Omnilingual by H. Beam Piper

This is one of the all time classic stories of science fiction in my opinion. It also has all the elements that got me reading science fiction in the first place – ancient alien civilizations and scientists doing proper deductive reasoning.

Humans have discovered ancient ruins on Mars of a now extinct advanced civilization. They find buildings, machinery and books, but no remains of the martians. The story focuses on Martha Dane who desperately tries to decipher the martian texts, but without any sort of primer or Rosetta stone she makes little progress. Her coworkers are not making it any easier by demanding that she drops her research because they deem it impossible.

This is one of those classic science fiction stories that isn’t just “good for its time” or “important for the genre”, but a genuinely great story to read today. In my opinion, scientists and their research process are too often portrayed in an either dumbed down or overly dramatized manner. This is one of the great exceptions that makes the whole process believable and engaging. That the main protagonist is a woman isn’t something you think much about today, but I would assume for its time it was a bit out of the ordinary. Just another plus point for this story. Haven’t been many great female characters in the anthology The World Turned Upside Down so far.


Read in The World Turned Upside Down
Originally published in Astounding, February 1957
ISFDB Link
Read the story at gutenberg.org
Rating: 5

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