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Author: H. Beam Piper
Published: 1957
Language: English
Wordcount: 17,389 / 58 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 75.2
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 5,260
Added to site: 2006.10.03 14815
More Info:

To translate writings, you need a key to the code--and if the last writer of Martian died forty thousand years before the first writer of Earth was born ... how could the Martian be translated...?

Show Excerpt

naudibly to himself, lifting 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 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 another plastic sheet onto it.

Reader Reviews

Average Rating of 4.3 from 6 reviews: *****
Paulo Respighi

Archaeologists excavating a city on Mars have found writing, even books, but without some sort of Martian/English dictionary they can't hope to decipher the language. But Dr. Martha Dane won't give up trying.

A great story with a woman as a main character, and assorted tired, or backstabbing, or naive characters thrown into the mix. Good writing. Anyone familiar with SETI or the Voyager probes can guess the answer, but for 1957, this was quite a mystery.

Dick Thornton

This is an excellent story by a superb wordsmith. One thing I found amusing was the frequent references to smoking, which would probably not occur in the story if written today. Highly recommended!


A classic hard sf story in the John W. Campbell tradition.


This is one gem of a short story. Although right now unbelievable, the story is about an archeological expedition of an ancient Martian civilization. Faced with many unknowns, the heroine Martha has a task to decipher the Martian language without the help of a Rosetta Stone. This story is very gripping from beginning to end.

R Stephan

I agree. Interesting but too short.


Interesting science fiction novella about Earth scientists investigating the remains of a Martian city. It centers around the puzzle of trying to translate Martian writing without a "Rosetta Stone". Good writing. I wished the author had expanded this into a full-length book.



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