Eric Frank Russell

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Russell's classic "Sinister Barrier" was the cover story for Unknown No. 1 (1939-03)

Eric Frank Russell (January 6, 1905 – February 28, 1978) was a British author best known for his science fiction novels and short stories.



Short fiction

Page numbers from this omnibus hardcover edition, published by the NESFA Press in 2000 ISBN 1-886778-10-8, 2nd printing (March 2003)
See Eric Frank Russell's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
All spelling, punctuation, ellipses (unless noted), and italics per the text in the book
  • “What’s the matter with you? Got a bellyache or something?”
    “No, sir. I’ve been thinking.”
    “Does it hurt that much?”
    • Allamagoosa (p. 21)
  • Well, that is a valuable addition to the sum total of our knowledge. Our minds are now enriched by the thought that an anonymous individual may be presented with a futile object for an indefinable purpose when he reaches his unknown destination.
    • ...And Then There Were None (p. 38)
  • “It’s your right to refuse to believe. That’s freedom, isn’t it?”
    “Up to a point. A man has duties. He’s no right to refuse those.”
    “No?” She raised tantalizing eyebrows, delicately curved. “Who defines those duties—himself, or somebody else?”
    “His superiors, most times.”
    “No man is superior to another. No man has the right to define another man’s duties.” She paused, eyeing him speculatively. “If anyone on Terra exercises such idiotic power, it is only because idiots permit him. They fear freedom. They prefer to be told. They like being ordered around. What men!”
    • ...And Then There Were None (p. 60)
  • Time—the older you get the faster it goes.
    • ...And Then There Were None (p. 63)
  • “I was thinking,” Harrison explained.
    “I approve of that,” put in His Excellency. He lugged a couple of huge tomes our of the wall-shelves, began to thumb rapidly through them. “Do plenty of thinking whenever you’ve the chance and it will become a habit. It will get easier and easier as time rolls on. In fact, a day may come when it can be done without pain.”
    • ...And Then There Were None (p. 68)
  • Any chance of accidentally dropping our cargo of bureaucrats overboard on the way back? A misfortune like that might benefit the spaceways, if not humanity.
    • ...And Then There Were None (p. 73)
  • “Anyway, one soon loses appreciation of the value of something gained for nothing, one becomes bored by getting it for the mere asking.”
    “I don’t,” assured Zalumar. “I like it, I love it.”
    “Every day I see windows full of gold watches,” said Lakin. “They tire me. I have a gold watch which I obtained by demanding it. I don’t want fifty gold watches. I don’t even want two of them. So what use are all the others to me?”
    • Basic Right (p. 115)
  • Appearances aren’t always what they seem.
    • Basic Right (p. 118)
  • Fander tried to explain the alien in non-alien terms. It proved impossible.
    • Dear Devil (p. 126)
  • I give up. I cannot argue with someone who casts aside the accepted rules of logic and invents ones of his own.
    • Dear Devil (p. 127)
  • One cannot analogize the non-existent.
    • Dear Devil (p. 141)
  • The reaction showed that the audience had never encountered this argument before or concocted anything like it of their own accord. None were stupid enough to accept it as serious assertion of fact. All were sufficiently intelligent to recognize it as logical or pseudo-logical denial of something self-evident and demonstrably true.
    • Diabologic (p. 162)
  • “From what I have heard, from all that I have been told, I deduce a basic rule applying to lifeforms deemed intelligent.”…
    “And what is this rule?”
    “That the governing body of any lifeforms such as ours will be composed of power-lovers rather than of specialists.”
    “Well, isn’t it?”
    “Unfortunately, it is. Government falls into the hands of those who desire authority and escapes those with other interests.” He paused, went on. “That is not to say that those who govern us are stupid. They are quite clever in their own particular field of mass-organization. But by the same token they are pathetically ignorant of other fields.”
    • Diabologic (p. 165; ellipsis represents a elision of a brief section)
  • Power and scapegoats go together like husband and wife.
    • Diabologic (p. 166)
  • She was of her own kind and it was a life form old in experience and remarkably astute. It had faced the inevitable a thousand times before and had learned the futility of battering against it head-on. It knew what to do with an immovable object: one climbs over it or burrows under it or sneaks around it. Once uses one’s brains because they are there to be used.
    Inevitability was not to be feared.
    That which cannot be stayed must be avoided with skill and ingenuity.
    • Fast Falls the Eventide (pp. 170-171)
  • By the standards of the dim past they were appallingly ugly; but by the standards of her especial planet and her especial era they were not ugly. They were merely an individualistic aspect of the same universal thing which is named Intelligence.
    • Fast Falls the Eventide (p. 175)
  • Steve Ander sat and thought things over. It was his habit to think things over carefully. Astronauts were not the impulsive daredevils so dear to the stereopticon-loving public. They couldn’t afford to be. The hazards of the profession required an infinite capacity for cautious, contemplative thought. Five minutes’ consideration had prevented many a collapsed lung, many a leaky heart, many a fractured frame. Steve valued his skeleton. He wasn’t conceited about it and he’d no reason to believe it in any way superior to anyone else’s skeleton. But he’d had it a long time, found it quite satisfactory, and had an intense desire to keep it—intact.
    • Hobbyist (p. 182)
  • It pays to stop and think whenever you’ve got time to stop and think.
    • Hobbyist (p. 202)
  • The stuff was about twelve gauge and near enough for his purpose. It resembled deep-colored copper but was not as soft as copper nor as heavy. Hard, springy and light, like telephone wire. If there were at least a thousand yards of it below, and if he could manage to drag it up to the ship, and if the golden thing didn’t come along and ball up the works, he might be able to blow free. Then he’d get to some place civilized—if he could find it. The future was based on an appalling selection of “ifs.”
    • Hobbyist (p. 203)
  • As for the causes, he listened to them with boredom. Only the strong know there is but one cause of war. All the other multitudinous reasons recorded in the history books were not real reasons at all. They were nothing but plausible pretexts. There was but one root-cause that persisted right back to the dim days of the jungle. When two monkeys want the same banana, that is war.
    • I Am Nothing (p. 217)
  • The role of peacemaker appeals to those with any claim to be civilized.
    • I Am Nothing (p. 227)
  • Yes or no? Yes meant military victory, power and fear. No meant—what? Well, no meant a display of reasonableness in lieu of stubbornness. No meant a considerable change of mind. It struck him suddenly that one must possess redoubtable force of character to throw away a long-nursed viewpoint and adopt a new one. It required moral courage. The weak and the faltering could never achieve it.
    • I Am Nothing (p. 227)
  • No matter how irrational it may be, people often tend to dislike what they’re unable to understand.
    • Last Blast (p. 269)
  • “No mob is composed of men, as such. It is made up of a few ringleaders and a horde of stupid followers.” He patted his guns. “You can always tell a ringleader—invariably he is the first to open his mouth!”
    • Late Night Final (p. 308)
  • I insist on being considered. One dope is as good as another for making a mess of things.
    • A Little Oil (p. 324)
  • Things done the hard way aren’t necessarily done better. Nor are they done badly because done the easy way. The essence of progress consists of finding ways of avoiding old-time difficulties.
    • Meeting on Kangsham (p. 336)
  • On my world we’re old, incredibly old, and we’ve learned a lot from a past which is long and lurid. We’ve had empires by the dozens, though none as great as yours. They all went the same way—down the sinkhole. They all vanished for the same fundamental and inevitable reasons. Empires come and empires go, but little men go on forever.
    • Metamorphosite (p. 348)
  • “I thought—”
    “Mr. McShane, I would advise to postpone thinking until you have accumulated sufficient facts to form a useful basis. That is the intelligent thing to do, is it not?”
    • Minor Ingredient (p. 388)
  • “What do you say to that?”
    Giving a deep shrug, Taylor said, “That kind of political cynicism has been long out of date where I come from. I can’t help it if mentally you’re about ten millennia behind us.”
    • Now Inhale (p. 402)
  • The curse of being an officer is that one is outranked by other officers.
    • Nuisance Value (p. 419)
  • “Nuts to that! I consider myself a cut above these Kastans, having been conceived in holy wedlock.”
    “So do we all. But we must conceal the fact for as long as seems expedient. Good manners is the art of pretending that one is not superior.”
    • Nuisance Value (p. 427)
  • He made it either by sheer good luck or, more likely, happy absence of bad luck.
    • Plus X (p. 488)
  • Given brawn and brains and enough time there’s always a way in or out. Escapees shot down as they bolted had chosen the wrong time and wrong place, or the right time and wrong place, or the right place at the wrong time. Or they’d neglected brawn in favor of brains, a common fault of the impatient. Or they’d neglected brains in favor of brawn, a fault of the reckless.
    • Plus X (p. 497)
  • Whenever Man was unable to master his invoice with this bare hands, thought Leeming, the said environment got bullied or coerced into submission by Man plus X. That had been so from the beginning of time—Man plus a tool or a weapon.
    But X did not have to be anything concrete or solid, it did not have to be lethal or even visible. It could be a dream, an idea, an illusion, a bloody big thundering lie, just anything.
    There was only one true test—whether it worked.
    • Plus X (p. 501)
  • The stupid believe because they are credulous. The intelligent do not blindly accept but, when aware of their own ignorance, neither do they reject.
    • Plus X (p. 511)
  • “After all, somebody has to do the paperwork.”
    “I’d agree if the paperwork was necessary and made sense.”
    “If there wasn’t any paperwork, we’d both be out of a job.”
    “You've got something there. So on this planet there are two thousands of us sitting on our fundaments busily making work for each other.”
    • Study in Still Life (p. 530)
  • He thinks he’s heap big. To me he’s just a big heap.
    • Study in Still Life (p. 532)
  • Put out the light and there is stumbling in the dark.
    • Tieline (p. 550)
  • “The World Council,” Railton snorted. “All they’re interested in is exploration, discovery and trade. All they can think of is culture and cash. They’re completely devoid of any sense of peril.”
    “Not being military officers,” Ashmore pointed out, “they can hardly be expected to exist in a state of perpetual apprehension.”
    • Top Secret (p. 572)
  • “Back at Terran H.Q.,” said Maxwell, “one is not shot at dawn for sabotage, treachery, assassination or any equally trifling misdeed. One is blindfolded and stood against the wall for not filling out forms, or for filling out the wrong ones, or for filling out the right ones with the wrong details.”
    • Top Secret (p. 578)
  • Superior life does not establish itself by benefit of brains alone; manual dexterity is equally essential.
    • The Ultimate Invader (p. 584)
  • Obviously riled, he growled at Lawson, “The right to unobstructed passage covers our vessels as much as anyone else’s.”
    “It covers no warship bearing instructions to intercept, question, search or detain any other spaceship it considers suspicious,” declared the other. “Violators of the law are not entitled to claim protection of the law.”
    “Can you tell me how to conduct a war between systems without sending armed ships through space?” asked Markhamwit, bitterly sarcastic.
    Lawson waved an indifferent hand. “We aren’t the least bit interested in that problem. It is your own worry.”
    “It cannot be done,” Markhamwit shouted.
    “That’s most unfortunate,” remarked Lawson, full of false sympathy. “It creates an awful state of no-war.”
    “Are you trying to be funny?”
    “Is peace funny?”
    “War is a serious matter,” bawled Markhamwit, striving to retain a grip on his temper. “It cannot be ended with a mere flick of the finger.”
    “The fact should be borne in mind by those who so nonchalantly start them,” advised Lawson, quite unmoved by the Great Lord’s ire.
    “The Nileans started it.”
    “They say that you did.”
    “They are incorrigible liars.”
    “That’s their opinion of you, too.”
    A menacing expression on his face, Markhamwit said, “Do you believe them?”
    “We never believe opinions.”
    “You are evading my question. Somebody has to be a liar. Who do you think it is?”
    “We haven’t looked into the root-causes of your dispute. It is not our woe. So without any data to go upon we can only hazard a guess.”
    “Go ahead and do some hazarding then,” Markhamwit invited. He licked expectant lips.
    “Probably both sides have little regard for the truth,” opined Lawson, undeterred by the other’s attitude. “It is the usual setup. When war breaks out the unmitigated liar comes into his own. His heyday lasts for the duration. After that, the victorious liars hang the vanquished ones.”
    • The Ultimate Invader (p. 600)
  • Reasonableness is strength. Irrationality is weakness.
    • The Ultimate Invader (p. 602)
  • Nobody knew better than the Solarians that wars are not caused , declared or willingly fought by nations, planetary peoples or shape-groups, for these consist in the main of plain, ordinary folk who crave nothing more than to be left alone. The real culprits are power-drunken cliques of near-maniacs who by dint of one means or another have coerced the rest.
    • The Ultimate Invader (p. 618)
  • Inside their military minds conditioning masqueraded as logic.
    • The Ultimate Invader (p. 623)
  • “Do you suppose that this other-life might be…might be…like us?”
    “I see no reason why not,” declared Bvandt, after some thought. “We are by far the highest form in the known cosmos, therefore any other high form must be similar.”
    “The logic of that is not evident.”
    • The Undecided (p. 636)
  • Markham was going to hand him a tough one. That was Markham’s job: to rake through a mess of laconic, garbled, distorted or eccentric reports, pick out the obvious problems and dump them squarely in the laps of whoever happened to be hanging around and was considered suitable to solve them. One thing could be said in favor of this technique: its victims often were bothered, bedeviled or busted, but at least they were never bored. The problems were not commonplace, the solutions sometimes fantastic.
    • The Waitabits (p. 665)
  • The first rule of captaincy is to consider the men before considering an exterior problem. There is no real solution to any predicament unless there is also the means to apply it.
    • The Waitabits (p. 671)
  • After this, doors had to be opened with all the caution of a tax collector coping with a mysterious parcel that ticks.
    • The Waitabits (p. 679)
  • If there’s one lesson we’ve learned in the cosmos it’s that of never despising an alien culture. A species too big to learn soon goes small.
    • The Waitabits (p. 694)

Wasp (1957)

   "You're concocting a pretty unorthodox form of warfare." 
   "So much the better."
   "I am sufficiently perverse to like such methods. They appeal to me."
   "We know," said Wolf. He took a file from his desk, thumbed through it.
  • We first dug out sixteen thousand fluent speakers of the several Sirian dialects. Eliminating the females and children brought the number down to nine thousand. Then, step by step, we cut out the elderly, the infirm, the weak, the untrustworthy, the temperamentally unsuitable. We weeded out those too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too stupid, too rash, too cautious, and so forth. We weren't left with many among whom to seek for wasps.
  • Listen to me. You were born in Masham, capital city of Diracta – the Sirian home planet. Your father was a trader there at the time. You lived on Diracta until the age of seventeen, when you returned with your parents to Terra.
  • That was the kind of chance that must be taken when one holes up in known and regularly checked haunts. The risk was not enormous, in fact it was small – but it was still there. And when tried, sentenced and waiting for death it is no consolation to know that what came off was a hundred to one chance. To keep going and to maintain the one-man battle the enemy had to be outwitted, if possible, all along the line and all the time.
  • When one is fighting a paper-war one uses paper-war tactics that in the long run can be just as lethal as high explosive. And the tactics are not limited in scope by use of one material. The said material is very variable in form. Paper can convey a private warning, a public threat, secret temptation, open defiance; wall-bills, window-stickers, leaflets dropped by the thousands from the roof-tops, cards left on seats or slipped into pockets and purses... money.


  • I can remember depending on people like Eric Frank Russell and J. T. Macintosh to give me a good, comfortable read, to tell me a story. Whether they told me anything I didn't know or hadn't thought about or read someplace else was another matter.
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