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A long time ago (not later than the early Nineties) I read a novel or a short story that I'd wish to read again but haven't been able to find so far.
It's science fiction, probably written in the Sixties, and it featured peaceful aliens on their planet: human researchers on that planet were interacting with them and trying to understand their society.

Sadly I only remember one thing about the plot: the aliens had an insect-like life cycle and at one point they went into a metamorphosis, at whose end they were turned into a mindless, thoughtless butterfly or moth-like creature for a short while, just before dying.
And they spent their whole lives in expectation for this short moment of utter joy.

But the human protagonist unwillingly caused an incident where one of these aliens was crippled somehow: a consequence of the crippling was it prevented the alien from reaching the metamorphosis, hence it was robbed of the very goal of its existence.

Sadly I have no clue who the author was, when it was published or what else the plot was about.

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    Rings a faint bell. Tiptree? May 23, 2020 at 17:22
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    @OrganicMarble in Tiptree's story Help the Cygnians believe in a metamorphosis to a hypothetical winged form as part of their religion, but apart from this it doesn't match. May 23, 2020 at 17:54
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    I vaguely remember this story. The humans were upset because the aliens' final stage was not sentient, but the aliens thought of the transformation as fulfillment rather than loss. May 23, 2020 at 19:11
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    The description somewhat fits the lifecycle of the Ly-Cylph, but that's a very minor part of the much larger Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton.
    – LSerni
    May 23, 2020 at 20:57
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    Invisible Trihedron: now that you say it, yes, that's correct! Humans could not come to terms with the aliens' last stage being not sentient and probably this was what caused the incident. LSerni: thanks but it can't be Hamilton, I haven't read anything by him.
    – Zab Zonk
    May 23, 2020 at 21:15

3 Answers 3

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I'm posting an answer that doesn't quite match the details in the question, and I'm going from memory because it's at least 45 years since I read it so please bear with.

I think you're looking for 'Memoirs of a Spacewoman' by Naomi Mitchison. In one of the chapters the lady protagonist is on a world full of intelligent caterpillar things, due to a bit of meddling (either by her or by her team) something spoils the metamorphosis.

However the adult butterflies are actually reclusive and immortal beings, they can live forever but they die if they lay eggs.

The pregnancy is caused by being sexually active in the caterpillar stage and the adults are thus very very rare that didn't indulge and so live forever, it's much more common for one to get it's wings and then die because the egg laying rips it apart.

Occasionally an adult will fly over groups of caterpillars having an orgy, the butterfly telepathically lashes down waves of shame and then flies back to the deep forests.

This is to try and stop sexual behaviour and so increase the chance of at least one caterpillar remaining a virgin and joining the immortals.

I think that was how the spacewoman interfered, not only did she encourage the 'free love' but she might have joined in. (IIRC she was James Kirk-ing it across the galaxy by having sex with various non humans)

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    Thank you. Although publication and alien metamorphosis match, I'm 100% positive this isn't the novel I'm looking for.
    – Zab Zonk
    May 24, 2020 at 4:13
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    No probs, it was worth a try
    – Danny Mc G
    May 24, 2020 at 5:46
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The Voices of Heaven, by Frederic Pohl. It's one of my favorite scifi books. The main character is named Barry Di Hoa, though the aliens, called Leps, say it as all one word. The planet's name is Pava. Barry was accidentally sent there, and is less than keen on the suicide-cult that makes up the majority of the population. The woman who the Leps think injured one of their own is named Theophan Sperlie.

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  • This might well be the one I was looking for! I like Pohl, I own this book and I read it almost as soon as it was published: and after a cursory glance, I also stumbled into a few scenes that were buried in my memories. The aliens life cycle fits my description, so I'm pretty sure this is the book I was looking for. Thank you for helping, I was losing hope to find it!
    – Zab Zonk
    Nov 9, 2021 at 21:59
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In Larry Niven's Draco Tavern stories, there's one ("Chrysalis") about a species who resemble caterpillars and eventually metamorphose into butterfly-like creatures. They're only sapient in the caterpillar phase, so they've figured out medical ways to delay the transformation.

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  • Thank you for your help but, despite a few similarities, sadly this isn't the story I'm looking for: there's no tavern in that story nor spacefaring aliens.
    – Zab Zonk
    Jan 18, 2021 at 8:29

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