I am trying to find the title of a science fiction book/story that I read many years ago (about 40!).

All that I can remember is that it involved explorers (I think they may have been archaeologists) on a dead planet that at one time had a civilisation. They find various artifacts including symbols that could be a written language. The event that sticks in my mind is the discovery of a room that has a fire in it that has been used by the last remaining members of the civilization to commit suicide by asphyxiation. I can't remember why! Thanks for your help!


2 Answers 2


Omnilingual, by H. Beam Piper. On Project Gutenberg

The part where the last Martians are discovered:

"Yes; charcoal. I noticed a quantity of it around a couple of hand-forges in the shop on the first floor. That's why you had so much trouble breaking in; they'd sealed the room on the inside." He straightened and went around the room, until he found a ventilator, and peered into it. "Stuffed with rags. They must have been all that were left, here. Their power was gone, and they were old and tired, and all around them their world was dying. So they just came in here and lit the charcoal, and sat drinking together till they all fell asleep. Well, we know what became of them, now, anyhow."

And another matching point is of course the analysis of the Martians' written language, which is the main plot thread.

  • Nice one. Did you read this?
    – Adamant
    Aug 16, 2016 at 0:23
  • 1
    Bingo! Well done! I have just found the story in the book that I originally read it in and that I still have in my collection. Very grateful.
    – PeterG
    Aug 16, 2016 at 10:08

I think this is The Pirate by Poul Anderson.

In it there is a world hit by the radiation from a super-nova and the some of the inhabitants kill themselves to not suffer from radiation sickness. They use asphyxiation during a final party as the method of choice.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.