Books

Martian Memento

“The Crystal Crypt” is an obscure short story by Philip K. Dick, the American science-fiction writer, best known for his book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

I stumbled upon it by pure chance.

It’s a space crime piece that’s easy to give up midway as beige and boring. But don’t—for you do want to know how it ends. Its eventual cleverness trumps its seeming plainness.

War between Mars and Terra—the Latin name for Earth—is imminent. As the last spaceship bound for Terra flies out of Mars, it’s intercepted and recalled for inspection at a rocky checkpoint on Deimos.

Among its passengers are three saboteurs, suspected by the Martian authorities of destroying one of their cities. But the trio manages to escape detection by a lie detector with their clever semantics.

They didn’t demolish it. The city is no more. If both these statements are equally true, then what became of it?

And that’s where the element of science-fiction kicks in. The culprits, genius though they are, find themselves outsmarted by an undercover Martian law enforcement official. The outcome of the battle between the two planets hinges on this discovery.

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