The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Cyberiad, subtitled Fables for the Cybernetic Age, is a collection of related short stories set in a time after robots have escaped slavery at the hands of humanity; they live free throughout the galaxy. They have developed a feudal society, complete with kings, princesses, evil pirates, paupers, and serfs, and they seem to be much more like humans than unlike them. Most planets have one or two kingdoms, and the denizens of a particular kingdom tend not to travel much. Interstellar travel, like international travel during the Middle Ages, is reserved primarily for those who do not belong to the feudal hierarchy.

The principal characters are two such travelers, Trurl and Klapaucius, who have just received their “Diplomas of Perpetual Omnipotence” as constructors. The title is roughly equivalent to that of the medieval magician or sorcerer. They are friends and rivals, and the stories center on their adventures together as they build machines to improve the collective condition, or at least make some money.

Trurl and Klapaucius serve as advisers, matchmakers, storytellers, and judges as they travel among the stars. In a typical story, the constructors create a (usually sentient) machine for some educational or contractual purpose, and it either works but with unexpected results or fails to perform. In another common plot, the constructors build a machine to repair an individual, social, or political problem on a planet they are visiting. The remedy seldom succeeds, but if it does, the success is incidental. There are several stories in which Trurl and Klapaucius figure peripherally and one in which they are absent but are mentioned.

The most common English-language edition of this collection contains fifteen stories. The first three set the scene and tone for the nine that follow; the final three sum up the themes previously presented. There is no overlying plot, and each story has a multitude of pitfalls and plot twists.

There were several editions of the book published in the original Polish, of which the third is definitive. The most common English edition omits roughly a third of the stories in the third Polish edition. All but one of these stories are available in English translation as Mortal Engines (1977).