I believe this one dates back to the 1950's or 60's. The basic premise is that gifted individuals undertake a crash-course field of study, and then sell the engrams containing the knowledge they've learned through the black market. These engrams are then transplanted to wealthy patrons, who gain the knowledge of whatever the engrams contain.

The story develops around a protagonist with a talent for languages. He's learned several languages in the past, and has happily sold that knowledge. This time, however, is different. The man has been reading Don Quixote in its original language (which I believe is Spanish), and is engrossed in it. He desperately wants to finish it before giving up the ability to read it in that language. Knowing that his employers want the engrams immediately, he flees and holes up (IIRC) in a rocky area in the desert.

Naturally, the protagonist's employers have sent someone to claim him and his engrams. An armed standoff ensues, and both men try to talk the other one into giving up. The protagonist asks for more time, but that is rebuffed as the wealthy client needs the engrams right away (I believe it was a college student from a wealthy family needing to pass a Spanish mid-term exam). The man sent to claim the protagonist complains that the other man can just buy a copy of Quixote in English, which the protagonist rejects outright. He states something to the effect that a translated work can never convey the subtleties and nuances of an original language. It just wouldn't be the same book.

As best as I can remember the conclusion, the man sent to capture the protagonist is able to slowly work his way up the rocks under darkness, and captures the protagonist at sunrise. The final twist to the story is that the man spent the night finishing Don Quixote, and is now quite content to go with the other man and give up his knowledge of Spanish language.

  • 2
    I've read that, but I can't remember many more details. As I recall, at the end, the protagonist gives up his knowledge of Spanish, and comments that next he's got to learn Russian, and he's really looking forward to reading War and Peace.
    – andrewsi
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 17:10

1 Answer 1


This is a short story called "The Linguist" in the collection "Projections" by Stephen Robinett. (I was sad to see that he died in 2004.)

It's not as old as you recall, the story was written in 1975 and the Ace edition was published in 1979. Other than that, your description is perfect, except that at the end the protagonist is happily looking forward to learning another language (I forget which language) and reading more of some other classic novel.

Robinett didn't write too much, but this collection is very good, as is the novel Stargate.

  • Thank you very much! I agree, Robinett was a very good writer. "Hellbent 4" is an all-time favorite of mine. Thanks again!
    – Helbent IV
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 18:02
  • 1
    And you can read it here. At the end he's learning Russian.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 18:14

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