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I remember the first chapter and I think it's the best part. The way the human explorer arrives at the alien planet. They have sent some small device ahead of them. This device was a microscopic seed that landed on the moon of the alien world. It uses the minerals on the moon to build up something bigger. Once it's ready, the human is beamed there encoded as light. The receiver built by the seed builds their physical body. Hard sci-fi teleportation.

The explorer then goes to the planet inhabited by intelligent aliens to learn about them. The aliens are industrial I think, but far from the sci-fi technology of the human. So befriending/capturing the human becomes an existential question for the different alien factions. We learn a lot about alien politics and I guess everything goes wrong. (Despite the best intentions of the explorer.)

One more detail from the comments: There were probably two explorers. Two women who make contact with different civilizations and become allied with different factions.

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    Just to be clear; the explorer is not intentionally inciting trouble, correct?
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 13:10
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    Drat, I remember reading a story starting just like that, but it was two women sent at the same time, and they wound up in different places on the planet. However, I can't identify it either.
    – nebogipfel
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 13:24
  • Good point! The explorer is a researcher I think and just wants to observe these aliens. Not malicious at all. And it's entirely possible that there are two of them... Yeah, I think you're right! Maybe that's why all my searches missed it. (I was looking for one explorer.) Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:07

1 Answer 1

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This sounds like Glory by Greg Egan, which first appeared in The New Space Opera (2007) edited by Gardner Dozois, and reprinted in Egan's Dark Integers and Other Stories. It is freely available online as a PDF, which is linked on Greg's site.

From Classics of Science Fiction

“Glory” is about Joan and Anne, galactic citizens of the Amalgam, visiting a world that has not yet developed interstellar travel. Their adventure begins with two ingots of metallic hydrogen, one made of matter and the other anti-matter. These ingots are sculpted with neutrons and antineutrons until they are compressed into a needle one micron wide.  

[...]

I strongly recommend reading the story online just to experience the dazzling science fictional thinking of Greg Egan. 

[...]

However, once Egan gets Joan and Anne to the planet of Tira and Ghahar, two rival nations of beings call Noudah, the story slows down and becomes almost mundane in its plot. Joan and Anne are evidently what humans become in the far future, and they can download their essence (mind, soul?) into any machine or being. They appear to the Tiran and Ghahari in Noudah bodies. Joan and Anne each arrange to be intercepted by the two warring nations. Their stated and honest goal is to study the Niah, a race of sentient beings that had existed prior to the Noudah on this planet, and who were premiere mathematicians of the galaxy. The Niah existed for three million years but had disappeared over a million years earlier, leaving only tablets with their mathematical insights carved into them. Joan and Anne somehow know that the Noudah are building dams on Niah sites and want to excavate them before they are lost.

This story starts out as ultra-hard technological science fiction, at which Egan is a master. However the body of the story is more focused on social and political aspects. I think the combination works well, but it might be a bit jarring to some readers, if they aren't familiar with Egan's work. Although he loves writing hard sci-fi, and does it well, the science and technology are always subservient to the socio-political factors.

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  • Thank you!!! That's definitely it. I have a few Greg Egan short story collections but not this one. No idea where I read it. Thanks for the links! Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 8:14
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    @Daniel No worries. You'd probably also enjoy Riding the Crocodile, which is another Amalgam short story. It's linked on that page on Greg's site, just below Glory.
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 8:21
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    Thanks for the recommendation! I just finished it. It was great. Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 17:07

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