Many years ago I read a book or story where a group of people discover a dark city - maybe on another planet - which appears devoid of life but is in very good condition. As they gradually explore the city one of the them falls into a trap and is cut to pieces by something mechanical. This detail I can remember as it was a pretty gruesome idea. I don't know the ending but my guess is that none of them make it out alive.

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    Was this really hard SF, as in, future science consistent with today's and worked out to the point where there's no disbelief to suspend? You seem to imply the city killed them all, do you remember more about that — e.g. did it make a point of killing them one by one? Were the explorers from our time or from some time into the future? What about the city, was it human-built, alien-built? How many years ago is many, and was the book new then? Any detail you remember could help. – user56 Jun 27 '11 at 20:00
  • That's hard to say. From memory, the story (must have been a short one) mostly focused on what was happening and not on technological means. I think the city is of alien origin and disposed of the whole team, one by one. Maybe this was done by the city itself as a thinking entity and was either to remove them as a threat or study them. The time the story is situated in is most likely the distant future. The book or story is most likely a scifi story from the seventies or earlier. – James P. Jun 28 '11 at 8:54
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    Was this a vengance story? There's one I'll have to dig up where the city is waiting for Humans; it grabs one quietly, discects him, determines these ARE the right species, then kills and rebuilds the humans into zombie-like critters to deliver plague-bombs back to Earth as revenge for a species humans apparently slaughtered ages ago. – K-H-W Jun 30 '11 at 14:58
  • I'm not sure. I don't remember anything about some kind of vengeance but I think one of the crew was dissected. Maybe I didn't finish the story. – James P. Jul 2 '11 at 23:07
  • Not a book - so not strictly an answer - but the Crusade episode "Racing the Night" has a similar premise. – Bevan Jan 26 '13 at 1:00

Finally tracked down the short story I mentioned in my comment to the original question, and that Jeff mentioned in his answer: See if this sounds about right:

"The City" — A rocket expedition from Earth lands on an uncharted planet to be greeted by a seemingly empty city. As the humans begin to explore, they realize that the city is not as empty as it seems. The city was waiting for the arrival of humans; the contingency plan of a long dead civilization, put in place to take revenge upon humanity after their culture was wiped out with biological weapons by humans long before recorded history. Once the city captures and kills the human astronauts, the humans' corpses are used as automations to finalize the city's creators' revenge; a biological attack on the Earth.

It's from Ray Bradbury's 'The Illustrated Man' compilation.

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  • That's the one :) . I didn't remember it as being so short but that's definitely the story and I do remember reading The Illustrated Man at the time. I don't think this story can be found in the movie but a few others are. – James P. Aug 19 '11 at 7:30
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    He used a very similar story line in "Usher II" that shows up in later versions of "The Martian Chronicles." And now that you mention it, by title, I suddenly remember the story! – Tango Aug 20 '11 at 6:59

I read a fantastic short story that sounds similar and I've wanted to rediscover it for years. The plot was about a planet created as a trap. Long-dead victims of Earth(?) aggression, realizing they would be wiped out, create a giant trap to wipe out Earth generations in the future. Over the eons, the people of Earth forget about the war and the enemy planet but eventually rediscover it - just as their ancient victims foresaw. The machine eviscerates the explorers and fills their bodies with a virus or other nasty thing and then sends them back to Earth to exact revenge. I remember my brother and I talking about it enthusiastically around, oh, 1978 or so. No idea of the name, but it would have been in a SF anthology.

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  • This is definitely the story in question. Thanks to your answer Keith managed to find the source. Now, if only it was possible to accept two answers :) – James P. Aug 19 '11 at 7:30

There are a couple of similar instances in Simon Green's Deathstalker saga. An expedition is sent into an alien city to retrieve some bio-weapons, and many people in the expedition are killed or vanish due to a variety of horrific alien traps.

Similarly, attempts to navigate the "Madness Maze", another alien artifact, result in people being lost, physically rearranged, driven insane, etc..

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Might also be Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys.

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Sounds a bit like Robert Silverberg's The Man in the Maze but only a little bit.

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  • Looks like a good book to read :) . This is definitely in a city though. – James P. Jun 28 '11 at 11:46

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