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Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits

Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits

by Gary Westfahl (Editor), Arthur C. Clarke (Foreword by)

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In this unprecedented collection of science fiction and fantasy quotations, the reader revisits the stunning moment when Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster first comes to life; witnesses the transformation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde; is present when Bruce Wayne resolves to become Batman; and overhears the cosmic conclusions of


In this unprecedented collection of science fiction and fantasy quotations, the reader revisits the stunning moment when Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster first comes to life; witnesses the transformation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde; is present when Bruce Wayne resolves to become Batman; and overhears the cosmic conclusions of The Incredible Shrinking Man. Drawing upon two centuries of the vast and provocative literature of science fiction and fantasy, this comprehensive book presents more than 2,900 quotations from wide-ranging sources, including science fiction and fantasy stories, novels, films, and television programs.
The quotations are organized by topic—alien worlds; darkness and light; robots, androids, and cyborgs; machines and technology; weapons; and more than one hundred others. The reader will encounter the wit and wisdom of renowned authors (H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin) along with definitive versions of such important statements as Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and Star Trek’s Prime Directive.
With its thorough index, this book is both an invaluable resource for the writer or scholar and an irresistible page-turner for the curious browser.

Editorial Reviews

Sir Arthur C. Clarke
“A massive undertaking that would have daunted all but the most indefatigable of researchers—and one for which generations of science fiction writers and enthusiasts will be extremely grateful.”—Sir Arthur C. Clarke, from the foreword

SF Site - Greg L. Johnson
“A collection of quotes from many of the most thoughtful, insightful, and witty figures in the field”

“. . .well-researched. . .Most public and academic libraries will want to purchase.”—Booklist

Product Details

Yale University Press
Publication date:
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6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

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From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2005 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10800-2

Chapter One



There are times in life when the most comfortable thing is to do nothing at all. Things happen to you and you just let them happen. -James Hilton, Lost Horizon (1933)

Always act on instinct, Burke. It puts the sparkle in existence. -Gordon R. Dickson, "The Monkey Wrench" (1951)

Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere. -J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)

"He knows his leaders are not corrupted by intellectual paralysis."

"What's that mean?" Syd asked dryly.

"It means they act first and think second." -Philip K. Dick, The World Jones Made (1956)

Once human beings realize something can be done, they're not satisfied until they've done it. -Frank Herbert, "Cease Fire" (1958)

What I do I do because I like to do. -Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962)

Confucius once said that a bear could not fart at the North Pole without causing a big wind inChicago.

By this he meant that all events, therefore, all men, are interconnected in an unbreakable web. What one man does, no matter how seemingly insignificant, vibrates through the strands and affects every man. -Philip José Farmer, "Riders of the Purple Wage" (1967)

Every intelligent creature was curious-and curiosity prompted it to act when something incomprehensible took place. -Stanislaw Lem, "The Hunt" (1968), translated by Michael Kandel (1977)

Orr had a tendency to assume that people knew what they were doing, perhaps because he generally assumed that he did not. -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (1971)

If the human race ever stops acting on the basis of what it thinks it knows, paralyzed by the fear that its knowledge may be wrong, then Homo sapiens will be making its application for membership in the dinosaur club. -Hank Davis, "To Plant a Seed" (1972)

Each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore (1972)

Do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way. -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore (1972)

He had felt not that he was doing all the things he did, but that they were doing him. He had been in other people's hands. His own will had not acted. -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)

Do, or do not. There is no try. -Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, The Empire Strikes Back (film, 1980)

All of us are either doers or voyeurs, isn't that right? -Jack Dann, "Going Under" (1981)

There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they're necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go. -Richard Bach, The Bridge across Forever (1984)

Second thoughts can generally be amended with judicious action; injudicious actions can seldom be recovered with second thoughts. -C. J. Cherryh, Cyteen (1988)

Honor is only a label they use for what they want you to do, Chernon. They want you to stay, so they call staying honorable. -Sheri S. Tepper, The Gate to Women's Country (1988)

Tenar sighed. There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done. -Ursula K. Le Guin, Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990)

She saw Culhane's conviction, shared by Lord Director Brill and even by such as Lady Mary, that what they did was right because they did it. She knew that look well. -Nancy Kress, "And Wild for to Hold" (1991)

It was a world of acts, and words had no more influence on acts than the sound of a waterfall has on the flow of the stream. -Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (1992)

"Jesus," said Chevette Washington, like somebody talking in their sleep, "what are you doing?" He didn't know, but hadn't he just gone and done it? -William Gibson, Virtual Light (1993)

Of all the forces in the universe, the hardest to overcome is the force of habit. Gravity is easy-peasy by comparison. -Terry Pratchett, Johnny and the Dead (1993)


No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet, across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. -H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898)

Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of their appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedge-like lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement, due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth-above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes-culminated in an effect akin to nausea. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of their tedious movements unspeakably terrible. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread. -H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898)

[On Martians:] "It's a pity they make themselves so unapproachable," he said. "It would be curious to learn how they live on another planet; we might learn a thing or two." -H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898)

I think we're property.

I should say we belong to something.

That once upon a time, this earth was No-man's Land, that other worlds explored and colonized here, and fought among themselves for possession, but that now it's owned by something.

That something owns this earth-all others warned off. -Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned (1919)

"I've always wanted to see a Martian," said Michael, stiltedly. "Where are they, Dad? You promised."

"There they are," said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down.

The Martians were there, all right. It sent a thrill chasing through Timothy.

The Martians were there-in the canal-reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad.

The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water ... -Ray Bradbury, "The Million-Year Picnic" (1946)

The great pods were leaving a fierce and inhospitable planet. [...] Did this incredible alien life form "think" this or "know" it? Probably not, I thought, or anything our minds could conceive. But it had sensed it; it could tell with certainty that this planet, this little race, would never receive them, and would never yield. And Becky and I, in refusing to surrender, but instead fighting their invasion to the end, giving up any hope of escape in order to destroy even a few of them, had provided the final and conclusive demonstration of that unchangeable fact. And so now, to survive-their one purpose and function-the great pods lifted and rose, climbing up through the faint mist, and out toward the space they had come from. -Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers (1955)

The human race had long ago overcome its childhood terror of the merely alien in appearance. That was a fear which could no longer survive after the first contact with friendly extraterrestrial races. -Arthur C. Clarke, The City and the Stars (1956)

Perhaps they have been living there inside the Sun since the Universe was born, and have climbed to peaks of wisdom which we shall never scale. [...] One day they may discover us, by whatever strange senses they possess, as we circle round their mighty, ancient home, proud of our knowledge and thinking ourselves lords of creation. They may not like what they find, for to them we should be no more than maggots, crawling upon worlds too cold to cleanse themselves from the corruption of organic life. -Arthur C. Clarke, "Out of the Sun" (1958)

Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith. -Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)

Where there are no men, there cannot be motives accessible to men. -Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1961), translated by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox (1970)

He recalled an earlier hope he had had of [the aliens]: that they might be superior beings, beings of wisdom and enlightened power, coming from a better society where higher moral codes directed the activities of its citizens. He had thought that only to such a civilization would the divine gift of traveling through interplanetary space be granted. But perhaps the opposite held true: perhaps such a great objective could be gained only by species ruthless enough to disregard more humane ends. -Brian W. Aldiss, "The Saliva Tree" (1965)

[Dr. McCoy on tribbles:] The nearest thing I can figure out is that they're born pregnant. It seems to be a great timesaver ... -David Gerrold, "The Trouble with Tribbles," episode of Star Trek (1967)

I was ambassador to a planetful of things that would tell me with a straight face that two and two are orange. -Terry Carr, "The Dance of the Changer and the Three" (1968)

Eerie, Joe thought. A chitinous multilegged quasiarachnid and a large bivalve with pseudopoedia arguing about Goethe's Faust. -Philip K. Dick, Galactic Pot-Healer (1969)

Life got awfully boring with only humans to talk to. -Larry Niven, Ringworld (1970)

Entering the dock Redleaf has a vision: the aliens will look exactly like his wife and their mouth bent into the accusatory o they will say to him, "what the hell are you doing in here looking like that? you barely have any right to the universe let alone our quarters, you clean yourself up right this moment or we'll throw you out and take away your oxygen mask!" -Barry N. Malzberg, "Conquest" (1971)

"For Christ's sake, Ruth, they're aliens!"

"I'm used to it," she says absently. -James Tiptree, Jr., "The Women Men Don't See" (1973)

I found the head Rock and I stood there in that valley, all surrounded by Rocks going slurp! and squish! and sucking up bug food. This was not the best part of my life I'm telling you about. -Harlan Ellison, "I'm Looking for Kadak" (1974)

He strolled out of the alley, trying not to look like an alien who had just buried his spaceship under the forsythia bushes. -Ted Reynolds, "Boarder Incident" (1977)

Somewhere in the cosmos, he said, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, fishoids, walking treeoids and superintelligent shades of the color blue, there was also a planet entirely given over to ballpoint life forms. And it was to this planet that unattended ballpoints would make their way, slipping away quietly through wormholes in space to a world where they knew they could enjoy a uniquely ballpointoid life-style, responding to highly ballpoint-oriented stimuli, and generally leading the ballpoint equivalent of the good life. -Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

Why is any object we don't understand always called a "thing"? -Harold Livingston, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (film, 1979)

"The aliens," Dominguez said, frowning at Paul, "are still a mystery to us. We exchange facts, descriptions, recipes for tools, but the important questions do not lend themselves to our clumsy mathematical codes. Do they know of love? Do they appreciate beauty? Do they believe in God, hey?"

"Do they want to eat us?" Paul threw in. -Michael Swanwick, "Ginungagap" (1980)

There was a fear of the non-human intelligence of the Birleles, even a fear of their strange shadowed beauty. Not everyone was attracted by the alien. Many were frightened and repelled by it. -Sydney J. Van Scyoc, "Bluewater Dreams" (1981)

Why does he have to come here, with his birdcalls and his politeness? Why can't they all go someplace else besides here? There must be lots of other places they can go, out of all them bright stars up there behind the clouds. -Nancy Kress, "Out of All Them Bright Stars" (1985)

For a moment, she saw Nikanj as she had once seen Jdahya-as a totally alien being, grotesque, repellant beyond mere ugliness with its night crawler body tentacles, its snake head tentacles, and its tendency to keep both moving, signaling attention and emotion. [...] She stared at it for a moment longer, wondering how she had lost her horror of such a being. Then she lay down, perversely eager for what it could give her. -Octavia E. Butler, Dawn (1987)

All aliens are just personifications of our neuroses, physical manifestations of what we fear or desire. -Alexander Jablokov, "The Place of No Shadows" (1990)

The Borg: Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. We wish to improve ourselves. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours. -Michael Piller, "The Best of Both Worlds" Part 1, episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1990)

Suddenly, without warning, the Other reaches out and seizes Carvalho's right hand in his own.

And shakes it.

Which in reaction sets Earthman and Other, still enthusiastically shaking one another's hand, to turning lazy, laughing cartwheels among the stars. -James Stevens-Arce, "Oscar Carvalho, Spacial" (1990)

The figures the telescope was producing were all that was left of an exploding star twenty million years ago. A billion small rubbery things on two planets who had been getting on with life in a quiet sort of way had been totally destroyed, but they were certainly helping Adrian get his Ph.D. and, who knows, they might have thought it all worthwhile if anyone had asked them. -Terry Pratchett, Johnny and the Dead (1993)

Do not attempt to judge an extraterrestrial race or its artifacts on the basis of human experience. -Christopher Anvil, "A Question of Identity" (1995)

There are beings in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. Once, long ago, they walked among the stars like giants, vast, timeless. Taught the younger races, explored beyond the rim, created great empires, but to all things, there is an end. Solely, over a million years, First Ones went away. Some passed beyond the stars never to return. Some simply disappeared. -J. Michael Straczynski, "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum," episode of Babylon 5 (1995)

The thing about aliens is, they're alien. -Gregory Benford, "A Hunger for the Infinite" (1999)


Excerpted from SCIENCE FICTION QUOTATIONS Copyright © 2005 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Gary Westfahl teaches at the University of California, Riverside. He has published extensively in the field of science fiction and in 2003 received the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim Award for lifetime contributions to science fiction and fantasy scholarship.

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