David Brin

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It's said that "power corrupts," but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.

Glen David Brin (born October 6, 1950) is a well-known American author of science fiction. He is the winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards as well as the Interstella War Award. He lives in Southern California and has been both a NASA consultant and a physics professor.

Quotes[edit]

The worst mistake of first contact, made throughout history by individuals on both sides of every new encounter, has been the unfortunate habit of making assumptions. It often proved fatal.
One more piece for the Great Jigsaw puzzle.
Anyone who tries to predict the future is inevitably a fool. Present company included. A prophet without a sense of humor is just stupid.
Knowledge isn’t restrained by the limits of Malthus. Information doesn’t need topsoil to grow in, only freedom. Given eager minds and experimentation, it feeds itself like a chain reaction.


  • I hate the whole übermensch, superman temptation that pervades science fiction. I believe no protagonist should be so competent, so awe-inspiring, that a committee of 20 really hard-working, intelligent people couldn't do the same thing.
  • It's said that "power corrupts," but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable.
    • The Postman (1997), p. 267
    • Variant: It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.
      • As quoted in Values of the Wise : Humanity's Highest Aspirations (2004) by Jason Merchey, p. 120
    • This is very similar to the expression by Frank Herbert in Chapterhouse: Dune (1985): "All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted."
  • One more piece for the Great Jigsaw puzzle.
    I find it truly stunning how many people can shrug off stuff like this, preferring instead a tiny, cramped cosmos just 6,000 years old, scheduled to end any-time-now in a scripted stage show of unfathomable violence and cruelty.
    An ancient and immense and ongoing cosmos is so vastly more dramatic and worthy of a majestic Creator. Our brains, capable of exploring His universe, picking up His tools and doing His work, seem destined for much greater tasks than cowering in a small groups of the elect, praying that some of our neighbors will go to perdition...

Startide Rising (1983)[edit]

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Books (February 1988 ninth printing)
  • Blatant idiocies had been tried by early men and women—foolishness that would never have been considered by species aware of the laws of nature. Desperate superstitions had bred during the savage centuries. Styles of government, intrigues, philosophies were tested with abandon. It was almost as if Orphan Earth had been a planetary laboratory, upon which a series of senseless and bizarre experiments were tried.
    • Chapter 23 (p. 141)
  • “Where there is mind, there is always solution,” Keneenk taught. All problems contained the elements of their answer.
    • Chapter 34 (p. 183)
  • What point was there in pursuing an ever-elusive popularity?
    • Chapter 38 (p. 199)
  • You don’t have conversations with microprocessors. You tell them what to do, then helplessly watch the disaster when they take you literally!
    • Chapter 46 (p. 238)
  • Words penetrated the tank from the outer room. They were tantalizing, like those ghosts of meaning in a great symphony—hinting that the composer had caught a glimpse of something notes could only vaguely convey and words could never even approach.
    • Chapter 49 (p. 261)
  • He wasn’t afraid of dying, only of having not done all he could, and not properly spitting in the eye of death when it came for him. That final gesture was important.
    • Chapter 51 (p. 269)
  • It was better to imagine a sacrifice being for something.
    • Chapter 51 (p. 269)
  • He read about humanity’s age-old racial struggles. Had it really been less than half a millennium since humans contrived gigantic, fatuous lies about each other simply because of pigment shades, and killed millions because they believed their own lies?
    • Chapter 81 (p. 364)
  • Petals floating by, Drift through my woman’s hand, As she remembers me.
    • Chapter 103 (p. 418)

The Uplift War (1987)[edit]

There were times when Robert actually envied his ancestors, who had lived in dark ignorance, before the 21st century, and seemed to have spent most of their time making up weird, ornate explanations of the world to fill the yawning gap of their ignorance.
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Books (October 1988 fourth printing)
  • The same was true of the most popular girls. They had no empathy, no compassion for more normal kids.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 66)
  • It was silly to suppose that trials only hardened men, automatically making them wise. He knew many who were stupid, arrogant, and mean, in spite of having suffered.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 66)
  • A neurosis defends itself by coming up with rationalizations to explain away bizarre behavior.
    • Chapter 35 (p. 221)
  • There were times when Robert actually envied his ancestors, who had lived in dark ignorance, before the twenty-first century, and seemed to have spent most of their time making up weird, ornate explanations of the world to fill the yawning gap of their ignorance. Back then, one could believe in anything at all.
    Simple, deliciously elegant explanations of human behavior—it apparently never mattered whether they were true or not, as long as they were incanted right. "Party lines" and wonderful conspiracy theories abounded. You could even believe in your own sainthood if you wanted. Nobody was there to show you, with clear experimental proof, that there was no easy answer, no magic bullet, no philosopher's stone. Only simple, boring sanity.
    How narrow the Golden Age looked in retrospect.
    • Chapter 53 (pp. 324-325)
  • A sane being wished for peace and serenity, not to be the mortar in which the ingredients of destiny are finely ground.
    • Chapter 72 (p. 474)
  • She had called in the debt that parents owe a child for bringing her, unasked, into a strange world. One should never make an offer without knowing full well what will happen if it is accepted.
    • Chapter 73 (p. 480)
  • He was, after all, a diplomat, and understood that the best and firmest deals are based on open self-interest.
    • Chapter 82 (p. 525)
  • “After all,” he muttered, “what can they do to shake the confidence of a fellow who’s got delusions of adequacy?”
    • Chapter 83 (p. 537)
  • “This is a lovely world,” he sighed. “And yet it has suffered horror. Sometimes, so-called civilization seems bent on destroying those very things which it is sworn to protect.”
    • Chapter 93 (p. 590)
  • Had I been wrong, this would still have been the honorable thing to do.
    I am very glad, however, to find out that I was right.
    • Chapter 110 (p. 626)
  • Life is not fair...Anyone who says it is, or even that it ought to be, is a fool or worse.
    • Chapter 111 (p. 634)

Earth (1990)[edit]

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Books (September 1994 printing)
  • A hallmark of sanity, Alex, is the courage to face even unpleasant points of view.
    • Part I (p. 40)
  • Apocalypses, apparently, are subject to fashion like everything else. What terrifies one generation can seem obsolete and trivial to the next. Take our modern attitude toward war. Most anthropologists now think this activity was based originally on theft and rape—perhaps rewarding enterprises for some caveman or Viking, but no longer either sexy or profitable in the context of nuclear holocaust! Today, we look back on large-scale warfare as an essentially silly enterprise.
    • Part I (p. 48)
  • We can’t save the world without food. Only people with full stomachs become environmentalists.
    • Part II (p. 72)
  • Of course, sometimes a species’ invention only benefited itself. Goats developed an ability to eat almost anything, right down to the roots. Goats proliferated. Deserts spread behind them.
    Then another creature appeared, one whose originality was unprecedented. Its numbers grew. And in its wake some other types did flourish. The common cat and dog. The rat. Starlings and pigeons. And the cockroach. Meanwhile, opportunity grew sparse for those less able to share the vast new riches—huge expanses of plowed fields and mowed lawns, streets and parking lots...
    The coming of the grasses had left its mark indelibly on the history of the world.
    So would the Age of Asphalt and Concrete.
    • Part II (p. 122)
  • Anyone who tries to predict the future is inevitably a fool. Present company included. A prophet without a sense of humor is just stupid.
    • Part III (p. 143)
  • It was a queer, disturbing instant of recognition. We all create monsters in our minds. The only important difference may be which of us let our monsters become real.
    • Part III (pp. 145-146)
  • “You think I'm kidding?” the pilot asked.
    “No, we think you're crazy.”
    • Part IV (p. 185)
  • What was it like, he wondered, to care about something so passionately? He suspected it made her somehow more alive than he was.
    • Part IV (p. 187)
  • It had been different during his first year of graduate school, when he temporarily forsook physics to explore instead the realm of the senses. Applying logic to the late-blooming quandries of maturity, he had parsed the elements of encounter, banter, negotiation, and consummation, separating and solving the variables one by one until the problem—if not generally solved—did appear to have tractable special solutions.
    • Part V (p. 236)
  • The good side of the world media village was the sense it gave ten billion that each of them had at least some small connection with the whole. The bad side was that no one ever encountered anything, anymore, that was completely new.
    • Part V (p. 245)
  • From you, my boy, I expect no less than the completely preposterous and utterly calamitous.
    • Part V (p. 250)
  • She closed her eyes. And while her intellect wouldn’t let her realize her deepest fear, that all this might soon be gone forever, nevertheless she stood there for a time and worshipped the only way a person like her could worship—in silence and solitude, under the temple of the sky.
    • Part VI (p. 307)
  • One of life’s joys was to have friends who gave you reality checks...who would call you on your crap before it rose so high you drowned in it.
    • Part VI (p. 311)
  • “All this talk of using tax policy to ‘assess social costs’...what a dumb idea. The only way to stop polluters is to put them against walls and shoot them.”
    • Part VII (p. 327)
  • Ideologies are too seductive anyway. It does a man good to see things from a different point of view.
    • Part VII (p. 328)
  • There’s no urgency, a third voice urged, pleading compromise. No duty calls. Hold onto the illusion a little longer.
    So she tried to go on pretending. After all, can’t believing sometimes make dreams come true?
    No, it can’t. Besides, you're awake now.
    • Part VII (p. 353)
  • They saw the end coming, he thought, looking down the file of awful figures. But they were dead wrong about the reasons why. They assumed only gods had the power to wreak such havoc on their world, but people caused the devastation here.
    Alex felt compassion for the ancient Pasquans—but a superior sort nevertheless. In blaming gods, they had conveniently diverted censure from the real culprit. The designer of weapons. The feller of trees. The destroyer. Man himself.
    • Part VII (p. 366)
  • Prison for the crime of puberty—that was how secondary school had seemed, when he really thought back on it.
    • Part VIII (p. 462)
  • Daisy had learned not to pay much heed to techno-fads. To her fell the task of preserving as much as possible, so that when humanity finally did fall, it wouldn’t take everything else to the grave with it.
    • Part VIII (p. 471)
  • On this occasion, despite the wind and sparkling stars, they looked just like huge chunks of stone, pathetically chiseled by desperate folk to resemble stern gods. People did bizarre things when they were afraid...as most men and women had been for nearly all the time since the species evolved.
    • Part VIII (p. 480)
  • The lesson they took home with them was simple; it takes a full belly before a man or woman gives a tinker’s damn about anything as large as a planet.
    • Part IX (p. 493)
  • “Huh,” Sepak thought, marveling how much one could learn by just sitting still and observing. It wasn’t a skill one learned in the frenetic pace of modern society.
    • Part IX (pp. 501-502)
  • What kind of man takes a live bomb across the seas in order to blow up other people? People who have mothers and lovers and children, just like him?
    Probably either a professional or a patriot,
    Alex thought. Or, worse, both.
    • Part IX (p. 524)
  • Knowledge isn’t restrained by the limits of Malthus. Information doesn’t need topsoil to grow in, only freedom. Given eager minds and experimentation, it feeds itself like a chain reaction.
    • Part IX (p. 531)
  • Nation states are archaic leftovers from when each man feared the tribe over the hill, an attitude we can’t afford anymore.
    • Part X (p. 539)
  • Look at all the happiest, sanest people you've known, Nelson. Really listen to them. I bet you'll find they don’t fear a little inconsistency or uncertainty now and then. Oh, they try always to be true to their core beliefs, to achieve their goals and keep their promises. Still, they also avoid too much rigidity, forgiving the occasional contradiction and unexpected thought. They are content to be many.
    • Part XI (p. 630)
  • Nelson replayed his last musings to himself, and silently laughed. Listen to you! Jen was right. You're a born philosopher. In other words, full of shit.
    • Part XI (p. 631)
  • It also became clear why the nations were expected to commence major space enterprises. Henceforth, the raw materials for industrial civilization were to be taken from Earth’s lifeless sisters, not the mother world. All mines currently being gouged through Terra’s crust were to be phased out within a generation and no new ones started. Henceforth, Earth must be preserved for the real treasures—its species—and man would have to look elsewhere for mere baubles like gold or platinum or iron.
    • Part XI (pp. 634-635)
  • The man talked, but somehow nothing he said seemed to make any sense.
    • Part XI (p. 647)
  • History and geology show what an eyeblink it’s been since our current, comfortable culture came about. And yet that culture is using up absolutely everything at a ferocious rate.
    • Afterword (p. 656)
  • Beware of assumptions that seem “obvious” in one decade. They may become quaint in the next.
    • Afterword (p. 661)

Brightness Reef (1995)[edit]

A mind that's afraid to toy with the ridiculous will never come up with the brilliantly original.
  • It's how creativity works. Especially in humans. For every good idea, ten thousand idiotic ones must first be posed, sifted, tried out, and discarded. A mind that's afraid to toy with the ridiculous will never come up with the brilliantly original.
    • Ch. 25

The Transparent Society (1998)[edit]

  • In all of history, we have found just one cure for error—a partial antidote against making and repeating grand, foolish mistakes, a remedy against self-deception. That antidote is criticism.
    • Ch. 1
  • Alas, criticism has always been what human beings, especially leaders, most hate to hear.
    • Ch. 1

Orbit interview (2002)[edit]

Interview online at SFFWorld (19 July 2002)
  • We already live a very long time for mammals, getting three times as many heartbeats as a mouse or elephant. It never seems enough though, does it? Most fictional portrayals of life-extension simply tack more years on the end, in series. But that's a rather silly version. The future doesn't need a bunch of conservative old baby-boomers, hoarding money and getting in the grand-kids' way. What we really need is more life in parallel — some way to do all the things we want done. Picture splitting into three or four "selves" each morning, then reconverging into the same continuous person at the end of the day. What a wish fulfilment, to head off in several directions at once!
  • I like to be surprised. Fresh implications and plot twists erupt as a story unfolds. Characters develop backgrounds, adding depth and feeling. Writing feels like exploring.
  • Change is the principal feature of our age and literature should explore how people deal with it. The best science fiction does that, head-on.
  • I maintain contacts with researchers in dozens of fields, both for fun and to keep up. In fact, any well-read citizen can stay reasonably current nowadays, by reading any of the popular science magazines that describe remarkable advances every week, in terms non-specialists can understand. The advance of human knowledge has become — at long last — a vividly enjoyable spectator sport! And a growing movement toward amateur science shows there is room for participants at every level.
  • Every marvel of our age arose out of the critical give and take of an open society. No other civilization ever managed to incorporate this crucial innovation, weaving it into daily life. And if you disagree with this ... say so!

A rant about stupidity... and the coming civil war... (2009)[edit]

Step back for a minute and note an important piece of psychohistory — that every generation of Americans faced adversaries who called us "decadent cowards and pleasure-seeking sybarites (wimps), devoid of any of the virtues of manhood." … Because Americans were clearly happier, richer, smarter, more successful and far more free than anyone else.
"A rant about stupidity... and the coming civil war..." at Contrary Brin (4 October 2009)
The Union will awaken. It always has. We always will.
  • I've long felt that the best minds of the right had useful things to contribute to a national conversation — even if their overall habit of resistance to change proved wrongheaded, more often than right. At least, some of them had the beneficial knack of targeting and criticizing the worst liberal mistakes, and often forcing needful re-drafting.
    That is, some did, way back in when decent republicans and democrats shared one aim — to negotiate better solutions for the republic.
    Alas, today's Republican Establishment seems not only incapable but uninterested in negotiation or deliberation. It isn't just the dogmatism, or lockstep partisanship, or Koolaid fantasies spun-up by the Murdoch-Limbaugh hate machine. Heck, even though "culture war" is verifiably the worst direct treason against the United States of America since Fort Sumter, that isn't what boggles most.
    It's the stupidity. The vast and nearly uniform dumbitudinousness of ignoring what has happened to conservatism, a transformation of nearly all of the salient traits of Barry Goldwater from:
  • prudence to recklessness
  • accountability to secrecy
  • fiscal discretion to spendthrift profligacy
  • consistency to hypocrisy
  • civility to nastiness
  • international restraint to recklessness...
  • This is not about classic left-vs-right anymore. (As if that metaphor ever held cogent meaning.) Not when every measure of national health that conservatives ought to care about — from budget balancing to small business startups, to military readiness, to States' Rights, to the economy, to individual liberty, to control over immigration at our borders — does vastly and demonstrably better under democrats. With nearly 100% perfection.
    (Fact avoidance is even worse when you encompass ALL of history. Ask today's conservatives which force destroyed more freedom and nearly every competitive market, across 5,000 years. Which foe of liberty and enterprise did Adam Smith despise? Hint: it wasn't "socialism" or "government bureaucrats.")
    No. Given their lack of any other tangible accomplishments across the last fifteen years, one must to conclude that the core agenda of Rush Limbaugh, Rupert Murdoch and their petroprince backers really is quite simple.
    To find out just how far they can push "culture war" toward a repeat of 1861.
  • Step back for a minute and note an important piece of psychohistory — that every generation of Americans faced adversaries who called us "decadent cowards and pleasure-seeking sybarites (wimps), devoid of any of the virtues of manhood."
    Elsewhere, I mark out this pattern, showing how every hostile nation, leader or meme had to invest in this story, for a simple reason. Because Americans were clearly happier, richer, smarter, more successful and far more free than anyone else. Hence, either those darned Yanks must know a better way of living (unthinkable!)... or else they must have traded something for all those surface satisfactions.
    Something precious. Like their cojones. Or their souls. A devil's bargain. And hence — (our adversaries told themselves) — those pathetic American will fold up, like pansies, as soon as you give them a good push.
    It is the one uniform trait shown by every* vicious, obstinate and troglodytic enemy of the American Experiment. A wish fantasy that convinced Hitler and Stalin and the others that urbanized, comfortable New Yorkers and Californians and all the rest cannot possibly have any guts, not like real men. A delusion shared by the King George, the plantation-owners, the Nazis, Soviets and so on, down to Saddam and Osama bin Laden. A delusion that our ancestors disproved time and again, decisively — though not without a lot of pain.
  • The Union will awaken. It always has. We always will.
  • There was one exception to the rule that all our foes have committed the Decadence Assumption. Ho Chi Minh never underestimated America. His avowed hero was George Washington and he remained in awe of the U.S., all his life. He remains the only enemy leader who ever defeated us at war, and then only because our hubris (not decadence) got the better of us.

External links[edit]

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