A very powerful and armed interstellar space ship called Invincible lands on the planet Regis III which seems uninhabited and bleak, to investigate the loss of its sister ship, Condor. During the investigation, the crew finds evidence of a form of quasi-life, born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines, apparently left behind by an alien civilization that visited the planet a very long time ago. The evolution was controlled by "robot wars", and the only form that survived were swarms of minuscule, insect-like micromachines. Individually, or in small groups, they are quite harmless to humans and capable of only very simple behavior. However, when bothered, they can assemble into huge swarms displaying complex behavior arising from self-organization, and are able to defeat an intruder by a powerful surge of EMI. The members of the Condor's crew suffered a complete memory erasure as a consequence. Big clouds of "insects" are also able to travel at a high speed and even to climb to the top of troposphere. The angered crew attempts to fight the perceived enemy, but eventually recognizes the futility of their efforts in the most direct sense of the word. The robotic "fauna" has become part of the planet's ecology, and would require a disruption on planetary scale (such as a nuclear winter) to be destroyed.
The novel turns into an analysis of the relationship between different life domains, and their place in the universe. In particular, it is an imaginary experiment to demonstrate that evolution may not necessarily lead to dominance by intellectually superior life forms. The plot also involves a philosophical dilemma, juxtaposing the values of humanity and the efficiency of mechanical insects. In the face of defeat and imminent withdrawal of the Invincible, Rohan, the spaceship's navigator, undertakes a trip into the 'enemy area' in search of 4 crew members who went missing in action — an attempt which he and captain Horpach see as certainly futile, but necessary for moral reasons. Rohan betakes himself into canyons covered by metallic "shrubs" and "insects" and finds the crewmen dead. He gathers some evidence and returns to the ship unharmed thanks to a simple anti-detection device and his calm and peaceful behaviour.
Read more about this topic: The Invincible
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