A story I read once years ago and would like to reread but do not know the name featured a group of space travelers who landed on a planetoid, only to discover it was a spacecraft. Gaining entry, they explored the interior and discovered a myriad of creatures, but none seemed self aware or possessed of intelligence.

They made a plan to hijack the craft, but in doing so awakened an algorithm that created a short-term intelligence to counter their attempt. The travelers met this intelligence, who explained this was an intergalactic vessel collecting life forms and the reason for not noting intelligent beings on the vessel was that intelligence is not a survival characteristic.

Does anyone know the name/author of such a plot?

  • Hi, welcome to the site. Was this a short story, and in roughly which year did you read it? Also, did you read it in a magazine, an anthology, or online? Jan 23 at 3:12
  • 2
    This has some common points with Bruce Sterling's story "Swarm". You can read a synopsis of this story at its Wikipedia article. Jan 23 at 3:13
  • @DavidMoews agreed, it sounds like a mash-up of "Swarm" and "The Engineer and the Executioner". Jan 23 at 3:47

2 Answers 2


As mentioned in the comments this sounds very like the story Swarm by Bruce Sterling. Only the beginning is different because in Swarm the story is set against the background of a conflict between different human factions in the Solar System.

An asteroid has entered the Solar System occupied by creatures collectively known as the Swarm. It is described much like an ants nest and the creatures show no sign of intelligence. The protagonist Afriel is sent to the asteroid with some plan of exploiting their resources to benefit his own side in the conflict. Afriel encounters a central intelligence who tells him:

"I find myself awakened again,” Swarm said dreamily. “I am pleased to see that there is no major emergency to concern me. Instead it is a threat that has become almost routine.” It hesitated delicately. Mirny’s body moved slightly in midair; her breathing was inhumanly regular. The eyes opened and closed. “Another young race."


“When you began your pheromonal experiments, the chemical imbalance became apparent to the Queen. It triggered certain genetic patterns within her body, and I was reborn. Chemical sabotage is a problem that can best be dealt with by intelligence. I am a brain replete, you see, specially designed to be far more intelligent than any young race. Within three days I was fully self-conscious. Within five days I had deciphered these markings on my body. They are the genetically encoded history of my race…within five days and two hours I recognized the problem at hand and knew what to do. I am now doing it. I am six days old.”

And later Swarm tells him:

"You are a young race and lay great stock by your own cleverness," Swarm said. "As usual, you fail to see that intelligence is not a survival trait."

Swarm is not a collector in the sense that its mission is to collect organisms, but it tells Afriel that is has collected fifteen other races that it encountered for defensive study, and it asks Afriel to join the collection:

“I invite you to become a symbiote. I have here a male and a female, whose genes are altered and therefore without defects. You make a perfect breeding pair. It will save me a great deal of trouble with cloning.”

  • 1
    Thank you--from the quotes I believe this is the story.
    – Rule of 5s
    Jan 23 at 14:14

This sounds a lot like Rendezvous with Rama, but if I'm right then you are mixing up various other Rama books as well. Rama is an asteroid that actually is an alien spaceship and in it are a variety of creatures, named the "biots", who are a sort of biological robot. In the other books in the series it becomes clear that Rama's purpose is to collect lifeforms. In Rendezvous with Rama there is no hijacking attempt but there is an attempt to destroy Rama, which is thwarted by the crew.

  • Rama collects intelligent lifeforms though.
    – Jontia
    Jan 23 at 9:23
  • Rama is also only an “asteroid” up to the point where first images of it are taken - its actually a perfect cylinder, so the first humans aboard it knew they were going to an alien space ship.
    – Moo
    Jan 23 at 10:07
  • Thank you all for your help, I believe The Swarm is what I was searching for.
    – Rule of 5s
    Jan 23 at 14:07

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