around with words, philosophy, humor, and genre twists. You should pick it up and give it a read.

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