The Secret Sense

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"The Secret Sense"
Author Isaac Asimov
Country United States
Language English
Series ?
Genre(s) Science fiction short story
Published in Cosmic Stories
Publication type Periodical
Publisher ?
Media type Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date March 1941
Followed by "Homo Sol"

"The Secret Sense" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. It was written in 1939 and submitted to John W Campbell of Astounding who rejected it. It could not be placed by Asimov's agent, Fred Pohl, and eventually it was taken for no payment by a new and short-lived magazine, Cosmic Stories in March 1941. It was reprinted in the collection The Early Asimov in 1972.

The story takes place against the background of an ancient and highly developed culture living in large underground cities on Mars.

Plot summary[edit]

Lincoln Fields, a rich Earthling from New York living on Mars, is discussing the merits of the highly developed sense of sight and hearing that humans possess, which the Martians do not. Garth Jan, his Martian friend, counters with the merits of the senses that the Martians possess, and unintentionally lets slip that there is also one secret sense. Fields asks him to give it to him but Garth Jan refuses at that time. Six months later, using Martian social law in an unethical fashion, Fields forces him to let him feel this sense and Jan reluctantly agrees.

Fields is injected by a Martian physician with a hormone extract that will activate the sense in him, but only for five minutes, after which it will be unusable ever again. Jan's music teacher commences playing a musical composition on a Martian instrument, the portwem.

After a few minutes, Fields starts to experience the wonders of the portwem, first with colours and sounds and odours all directly affecting the senses, which transition into a new, indescribable sense. He is devastated, as Jan knew he would be, when his time is up and he loses the ability to experience the secret sense.