I remember very little about this story, but here goes.

It involved a small team of anthropologist types, who were using a humanoid machine to interact with local primates in a remote planet. They would teach them nightly, I think, about things like fire.

But just as they were making progress, they were called away to serve in some sort of all-consuming war for their galactic empire (I distinctly remember a line about this... i.e., something about how everybody was swept up in that conflict.) And the project languished.

I stumbled upon the story maybe 8 years ago. I'd have said it was a few decades old at that point.

The thing itself was an online PDF.

  • 3
    And the scientists are humans and the planet is not earth, right? Usually, in that kind of story, the planet is earth and the scientists are aliens, but you would have told us that.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 21:19
  • When you say "using a humanoid machine" does that mean that the anthropologists aren't humanoids? (What's the non-human-centric version of "anthropology" anyway? Xenology?)
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 21:29
  • @user14111 That's right: scientists are humans, planet is not Earth (I believe.) There was no indication that this was our planet from what I read.
    – Arnav
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 21:32
  • @DavidW No, I think it's that they (for their own safety) interacted through some kind of robot. More like an avatar. (And good point... at some point it's just zoology.)
    – Arnav
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 21:33
  • What was it about the story that made you think it was a few decades old?
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 22:01

1 Answer 1


This sounds like Arthur C. Clarke's "Encounter in the Dawn", otherwise titled "Expedition to Earth" or "Encounter at Dawn".

The aliens are in a ship on the far edge of the galaxy:

It was in the last days of the Empire. The tiny ship was far from home, and almost a hundred light-years from the great parent vessel searching through the loosely packed stars at the rim of the Milky Way.

They use a robot for anthropological research:

"...Hide the robot, Clindar. Somewhere in the woods where it can watch the village without being spotted. We've a week's practical anthropology ahead of us!"

The scientists work with a local, but know that they might be called away:

At any moment, they knew, the signal for recall might come as the Empire summoned up its last resources in its extremity.

When I googled for a PDF I found it to be 8 pages.

  • ISFDB entry. Reprinted often! (I first read it in German in Verbannt in die Zukunft some time ago) Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 22:59
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    Also worth noting. A variant of this story was the foundation for 2001 A Space Odyssey. Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 4:50
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    2001 was based on "The Sentinel", but "Encounter in the Dawn" was mentioned as a contributing story in THE LOST WORLDS OF 2001. Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 11:42
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    @user14111 To expand on Winchell Chung's point...the modified version of encounter at dawn features Clindar leaving a monolith with the australopithecines. SPOILER When David Bowman goes through the wormhole he lands in the capitol of a galactic Federation more alien than anything seen in even the recent Valerian movie. Clindar greets the descendant of the apemen tribe he left the monolith with. Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 18:18
  • @Bob Walker Perfect. And it was Earth, apparently...
    – Arnav
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 18:45

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