Looking for a science-fiction short story written before the 1970s, which involves starship travel in the 1950's style. Written from the point of view of a male researcher, who encounters a planet of humans who have stalled at a technologically primitive level despite high intelligence.

I remember a line from a kid:

Hey Mister, could I have a cracker for my Megatherium?

The humans see the Earthlings using wheeled carts, and think, ~"odd round legged little tables."

Over the course of their stay, the primitives go from using unwheeled sledges to inventing roller bearings, and the male researcher thinks they could advance quickly, but not so quickly as to be a threat to his galaxy spanning civilization.

Twenty years later, it didn't seem so funny.

  • I'm fairly sure this has been answered in here before, gonna have a search
    – Danny Mc G
    Dec 21, 2019 at 17:47
  • "Megatherium" doesn't come up in search, and otherwise, the elements are fairly nonspecific. I hope you're remembering the story...
    – VWFeature
    Dec 21, 2019 at 17:50
  • I think it was spelled a bit different, something like oontharium (maybe!)
    – Danny Mc G
    Dec 21, 2019 at 17:52
  • Danny was right! scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/122142/…
    – VWFeature
    Dec 21, 2019 at 18:17
  • *Spoiler Alert!*I wonder whether Anderson or others wrote different versions of the story, or I'm conflating two stories, because 'Turning Point' co opts the aliens, instead of being blindsided by them. I distinctly remember the tone of the "Twenty years later, it didn't seem so funny." meme.
    – VWFeature
    Dec 21, 2019 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


In my opinion, VWFeature remembers two separate stories as one.

As I read the story, the details kept reminding me of a Poul Anderson story whose title I didn't remember. Most of the plot is very similar to what I remember from that Poul Anderson story.

So VWFeature is correct to identify the main details as coming from "Turning Point" which was first published in the May, 1963 issue of If and reprinted many times.

But the last words of the story as VWFeature remembers them strongly remind me of another classic science-fiction story, which prompted the related question: Science-fiction short story ending with the line "Twenty years later, it didn't seem so funny.".


Thanks to DannyMcG who remembered "it was spelled a bit different, something like oontharium".

Found this on Drabblecast.

Turning Point

by Poul Anderson

"Please, mister, could I have a cracker for my oontatherium?”

Not exactly the words you would expect at an instant when history changes course and the universe can never again be what it was. The die is cast; In this sign conquer; It is not fit that you should sit here any longer; We hold these truths to be self-evident; The Italian navigator has landed in the New World; Dear God, the thing works!—no man with any imagination can recall those, or others like them, and not have a coldness run along his spine. But as for what little Mierna first said to us, on that island half a thousand light-years from home . . .

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