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I am looking for the earliest example of a work where a species pretends to be at a much lower or higher level of technology than the one it has achieved. An example of this would be the Organians in Star Trek, who initially pretend to be at a medieval level of technology but are actually extremely advanced aliens who have become pure energy. For clarification purposes, there has to be more than one member of the species falsifying the technology level and the contact has to be the first one.

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    David and Goliath. David pretends to be a meek shepherd with no weaponry but actually has a powerful sling.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 9:32
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    I meant that the species as a whole is falsifying their overall level of technology, not just one member.
    – Kevonni
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 19:02
  • We only see a few Organians..
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 19:04
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    @Valorum but the Federation and Klingons both seem to think they are representative of the level of technology of "Organians" in general, so whatever contact they've had in the past must have been with ones putting on the same pretense
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 0:48
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    Perhaps surprisingly, this does not actually occur in the True History by Lucian of Samosata.
    – Buzz
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 19:51

2 Answers 2

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Around the same time-frame as @Spencer's answer, the Lensman series by E. E. Smith, the first novel (Triplanetary) of which was published in 1948, but initially serialized in 1934, has not just one, but 3 species that present on lower technological scales than they really are.

The first (and as shown in Triplanetary) has humans presenting as lower technological capability than the Nevians - the main protagonist of much of this novel is Conway Costigan, who after being captured by the Nevians, pretends that he can't even do simple chemistry, while manufacturing poisons to enable him to escape captivity. He also uses "sub-etheric spy-rays" and is communicating with other captured humans without the Nevians knowing.

Triplanetary also has an Eddorian (overall bad guys), known as "Grey Roger", who are amoeba-like creatures of immense mental and physical powers, presenting as a human controlling a space-station sized warcraft via buttons and switches etc, rather than by his mental powers, as he is fully capable of doing.

The titular Lensmen get their powers from lens devices given to them by Arisians (overall good guys). The Arisians are vastly capable mental beings - capable of visualizing the cosmic all, but pretend that they are incapable of damaging even one of the Eddorians to lull the Eddorians into a false sense of security, so that they can be eventually overcome and won't develop technology to prevent this. I think this event happens in the second novel First Lensman, which was published in 1950.

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The same novel as my most recent answer, Isaac Asimov's Second Foundation is a good candidate. Second Foundation is a fixup of two novellas serialized in Astounding Science Fiction between 1948 and 1950.

During the Mule's search for the Second Foundation in the first half of the novel, he visits Hari Seldon's homeworld Trantor in an attempt to discover information about the SF's whereabouts.

The Mule and his companion/captives are confronted by some rustic farmers, the "Hamish-folk", in an area of Trantor cleared of buildings. There is a lot of bluster about not knowing about any "scowlers".

But at the end of the novel we discover that these rustic farmers

are actually the Second Foundation, secretly guiding the Galaxy back towards civilization according to Hari Seldon's plan. They have developed the science of psychohistory and their mental abilities to the point they can control things from subsistence farms on a ruined planet. They were, in fact, the reason for the Mule's losing his ability to mentally control others (and thus his power) at the end of the first part of the novel.

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  • Second Foundation consists of two novellas originally published serially between 1948 and 1950, making it even earlier. Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 19:22
  • @KlausÆ.Mogensen If it's OK with you, I'll put that in the answer.
    – Spencer
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 19:27
  • Quite OK. Specifically, "Part II: Search by the Foundation" was originally published in the November and December 1949 and January 1950 issues of Astounding Science Fiction under the title "...And Now You Don't". Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 10:08

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