A Million Open Doors (1992)
- People who put principles before people are people who hate people. They don’t much care about how well it works, just about how right it is . . . they may even like it better if it inflicts enough pain.
- [Regarding politicians] . . . like any group of people selected for ambition and nothing else, they turn out to be a pretty bad lot. Like mandarins in China, colonial administrators in the British Empire, lawyers in old North America, or the reconstruction agencies after the Slaughter -- individually there are decent people who do some good, but as a class they’re amoral, vicious leeches with a good cover story.
- They’re so dedicated to logic and reason that common sense hasn’t got much to do with it.
- I know I pretend to be the apolitical businessman a lot, but the reality is that like anybody who’s interested in getting people together with the things they need and want, I have an agenda. I want people to get what they want, and I want them ideally to get it fro me, but most of all I want them to be free to want it and to make offers to get it. Those poor stupid fanatics have ben sold on the idea that what they want is the ability to give themselves a little priggish congratulations over having done the right thing. They’d rather be right than happy. More importantly, they’d rather that I be right than happy and they’re not about to leave the choice up to me. I say, let ‘em die, and I hope it’s slow and it hurts.
Earth Made of Glass (1998)
- It's a good idea for diplomats to keep their word in small matters. It makes the later complete betrayals more of a surprise.
- Almost every culture in the Thousand Cultures had some wisdom literature, and much of it was the same between any two cultures. . . . Cultures tend to be alike in much of what they think are the basic virtues, but one of the ones they are most alike in, though it rarely appears in their book of wisdom, is: Distrust strangers, fear foreigners, dread novelty.
- "And just like this, all of a sudden, your people and mine will begin to talk?" "It only looks sudden from some places. Running off a cliff is sudden if you don't know it's there, even if you have been running toward it for days." "That's not a reassuring metaphor." "It isn't meant to be."
- Shan had always said that in any multiple choice about human motivation, the real answer was always "all of the above."
- If you want to learn a culture, you have to learn how to like what it likes, rather than go looking for something that you like.
- In discussing the existence, or not, of the soul: "I am Caledon. Quite a few of my fellow Caledons still believe there is some essence to a human being, something that makes a person unique." "And you don't." "I don't. I see that people who believe in anything beyond plain physical reality are mainly engaged in making themselves or others miserable."
- There is a saying among those of us who have careers with the Council of Humanity that skiers, cooks, painters, and diplomats must work with what is in front of them.
- Human beings always say they prefer peace, but it takes a saint to talk us into not assaulting our neighbors.
That Style Thingie (1998 Essay)
- One of the stranger beliefs in science fiction is a passionate belief in Beautiful Writing--lots and lots of extraspecial exciting words thrown no hurled no CASCADED upon the reader in a shimmering shower of precious verbal gleaming gleanings and a singing pillar of righteous fiery syntactic spinach. The only thing that was good in that sentence was the spinach, and the hell with it.