Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The language book that influenced H. Beam Piper’s classic 1957 Martian story "Omnilingual"

Thanks to the Google Books project, I’ve been browsing H. Beam Piper: A Biography (2008), by John F. Carr. Chronicling “one of science fiction's most enigmatic writers,” this biography “illuminates H. Beam Piper, both the writer and the man, and answers lingering questions about his death” in 1964. Among the many fascinating passages is this reference to “Omnilingual” (1957), Piper’s acclaimed short story about linguist Martha Dane and her team of scientists on the Red Planet, who try to decipher the language of a dead Martian civilization:
The next week back in New York Beam wrote on Friday: “Picked up a paperback copy of Edward Sapir’s Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech at Doubleday’s; will be useful in next story.” This book sparked the genesis of one of Piper’s most praised short stories, “Omnilingual.” 
A cerebral piece bound with books, linguistics, and an abandoned Martian university library, “Omnilingual” is one of my favorite short stories! Read it for free through Project Gutenberg or

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