Why Do We Have To Know This Stuff?

This is a really interesting and fun old short story about an archaeology expedition on Mars and the efforts of a member of the team to decipher a language for which there can be no Rosetta Stone.

Or can there?

It’s Omnilingual, by H. Beam Piper

It won’t convince a die-hard skeptic, of course, because your 12 year old die-hard skeptic isn’t really skeptical about whether or not ‘this stuff’ might have a use, he just is convinced it has no use for *him*, and just as you cannot convince a 2 year old that you can’t see the picture he sees when he is looking at the pages and showing you only the cover, you can’t do much to convince a hardened 12 year old skeptic that when he is twenty he might wish to know more about subjects he disdained at 12.  He kind of has to make it to twenty to find that out.


For best use, I’d simply include this story with half a dozen other short stories in a brief introduction to speculative fiction in short form.  A few others:

A Pail of Air, from The World Turned Upside Down

A Gun for a Dinosaur, also from The World Turned Upside Down anthology; going back in time to hunt dinosaur. A good man dies, another man demonstrates the truth of the Biblical warning about digging a pit for others and falling into it yourself.

The Hunting Game, by Robert Scheckley- Humorous.  neither the hunter nor the hunted have any idea what they are actually up against.

Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut: classic tale of the tragic result of equality as mandated by democratic votes.

The Barnhouse Effect, Kurt Vonnegut (both of these are found in Welcome to the  Monkey House, an anthology of Vonnegut stories)- Read carefully.  What really causes war? Is it truly that lack of resources, or something else inherent in human-kind?

And He Built a Crooked House, by Heinlein: about an architect who outdoes himself and almost undoes himself building into another dimension. Fun story, interesting ideas.

A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury – another time travel book about hunting dinosaurs.  Makes an interesting compare and contrast tale beside a gun for a dinosaur.  The Butterfly Effect- I don’t know if it comes from this story, or if Bradbury incorporated it into his story.

The Feeling of Power, by Isaac Asimov – what happens when everybody forgets how to do any arithmetic and leaves it entirely up to the computers, and then somebody else rediscovers it?    Weaker than the others.

The Cold Equation, by Tom Godwin: Heartbreaking story built on the solid premise that math doesn’t care about your feelings.  Things are as they are, not as you wish them to be, and there are hard realities,  things that you can’t change.  Unfortunately, to make the story work there are a couple of extremely irritating and irksome flaws.  If the punishment for trespassing was death, you’d expect there to be a sign a bit more stringently worded than “Do not enter,” for one thing. But the underlying premise is sound.  Math does not care about your wishful thinking, nor do physics (or biology, I would add).

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One Comment

  1. Frances
    Posted May 29, 2017 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link. Various old friends there. I have a shelf of old anthologies I must sort out Real Soon Now and donate to the library sale any that are redundant, The ones that don’t collapse into yellow paper dust, that is.

    Interesting to read Omnilingual again after so many years – good story despite all those “girls” smoking cigarettes;-)

    Some I don’t know/remember at all, so will enjoy going through them.

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