Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Martian Dictionary Predates LSD

Last week the blog io9 had a cool post titled
Burroughs and Disney Drop Acid, Create Animated Martian Dictionary,” which mentioned a glossary Edgar Rice Burroughs compiled of the terms used in his Barsoom novels and a Walt Disney animated version of the glossary created for its Mars and Beyond television show in 1957.

This inspired us to hunt for other references in science fiction to Martian dictionaries, which we found in Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” (1963), Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), and this passage from Two Planets (1897), by Kurd Lasswitz:
“Wait!” he exclaimed. “In the lining there is still a package. What do we have here?”

The clasp opened. A book the size of a notebook appeared. Curiously, he opened it, hesitated for a moment, then began to thumb through it and looked wide eyed at Grunthe.

“That is,” he said shaking his head the while, “that is--but how could it be?”

The little book contained a word list of the Martian language; the words had been transcribed by means of letters from the Latin alphabet; next to these there was a translation into German and next to that a symbol for the word as it was used in the shorthand of the Martians. Saltner discovered the purpose of the contents by means of those few words he knew.

“For heaven’s sake, tell me,” he continued, “my thinking fails me--how could there be a German-Martian dictionary--how could it get here?"
It seems unlikely that Kurd Lasswitz, who died in 1910, dropped acid, as LSD was first synthesized in November 1938. Interestingly, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Synthetic Men of Mars was first published as a serial in early 1939.

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