I read a series of books where the aliens had two life stages. One stage was like us, physical. When they died they became some form of electromagnetic existence, or something like that. This second stage is how they communicate over very long distances. Because of this, their entire culture used only ceramic and plastics. A long war with us broke out by accident because on first contact we tried to transmit a message electronically. This resulted in killing their second stage fellow, which was interpreted as aggression, and we've been at war ever since. Also by accident one of their second stage fellow became trapped in one of our research facilities.

Over the years he comes to realize the truth of the accidental start to the war and decides to eventually show himself, which eventually results in the end of the war. The other books in the series covers their culture and our growing mutual economies, and political intrigues.

  • The one "captive" elder wasn't trapped for years. Months, one year at most. – JRE May 26 '18 at 22:38
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    (I believe you mean 1990s, unless you are a forgetful time-traveler) – BruceWayne May 27 '18 at 2:18
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    @BruceWayne well, I mean, late 1900’s does include the 1990’s. – Broklynite May 27 '18 at 18:52
  • @Broklynite err... – BruceWayne May 27 '18 at 19:10
  • @BruceWayne where I come from, it’s a way of referring to the entire century. Perhaps in your experience, you’ve only seen it used to refer to the first decade of the century. – Broklynite May 27 '18 at 19:56

That would be the trilogy The Conquerors by Timothy Zahn.

The humans use UHF radio for communications. This is deadly to the Elders (kind of electromagnetic ghosts tied to a particular organ) of the Zhirrzh.

The humans of course do not know that. They try to communicate with the Zhirrzh by radio on the first contact.

The Zhirrzh take this as an unprovoked attack and of course fire back - which the humans see as an unprovoked attack.

Your description reminded me of the story, and I remembered the term the Zhirrzh use for radio as a weapon: "elder death weapons." That lead me to the link.

I only have one of the books. I need to see about finding copies of the other two.

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    Hi JRE. Fantastic. I just looked it up. You got it exactly right. I'm getting the trilogy . it's on amazon. thanks a million. – Astor May 26 '18 at 21:44
  • @astor: Sony forget to accept the answer by clicking on the checkmark by the voting buttons. – FuzzyBoots May 26 '18 at 22:26
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    @FuzzyBoots Should "Sony" in your comment be "Don't" instead? – Brythan May 26 '18 at 22:27
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    @Brythan: Yes. Ducking autocorrect... – FuzzyBoots May 26 '18 at 22:36
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    Linking to TV Tropes without warning is probably not the best idea. – Faheem Mitha May 26 '18 at 23:24

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