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H. Beam Piper

Book Overview: 

An expedition to Mars discovers the remains of an advanced civilization, which died out many thousands of years ago. They recovered books and documents left behind, and are puzzled by their contents. Would the team find their “Rosetta Stone” that would allow them to unlock the Martian language, and learn the secrets of this long-dead race?

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .ifting the page a little at a time and sliding one of the transparent plastic sheets under it, working with minute delicacy. Not the delicacy of the Japanese girl's small hands, moving like the paws of a[Pg 15] cat washing her face, but like a steam-hammer cracking a peanut. Field archaeology requires a certain delicacy of touch, too, but Martha watched the pair of them with envious admiration. Then she turned back to her own work, finishing the table of contents.

The next page was the beginning of the first article listed; many of the words were unfamiliar. She had the impression that this must be some kind of scientific or technical journal; that could be because such publications made up the bulk of her own periodical reading. She doubted if it were fiction; the paragraphs had a solid, factual look.

At length, Ivan Fitzgerald gave a short, explosive grunt.

"Ha! Got it!"

She looked up. He had detached the page and was cementing anoth. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Oh The Golden Age of Science Fiction!

Oh - the first humans on Mars will be... archaeologists! working with the military but genuinely respecting each other! and the archaeologists' needs actually come first! oh! such a wonderful Golden Age!

Oh - a novella all about language and discovery! writing tha

A different kind of sci-fi story, where the aliens are all dead, and the scientists are primarily doing archaeology - though this involves blasting a hole in a sealed building in order to enter, which is hard to imagine archaelogists doing. With my interest in languages, I found it interesting how t

Oldie sci-fi. Mars and the Martian linguisstic quagmire.
So, science is the lingua franca of the universe? Or is it?
She sat for a moment, looking at it. It was readable, in the sense that she had set up a purely arbitrary but consistently pronounceable system of phonetic values for the letters. The

I loved the story - as an engineer, this is right up my alley and makes perfect sense! The writing, I didn't particularly like. Seemed like it could have used a better editor and some expansion. Nice quick read, and if we were to find dead civilizations that were at least as advanced as ours, this w

Omnilingual is a brilliant short story, dealing with the difficulties of translating an alien (as in space alien) language if you have no living member of that alien species to help you out. It adds a layer of conflict among the human explorers, mainly along professional rivalries and jealousies.


An interesting look at additional challenges with extra-terrestrial life, and potential solutions. Even though there wasn't a huge amount of action, I still enjoyed this story.

Somehow this quiet story remains a personal favourite, after many re-reads years apart.

Sure, it's got that 50's feel with everybody smoking and cocktail hour before dinner, but despite that the characters are real and likeable, and the basic premise and it's conclusion stands. Any communication with

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