The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
In this collection of humorous short stories, we follow the adventures of Trurl and Klapaucius, two near-omnipotent, robotic ‘constructors’, who travel the universe offering their machine-building skills to various robot kings and potentates. The machines they build can do just about anything imaginable, but don’t always work according to plan.
We get a machine which can create anything beginning with the letter ’N’, which is great, until it is asked to do nothing; a machine which allows a king to play the ultimate game of hide and seek; a machine which produces the best poetry in the universe, much to the chagrin of the many jobbing poets in the kingdom, and more, usually ending up with unintended consequences.
All the stories are told in a fairy tale style, with much use made of invented words and rhyming sentences, so much so that the translation from Polish to English must have been a nightmare. Kudos must go to the translator, for managing to keep the meaning of the invented, nonsense words and managing to make the poetry scan and rhyme, especially the poems involving scientific and mathematical terms.
By the end, I was quite fond of Trurl and Klapaucius, who, despite being rivals and bickering like an old, married couple, still manage to stay friends.
Like any collection of short stories, some are better than others. A few of the stories end rather abruptly, leaving the reader wondering what the point of the story was, whilst others have a clear moral message to convey, or a clear dig at the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the Communist regime in charge in Poland at the time of writing.
Overall, an unusual collection of robot fairy tales, well worth your time if you like surreal, comic writing.