I think the story took place on Mars, and it had a feel like Eric Frank Russell or someone similar. The story starts with the man reporting on his return to base to explain the adventure he just went through. He had met an alien, described as looking something like an ostrich, and the two of them had gone on adventures and seen many other alien life.

Some of the aliens they met:

There was a series of pyramids, starting tiny and getting larger and larger, each one with the tip burst through. At the end of the line was a large creature who sat on the ground and didn't move but occasionally reached into its mouth and pulled out a brick, and it slowly built a pyramid around itself. The protagonist realizes that the creature is a silicon based life form, so its respiratory waste (instead of being carbon dioxide, a gas) is silicon dioxide (a solid).

They also see a series of humanoid creatures busy building and digging and doing some kind of construction, seemingly with some sort of hive mentality, all working around a glowing green object. The man and the ostrich steal the object (which the protagonist shows at the end to prove his story). After they do so, the hive-like aliens come at them, and both the man and the ostrich whip out guns of some sort and defend themselves.

I think they met more aliens but I don't remember any more details about them. The human and the alien initially teach each other a few words in each others languages. The ostrich would then comment on the life forms they met like "one one two yes. two two four no." The protagonist realized that the ostrich would say that to mean sometime like "Yes, it is life, but it is not life like us."

At the end, the colonel or whatever who is interviewing the protagonist says something about the poor man being stuck with an idiotic native. The protagonist disagrees and explains that he had figured out that the ostrich was an explorer like himself, and had never seen any of these creatures before, and yet it was able to swiftly deduce their nature and still communicate that to another alien, that the ostrich was clearly brilliant.

1 Answer 1


This is the late Stanley G. Weinbaum's 1934 classic short story A Martian Odyssey, which you can read (legally!) for free here or buy in The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum.

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Here's the alien:

‘The Martian wasn’t a bird, really. It wasn’t even bird-like, except just at first glance. It had a beak all right, and a few feathery appendages, but the beak wasn’t really a beak. It was somewhat flexible; I could see the tip bend slowly from side to side; it was almost like a cross between a beak and a trunk. It had four-toed feet, and four-fingered things - hands, you’d have to call them, and a little roundish body, and a long neck ending in a tiny head - and that beak. It stood an inch or so taller than I, and - well, Putz saw it!’

And the pyramid-creature:

‘There was a line of little pyramids - tiny ones, not more than six inches high, stretching across Xanthus as far as I could see! Little buildings made of pygmy bricks, they were, hollow inside and truncated, or at least broken at the top and empty. I pointed at them and said ‘What?’ to Tweel, but he gave some negative twitters to indicate, I suppose, that he didn’t know. So off we went, following the row of pyramids because they ran north, and I was going north.
‘Man, we trailed that line for hours! After a while, I noticed another queer thing: they were getting larger. Same number of bricks in each one, but the bricks were larger.
‘By noon they were shoulder high. I looked into a couple - all just the same, broken at the top and empty. I examined a brick or two as well; they were silica, and old as creation itself!’

The rest of your description fits as well.

  • If you want to read "A Martian Odyssey" in a real book, The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum is only one of many options. Here are some of the covers. The ISFDB is your friend.
    – user14111
    Aug 2, 2015 at 13:44
  • 1
    You know, I had originally written that it had a very pulp feel, but I was afraid that that might lead people astray. Looks like I was wrong after all- well done!
    – Broklynite
    Aug 2, 2015 at 13:59
  • Glad people found it. I saw the description and I knew I'd heard it as part of an audio book, but couldn't remember which one.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Aug 2, 2015 at 21:43
  • 3
    "Weeeee aaaaare vrrrrrriends! Ouch!!"
    – Oldcat
    Mar 12, 2016 at 0:28
  • Maybe one of the first scifi stories i read, in a book written when that story was newish. Boy, that is one famous and well-regarded story. Serious imagination, departing from humanoid models.
    – releseabe
    Feb 7, 2022 at 1:33

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