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.
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.

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


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.
  • 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]

Where there is mind, there is always solution
All problems contained the elements of their answer.
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 Postman (1985)[edit]

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Spectra Books (December 1997 reissue)

Section 1, “The Cascades”[edit]

  • We are having extreme difficulty with local gangs of “Survivalists.” Fortunately, these infestations of egotists are mostly too paranoid to band together. They’re as much trouble to each other as to us, I suppose. Still, they are becoming a real problem.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 43)
  • Apparently, the Fates were not so unsubtle as to deal him another blow just yet. He knew they didn’t operate that way. They always let you hope for a while longer, then strung it out before they really let you have it.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 68)

Section 2, “Cyclops”[edit]

  • Survivalists. Gordon felt a wave of revulsion.
    • Chapter 3, “Eugene” (p. 114)
  • He tried again, but their sullen, rural obstinacy was impervious to logic.
    • Chapter 4, “Harrisburg” (p. 126)

Section 3, “Cincinnatus”[edit]

  • He managed to lie by implication while speaking words that were the literal truth, a skill he had grown good at, if not proud of.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 200)
  • It’s clear that male human beings should never have been left in control of the world all these centuries. Many of you are wonderful beyond belief, but too many others will always be bloody lunatics.
    Your sex is simply built that way. Its better side gave us power and light, science and reason, medicine and philosophy. Meanwhile the dark half spent its time dreaming up unimaginable hells and putting them into practice.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 225)
  • “Where is it written that one should only care about big things? I fought for big things, long ago...for issues, principles, a country. Where are all of them now?”
    The steely gray eyes were narrow and sad when next he looked up at Gordon. “I found out something, you know. I discovered that the big things don’t love you back. They take and take, and never give in return. They’ll drain your blood, your soul, if you let them, and never let go.
    “I lost my wife, my son, while away battling for big things. They needed me, but I had to go off trying to save the world.” Powhatan snorted at the last phrase. “Today I fight for my people, for my farm—for smaller things—things I can hold.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 229; see also p. 305)
  • “How did he get away with pushing a book like this? How is it anyone ever believed him?”
    Gordon shrugged. “It was called ‘the Big Lie’ technique, Johnny. Just sound like you know what you’re talking about—as if you’re reciting facts. Talk very fast. Weave your lies into the shape of a conspiracy theory and repeat your assertions over and over again. Those who want an excuse to hate or blame—those with big but weak egos—will leap at a simple, neat explanation for the way the world is. Those types will never call you on the facts.”
    • Chapter 13 (p. 255)
  • How can we set up a system which encourages individuals to strive and excel, and yet which shows some compassion to the weak, and weeds out madmen and tyrants?
    • Chapter 14 (p. 266)
  • Of course we can establish constitutional checks and balances, but those won’t mean a thing unless citizens make sure the safeguards are taken seriously. The greedy and the power-hungry will always look for ways to break the rules, or twist them to their advantage.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 266)
  • 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.
    • Chapter 14 (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."
  • Freedom was wonderful beyond relief. But with it came that bitch, Duty.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 270)
  • “They accepted warriors...” he emphasized, “...That divinely mad type that’s so valuable when needed, and such a problem when it’s not.”
    • Chapter 18 (p. 298)
  • All legends must be based on lies, Gordon realized. We exaggerate, and even come to believe the tales, after a while.
    • Chapter 18 (p. 298)

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]

Anyone who tries to predict the future is inevitably a fool. Present company included. A prophet without a sense of humor is just stupid.
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Books (September 1994 printing)
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.
  • 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)

Glory Season (1993)[edit]

All page numbers from the hardcover first edition published by Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-07645-0
All italics as in the original
  • Some smart moves were little more than nicely padded traps.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 19)
  • Intelligence is loose in the galaxy. Power is in our hands, for better or worse. We can modify Nature’s rules, if we dare, but we cannot ignore her lessons.
    • Introduction to Chapter 2 (p. 32)
  • At her station in life, wisdom dictated keeping a low profile.
    And yet...
    • Chapter 3 (p. 61)
  • It could be worse. I can’t think how right now, but I’m sure it could be worse.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 74)
  • Maia lifted her gaze to watch low clouds briefly occult a brightly speckled, placid sea, its green shoals aflicker with silver schools of fish and the flapping shadows of hovering swoop-birds. The variegated colors were lush, voluptuous. Mixing with scents carried by the moist, heavy wind, they made a stew for the senses, spiced with fecund exudates of life.
    The beauty was heavy-handed, adamantly consoling. She got the point—that life goes on.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 80)
  • There was that word quaint again. It seemed to refer patronizingly to anything simple or backward, from the viewpoint of a city-bred tourist.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 90)
  • You can’t fight biology. Only push at the rules, here and there.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 90)
  • We are programmed to find sex pleasurable for one simple reason—because animals who mate have offspring. Those who do not mate have none. Traits that result in successful reproduction get reinforced and passed on. Evolution is that simple.
    It is therefore useless to bemoan as evil the fact that men tend toward aggression. Among our ancestors, aggression often helped males have more offspring than their competitors. “Good” and “evil” had little to do with it.
    That is, until we reached consciousness, at which point, good and evil became pertinent indeed! Behaviors which might be excusable in dumb beasts can seem perverted, criminal, when performed by thinking beings. Just because a trait is “natural” does not oblige us to keep it.
    • Introduction to Chapter 7 (pp. 105-106)
  • One great mystery is why sexual reproduction became dominant for higher life-forms. Optimization theory says it should be otherwise.
    Take a fish or lizard, ideally suited to her environment, with just the right internal chemistry, agility, camouflage—whatever it takes to be healthy, fecund, and successful in her world. Despite all this, she cannot pass on her perfect characteristics. After sex, her offspring will be jumbles, getting only half of their program from her and half their re-sorted genes somewhere else.
    Sex inevitably ruins perfection. Parthenogenesis would seem to work better—at least theoretically. In simple, static environments, well-adapted lizards who produce duplicate daughters are known to have advantages over those using sex.
    Yet, few complex animals are known to perform self-cloning. And those species exist in ancient, stable deserts, always in close company with a related sexual species.
    Sex has flourished because environments are seldom static. Climate, competition, parasites—all make for shifting conditions. What was ideal in one generation may be fatal the next. With variability, your offspring get a fighting chance. Even in desperate times, one or more of them may have what it takes to meet new challenges and thrive.
    Each style has its advantages, then. Cloning offers stability and preservation of excellence. Sex gives adaptability to changing times. In nature it is usually one or the other. Only lowly creatures such as aphids have the option of switching back and forth.
    • Introduction to Chapter 8 (pp. 123-124)
  • Loneliness, her arch enemy, never seemed content.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 150)
  • Piss on the world, or it’ll piss on you.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 155)
  • What hope has any endeavor which is based on hate and fear?
    • Introduction to Chapter 12 (p. 191)
  • The heritage we give our children, and the myths we leave to sustain them, must work with the tug and press of life, or they will fail. Adaptability has to be enshrined alongside stability, or the ghost of Darwin will surely come back to haunt us, whispering in our ears the penalty of conceit.
    We wish our descendants happiness. But over time one criterion alone will judge our efforts.
    • Introduction to Chapter 12 (p. 192)
  • Maia recognized a look of true religion in the other woman’s eyes. A version and interpretation that conveniently justified what had already been decided.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 240)
  • Wisdom. No match for the troublemaker Curiosity.
    • Chapter 16 (p. 265)
  • “Life is the continuation of existence, yet no thing endures. We are all patterns, seeking to propagate. Patterns which bring other patterns into being, then vanish, as if we’ve never been.”
    • Chapter 16 (p. 281)
  • The notions she fought with needed more than the simple algebra she’d been grudgingly taught at Lamai Hold. More and more she resented how they had robbed her of this, arguably her one talent, driving her from math and other abstractions by the simple expedient of making them seem boring.
    • Chapter 19 (p. 337)
  • Cultural contamination that is directed outward is always seen as “enlightenment.”
    • Introduction to Chapter 20 (p. 364)
  • But it’s not so hard, learning to picture yourself as part of a great chain. One that began long before you, and will go on long after.
    • Chapter 21 (p. 387)
  • “All right,” she said. “You’ve convinced me. Men are good for something, after all.”
    • Chapter 23 (p. 429)
  • How far do we owe loyalty to our creators’ dream? When have we earned the right to dream for ourselves?
    • Chapter 24 (p. 442)
  • “It’s magic,” the chief cook concluded, in awe.
    ”No, not magic,” the ship’s doctor replied. “It’s much more. It’s mathematics.”
    • Chapter 24 (p. 466)
  • In the end, both extremes had more in common with each other than either did with the middle.
    • Chapter 24 (p. 470)
  • Is there an inverse relation between knowledge and wisdom? At times it seems the more we know, the less we understand.
    I am not the first to note this quandary. One scholar recently wrote, “Lysos and her followers chase the siren call of pastoralism, like countless romantics before them, idealizing a past Golden Age that never was, pursuing a serenity possible only in the imagination.”
    • Introduction to Chapter 26 (p. 502)
  • They say survival is Nature’s only form of flattery.
    • Chapter 26 (p. 512)
  • Naroin stopped, shook her head. “Take it from an experienced hand, child. It’s no good blamin’ yourself for what you couldn’t prevent. Not so long as you tried.”
    Maia’s lips pressed together. That was exactly what she had been telling herself. From the look in Naroin’s eyes, it didn’t get much more believable as you got older.
    • Chapter 26 (p. 514)
  • I’d rather be dead than so suspicious I can’t trust anybody.
    • Chapter 26 (p. 525)
  • I’m learning, Maia thought. They keep making mistakes and I keep getting stronger.
    At this rate, someday I may actually gain control over my life.
    • Chapter 27 (p. 531)
  • “I thought they were very good at what they did.”
    ”Of course they were good!” Brill glanced sharply. “The issue is what one chooses to be good at. The arts are fine, for hobbies. I play six instruments, myself. But they pose no great challenge to a mature mind.”
    • Chapter 27 (p. 545)
  • A dragon’s inertia is not shifted by yanking its tail.
    • Chapter 27 (p. 551)
  • As in elections, the law pretended universal rights, while securing the interests of powerful houses.
    • Chapter 27 (p. 553)
  • It is dangerous these days for a male to write even glancingly on feminist themes. Did anyone attack Margaret Atwood’s right to extrapolate religio-machismo in The Handmaid’s Tale? Women writers appear vouchsafed insight into the souls of men—credit that seldom flows the other way. It is a sexist and offensive assumption, which does not advance understanding.
    • Afterword (p. 561)
  • It is senseless to proclaim that it’s evil to make generalizations about groups. Generalization is a natural human mental process, and many generalizations are true—in average. What often does promote evil behavior is the lazy, nasty habit of believing that generalizations have anything at all to do with individuals. We have no right to pre-judge that a specific man can’t nurture, or a particular woman cannot fight.
    • Afterword (p. 562)
  • Anyone who loves nature, as I do, cries out at the havoc being spread by humans, all over the globe. The pressures of city life can be appalling, as are the moral ambiguities that plague us, both at home and via yammering media. The temptation to seek uncomplicated certainty sends some rushing off to ashrams and crystal therapy, while many dive into the shelter of fundamentalism, and other folk yearn for better, “simpler” times. Certain popular writers urgently prescribe returning to ancient, nobler ways.
    Ancient, nobler ways. It is a lovely image . . . and pretty much a lie. John Perlin, in his book A Forest Journey, tells how each prior culture, from tribal to pastoral to urban, wreaked calamities upon its own people and environment. I have been to Easter Island and seen the desert its native peoples wrought there. The greater harm we do today is due to our vast power and numbers, not something intrinsically vile about modern humankind.
    Technology produces more food and comfort and lets fewer babies die. “Returning to older ways” would restore some balance all right, but entail a holocaust of untold proportion, followed by resumption of a kind of grinding misery never experienced by those who now wistfully toss off medieval fantasies and neolithic romances. A way of life that was nasty, brutish, and nearly always catastrophic for women.
    That is not to say the pastoral image doesn’t offer hope. By extolling nature and a lifestyle closer to the Earth, some writers may be helping to create the very sort of wisdom they imagine to have existed in the past. Someday, truly idyllic pastoral cultures may be deliberately designed with the goal of providing placid and just happiness for all, while retaining enough technology to keep existence decent.
    But to get there the path lies forward, not by diving into a dark, dank, miserable past. There is but one path to the gracious, ecologically sound, serene pastoralism sought by so many. That route passes, ironically, through successful consummation of this, our first and last chance, our scientific age.
    • Afterword (p. 563)

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

Kiln People (2002)[edit]

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Tor Books ISBN 0-765-34261-8
All spelling, italics, bold face, and ellipses (except the one indicated) as in the book
Nominated for the 2003 Hugo Award, the 2003 Locus Award, the 2003 John W. Campbell Award, and the 2003 Arthur C. Clarke Award.
  • If humanity has one majestic talent, it’s an almost infinite capacity to get used to the Next Big Thing…then take it for granted.
    • Chapter 3, “Something in the Fridge” (p. 50)
  • Fortunately, there is a famous inverse relation between fanaticism and competence.
    • Chapter 4, “Gray Matters” (p. 64)
  • Anyway, hurt feelings aren’t my concern, just facts. The crux is that civilization falls without accountability. What people do with it is their own concern.
    • Chapter 6, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” (p. 82)
  • The variety of inventive ideas—and ideologies—that people can come up with never ceases to amaze me, especially when they’re stoked by the ultimate drug, self-righteousness.
    • Chapter 12, “Leggo My Echo” (p. 131)
  • Well, organic imagination doesn’t have to make sense, I recalled. Nor must paranoia be reasonable. It’s a beast that barks at nothing…till the day it’s right.
    • Chapter 17, “Graying Gracefully” (p. 169)
  • Moralists can always justify going outside the law when it suits their sense of righteous timing.
    • Chapter 18, “Orange You Glad?” (p. 176)
  • A single figure could be seen pacing just outside the big encampment, picketing the picketers! SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IS AN ADDICTIVE DISEASE, GET A LIFE! chided the placard…
    Some people—most people—have way too much time on their hands.
    • Chapter 18, “Orange You Glad?” (pp. 178-179; ellipsis represents a brief elision of description)
  • Doing some thing you’re good at—what else can make you feel more genuinely human?
    • Chapter 19, “Fakery’s Bakery” (p. 186)
  • Yes, evil thrives on secrecy.
    • Chapter 19, “Fakery’s Bakery” (p. 191)
  • Globalization never ended human cultural diversity, but it did transform ethnicity into another hobby. Another way for people to find value in themselves, when only the genuinely talented can get authentic jobs.
    • Chapter 20, “Too Much Reality” (p. 199)
  • Your idea of progress doesn’t sound like mine.
    • Chapter 24, “Psycho-Ceramic” (p. 248)
  • And so the fighting retreat continues. Each time science advances, a new bastion forms…a new line, defining some remnant territory to be kept forever holy, mystical, and vague. Safe from profane hands. Until the next scientific advance, that is.
    • Chapter 24, “Psycho-Ceramic” (p. 252)
  • Inspired by these tiny sculptures, a few hyperfeminist mystics deduced a delightfully satisfying ideological fantasy—that an Earth-Mother religion preceded every other spiritual system, all over the planet. This Neolithic creed obviously worshipped a goddess of fecundity and maternal kindliness! Till gentle Gaia was toppled by violent bands of macho Jehovah-Zeus-Shiva followers, spurred by an abrupt wave of vile new technologies—metallurgy, agriculture, and literacy—that arrived with concurrent and destabilizing suddenness, shaking the tranquil old ways, toppling the pastoral mother goddess. It follows that every crime and catastrophe of recorded history stems from that upheaval.
    • Chapter 28, “A China Syndrome” (pp. 287-288)
  • He claims to have reasons. And yet, don’t all fanatics?
    • Chapter 28, “A China Syndrome” (p. 289)
  • “Each of us remains convinced that our own subjective viewpoint is more urgent than anyone else’s—indeed, even more valid than the objective matrix that underlies so-called reality. After all, the subjective view is a grand theater. To be hero of an ongoing drama. It’s why ideologies and bigotries survive against all evidence or logic.
    “Subjective obstinacy had advantages, Morris, when we were busy evolving into nature’s champion egotists. It led to human mastery over the planet…and to our species nearly wiping itself out.”
    • Chapter 31, “Golem Crazy” (p. 318)
  • I threw the other garment over my head and let its black drapery flow over my arms, down past my waist. From the outside, I now looked like some shrouded creature from those dark days, half a century ago, when a third of the countries on Earth forced women to veil their faces and forms under shapeless tents of muslin and gauze.
    • Chapter 32, “Waryware” (p. 333)
  • Technology keeps changing and the cams keep getting smaller. Only fools count on their secrets staying safe forever.
    • Chapter 32, “Waryware” (p. 335)
  • True brilliance has a well-known positive correlation with decency, much of the time—a fact the rest of us rely on, more than we ever know. The real world doesn’t roil with as many crazed artists, psychotic generals, dyspeptic writers, maniacal statesmen, insatiable tycoons, or mad scientists as you see in dramas.
    Still, the exceptions give genius its public image as a mixed blessing—vivid, dramatic, somewhat crazy, and more than a little dangerous. It helps promote the romantic notion, popular among borderline types, that you must be outrageous to be gifted. Insufferable to be remembered. Arrogant to be taken seriously.
    • Chapter 34, “Fishing Real” (p. 351)
  • Another notion occurred to me as I stood contemplating my next move—a piece of advice Clara once offered:
    “When in doubt, try not to think like the dumb hero of some movied.”
    Charging into danger was one of those overused cinematic clichés, religiously adhered to by eight generations of brain-dead producers and directors. Another went: A hero must always assume that the authorities are evil, or useless, or bound to misunderstand. It helps keep the plot rolling if your protagonist never thinks of calling for help.
    • Chapter 40, “Friends in Knead” (p. 388)
  • Indignation is a drug that burns long and hot.
    • Chapter 40, “Friends in Knead” (p. 389)
  • “A hero is someone who gets the job done, Albert,” Clara once said. “Bravely when necessary. Courage is an admirable last resort, for when intelligence fails.”
    • Chapter 40, “Friends in Knead” (p. 389)
  • Secrets are like snowflakes, nowadays—rare and hard to keep for very long.
    • Chapter 41, “Oh No, Mr. Hands!” (p. 393)
  • Oh, there’s no high quite like getting the focused attention of powerful enemies. Nothing is better guaranteed to make you feel important in the world, which may be why conspiracy theories are so popular among frustrated underachievers.
    • Chapter 42, “Diteriorata” (p. 400)
  • It’s an austere, terrifying sensation. A reminder of something we all suppress most of the time, because it hurts so much.
    The stark loneliness of individuality.
    The essential alienness of others.
    And of the universe itself.
    • Chapter 50, “Through a Simulacrum, Darkly” (p. 444)
  • In that case, I wondered, why do it at all?
    Rationalizations. People are talented at coming up with reasons to keep doing stupid things.
    • Chapter 52, “Prototypes” (p. 452)
  • The potentiality is evident to me now!
    Then what holds them back? Lack of faith? Divine judgment?
    No. Those old excuses won’t suffice. They never did. For where is the logic in basing salvation on a creator’s capricious whim or craving for praise? Or on prayer-incantations that vary from culture to culture? That’s not consistent or scientific. It’s not how the rest of nature works.
    • Chapter 53, “Soulscape” (p. 466)
  • None of these problems resolved by the prescriptions of shamans and priests. Not by patronizing mystics or condescending monks.
    Technology. That’s what made things better! In fits and starts—and often horribly abused along the way—that’s where we found answers that were consistent, dependable, uncapricious. Answers that applied to lord and vassal alike. Answers that improved life across the board and never went away.
    • Chapter 53, “Soulscape” (p. 467)
  • Evolution doesn’t happen without pain or loss. A lot of fish died, in order for a few to stand. The price may be worthwhile…
    • Chapter 53, “Soulscape” (p. 469)
  • It’s hard to feel completely hopeless during that special moment when you first catch sight of dawn.
    • Chapter 56, “Top of the Line” (p. 480)
  • Yet where were answers to the truly deep questions?
    Religion promised those, though always in vague terms, while retreating from one line in the sand to the next. Don’t look past this boundary, they told Galileo, then Hutton, Darwin, Von Neumann, and Crick, always retreating with great dignity before the latest scientific advance, then drawing the next holy perimeter at the shadowy rim of knowledge.
    • Chapter 57, “Bosons in the Circuit” (p. 482)
  • My old friend Pal had a philosophy: “When you lack understanding, or subtlety, you can still get your argument across with a monkey wrench.”
    • Chapter 62, “The Clay’s the Thing” (p. 493)
  • Did you arrogantly expect that the entire universe was waiting upon man to arrive?
    • Chapter 68, “Wherever You’re Atman” (p. 516)
  • Ah well. Heaven is a state of mind. I knew that now.
    • Chapter 74, “Impressionism” (p. 566)

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.

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