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I seem to remember a short story I read once that had an alien protagonist on a metallic world (trees with solar panels, full metallic ecosystem, etc). It was sort of mechanical/robotic, had a 'wife' that was manufacturing a child, hunted other machines with spears for parts, etc. Humans land, and the protagonist can't figure out what they are (thinking that the big one had offspring or probes or something), captures one or two small ones, kills one (accidentally?) and can't figure out why it has an outer skin and no metal. Other holds his 'wife' hostage and gets back to big one. Protagonist tries to kill big one but it escapes (takes off) I think.

Anyone have any idea what story I may be talking about?

EDIT: landers aren't explicitly stated as human, just squishy bodies in soft-suits that confuse the protagonist. Protagonist is not really technologically advanced (think prehistoric level of intelligence). Can't remember if it was first- or third-person.

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Was the story written in a rather whimsical way? If so, it's probably one of the stories in The Cyberiad or others in that universe by Stanisław Lem. I can't place this specific plot, but it fits the scheme well. If there are humans as well as robots, I think it's not one of the ones in the Cyberiad collection. – Gilles May 18 '12 at 15:12
Not the answer, but in a similar vein and made available on the internet by the author: Terry Bisson's They're Made Out of Meat – dmckee May 18 '12 at 15:22

2 Answers 2

This is the short story "Epilogue" by Poul Anderson. First published in Analog Science Fact/Science Fiction in March 1962. The story opens as follows:

His name was a set of radio pulses. Converted into equivalent sound waves, it would have been an ugly squawk so because he, like any consciousness, was the center of his own coordinate system, let him be called Zero. He was out hunting that day. Energy reserves were low in the cave. That other who may be called One, being the most important dweller in Zero's universe, had not complained. But there was no need to. He also felt a dwindling potential. Accumulators grew abundantly in the neighbourhood, but an undue amount of such cells must be processed to recharge One while she was creating. Motiles had more concentrated energy. And of course, they were more highly organized. Entire parts could be taken from the body of a motile, needing little or no reshaping for One to use.

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Pretty sure this is it. – Organic Marble Jun 9 at 18:57

Sounds like James P. Hogan's Code of the Lifemaker.

About 1,000,000 B.C., an unidentified alien race sent out robotic factories to many worlds in their part of the galaxy to prepare for future settlement. One of those factory ships suffers severe radiation damage from a near-miss by a supernova and goes off course, drifting in space for a hundred thousand years before landing on the Saturnian moon Titan. Due to a malfunction in its database, it begins producing imperfect copies that begin to evolve on their own .... The resulting machine ecosystem eventually gives rise to humanoid robots with human-like intellects, who develop a civilization similar to early civilization of Earth. Almost all of them have reverence for their mythical creator, a being they call the "Lifemaker".

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Been a long time since I read that, but this may be the one. I seem to recall a central religious authority in the machine culture. – dmckee May 18 '12 at 20:36
I'm not so sure. The story basically ended when the ship flew away, leaving the alien/robot/machines alone. There was never any communication or understanding or larger story. Don't think there was every anything about the human's intentions or names or anything. Haven't read Hogan, but it sounds like there's more to that one. – David May 18 '12 at 21:13

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