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Stanisław Lem

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Stanisław Lem

The Tales of the Robots

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Read by Marta Meissner, recorded by Radiofonia Association
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English translation: Michael Kandel

Once there lived a certain engineer-cosmogonist who lit stars to dispel the dark. He arrived at the nebula of Andromeda when it was still filled with black clouds. He immediately cranked up a great vortex, and as soon as it began to move, the cosmogonist reached for his beams. He had three of these: red, violet, and invisible. With the first he ignited a stellar sphere, and instantly it became a red giant, but the nebula grew no lighter. He pricked the star with the second beam, until it whitened. Then he said to his apprentice, “Keep an eye on it!”, and himself went off to kindle others. The apprentice waited a thousand years, then another thousand, but the engineer did not return. The apprentice grew weary of this waiting. He turned up the star, ad from white it changed to blue. That pleased him, and he thought he could do everything now. He tried to turn it up some more, but it burnt. He searched in the box the cosmogonist had left behind, but there was nothing there, less than nothing it seemed; he looked and could not even see the bottom. The invisible beam, he thought. He wanted to jolt the star with it, but the thought. He wanted to jolt the star with it, but the question was – how? He took the box and hurled it, beam and all, into the fire. All the clouds of Andromeda flared up then, as if a hundred thousand suns were lit at once, and in the whole nebula it grew bright as day. Great was the joy of the apprentice, but it did not last long, for the star burst. The cosmogonist flew up then, seeing the damage, and since he did not like to waste anything, he seized the beams and made planets of them. The first he fashioned out of gas, the second – out of carbon, but for the third planet only the heavier metals were left, so what resulted was a sphere of the actinide series. The cosmogonist packed it tight, sent it flying, and said: “In a hundred million years I’ll return – we’ll see what becomes of it.” And he hurried off to find the apprentice, who had fled in fear of him.

And on that third planet, Actinuria, there arose the great kingdom of the Pallatinids. Each of them was so heavy, he could walk only on Actinuria, for on the other planets the ground gave way beneath him, and when he shouted, the mountains fell. But at home they all stepped softly and dared not raise their voices, because their ruler, Archithorius, knew no bounds when it came to cruelty. He lived in a palace carved out of mountain of platinum, in which there were six hundred mighty halls, and in each hall lay one of his hands, he was so large. He could not leave the palace, but had spies everywhere, so suspicious was he, and he tormented his subjects also with greed.

The Pallatinids had need of neither lamps nor fires at night, for all the mountains of their planet were radioactive, so that during the new moon you could thread a needle. In the day, when the sun was too much for comfort, they slept in the depths of their mountains; only at nighttime did they assemble in the metal valleys. But cruel Archithorius ordered lumps of uranium to be thrown into the kettles used to melt palladium with platinum, and issued a proclamation throughout the land. Each Pallatinid was to come to the royal palace, where his measurements would be taken for new suit of armor, and pauldrons and breastplates were made, gauntlets and greaves, a visor and helmet, with everything glowing, for that garb was of uranium alloy, and brightest of all shone  the earpieces.

After this the Pallatinids could no longer come together and hold council, for if  a gathering grew too numerous, it exploded. Thus they had to lead their lives apart, passing one another at distance, fearful of chain reaction; one another at distance, fearful of chain reaction; Archithorius meanwhile delighted in their sorrow and burdened them with ever newer levies. His mints in the heart of the mountains hammered out ducats of lead for lead was scarce on Actinuria and had the highest value.

English translation: Michael Kandel
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Stanisław Lem

(1921–2006) It is hard to imagine a Krakow that has never been home to Stanisław Lem, one of the greatest science-fiction writers, philosopher, journalist, and essayist. His works – extensive, varied, and unfathomed at a cosmic scale – have won over fans from all over the world. The writer was, however, born in Lviv, which remained his beloved city throughout his life. Krakow – where he made his home after repatriation – remains practically absent from Lem’s main current of work. In 1946, having left Lviv, he moved in with his parents in a flat on Śląska Street. At the time, Stanisław was already a student at the Medical Department of the Jagiellonian University, yet as he had already been publishing his works for many months, he never graduated (1948), a decision that determined the future career path for this man of letters. His further addresses were 22 Krupnicza Street (the famous Writers' House) and a tenement house on Bonerowska Street – the first place he lived together with his wife Barbara. They later moved to Kliny district in the 1950s. There, a newly built house on Narwik Street was their home until the 1980s when Lem built a new house in the same street, where he lived until his death. On 4th April 2006, Stanisław Lem was buried at Salwatorski cemetery in Krakow.(ezp)

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