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I took a Science Fiction class in college a few years ago (2005 or 2006) and one of the stories we read in a collection really struck me and I don't know how to track it down. The professor who taught the class isn't able to locate the syllabus and can't recall the specific book

The story that caught my attention was about a mammalian species that recently had to destroy some "terraforming robots" that were making their worlds "safe for habitation" but there was a plot twist that the "aliens" who sent the terraforming robots were actually humans who had modified themselves to become disgusting, vapid beasts.

The species in the story that was in the process of being colonized ends up voting for a politician to go to war against humanity instead of turning over the locations of their other colonies, but the previous leader comes back to Earth with the "human" who was sent to negotiate after the negotiations fail, resigned to the fate of her species.

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    Were the mammals regular humans? Was the world being terraformed earth? Are there regular humans left or are they all beasts? The beasts are "vapid", meaning that they are boring? The policitian is going to war? You mean he supports going to war?
    – DCShannon
    Oct 7, 2016 at 0:35
  • If you can remember ANY other story in the collection, it would help... maybe especially if it's one that you think is probably a classic that everyone would know, because then people can look up the collections that story was in and narrow down the actual book. Oct 7, 2016 at 0:41
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    Your professor can't recall what the book was, but maybe the college bookstores have a record of what books were required for the class? If a copy of the book was put on reserve in the college library, the library may have a record of it.
    – user14111
    Oct 7, 2016 at 0:42
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    I once read a somewhat similar story (title and author escape me) but one key difference was this: The "terraforming robot ships" were basically unstoppable killing machines. This other species couldn't destroy them. The robots could sterilize the surface of a planet so that no non-approved life was on it (i.e. not on the list of "my masters, and the other races with which they have diplomatic relations." Robots did this to 2 or 3worlds of the smaller interstellar civilization which the viewpoint character was trying to negotiate a truce with. Does that sound like it could be your story?
    – Lorendiac
    Oct 7, 2016 at 0:51
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    @Lorendiac - I believe that you're referring to the story Dinosaurs, by Walter Jon Williams; it's previously been asked about here: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/23407/…
    – andrewsi
    Oct 7, 2016 at 1:58

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I think this is Walter Jon Williams' "Dinosaurs" as the commenter above suggests

The story that caught my attention was about a mammalian species that recently had to destroy some "terraforming robots" that were making their worlds "safe for habitation" but there was a plot twist that the "aliens" who sent the terraforming robots were actually humans who had modified themselves to become disgusting, vapid beasts.

“Our terraforming Ships are very good at what they do,” Drill said. “They are specialists. Our Shrikes, our Shrews, our Sharks— each is a master of its element. But they lack intelligence. They are not conscious entities, such as ourselves. They weren’t aware of your civilization at all. They only saw you as food.”

“I believe,” said Cup, “we may avoid fixture misunderstandings, if your Excellency would consent to inform us about your species. We have suffered some confusion in regard to your distinction between ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ entities. Could you please explain the difference, as you understand it?” “A pleasure, your Excellency,” Drill said. “Our species, unlike yours, is highly specialized. Once, eight million years ago, we were like you— a small, nonspecialized species type is very useful at a certain stage of evolution. But once a species reaches a certain complexity in its social and technological evolution, the need for specialists becomes too acute. Through both deliberate genetic manipulations and natural evolution, humanity turned away from a generalist species, toward highly specialized specialized forms adapted to particular functions and environments.

The species in the story that was in the process of being colonized ends up voting for a politician to go to war against humanity instead of turning over the locations of their other colonies, but the previous leader comes back to Earth with the "human" who was sent to negotiate after the negotiations fail, resigned to the fate of her species.

Vang, now simply General Vang, arrived at the field. His followers danced intoxicated circles around him as he spoke, howling their responses to his words. “Triumph! United will!” they cried. “The humans can be beaten! Treachery avenged! Dictate the peace from a position of strength! We smell the location of their planets!” The Shars’ weird cackling laughter followed him from point to point. The laughing and crying went on well into the night. In the morning the announcement came that the coalition had fallen. Vang was now President-General.

“How long,” she asked, “do you think we have?” “A few years. Ten at the most.” “Our species will be dead.” “Yes. Exterminated. Our military are very good at their jobs.” “You will have killed us,” Gram said, “destroyed the culture that we have built for thousands of years, and you won’t even give it any thought. Your species doesn’t think about what it does any more. It just acts, like a single-celled animal, engulfing everything it can reach. You say that you are a conscious species, but that isn’t true. Your every action is... instinct. Or reflex.”

The story has been edited in many places https://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?41483 - some of which like the "The Furthest Horizon: SF Adventures to the Far Future" (2002) might well have been picked by a professor in 2005.

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