John Barnes

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John Barnes (born 1957) is an American science fiction author.


Short fiction[edit]

Swift as a Dream and Fleeting as a Sigh (2012)[edit]

Quotes from the e-book edition of Edge of Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan, and published by Solaris ISBN 978-1-84997-460-8
  • The more rules you impose on a creative intelligence, of course, the fewer problems it can solve.

Orbital Resonance (1991)[edit]

All page numbers from the first mass market paperback edition published by Tor Books (October 1992) ISBN 0-812-51623-0
Nominated for the 1992 Nebula Award
  • Other people say that their parents are the same way whenever there’s bad news from whatever patch of dirt they came from, but being common still doesn’t mean it makes any sense. After all, it was twenty years ago, and if the adults were going to get so upset about having everything smashed up, they shouldn’t have had a war or tolerated AIDS for so long that they gave it the chance to turn into mutAIDS, or allowed the climate disequilibration to get so far out of hand. Honestly, they remind me of the three-year-olds in the nursery, smashing things to bits and then crying because they’re broken. I certainly hope I’m not that kind of a moron when I’m that old.
    • Chapter 2 (pp. 22-23)
  • Mother had been talking in that bizarre way a lot lately; it sounded like the Olsen novels, “back when men were full of manliness, fields were full of soybeans, small towns were full of hicks, and life was full of deeply significant aching empty meaningless existential nothingness,” as Tom liked to put it.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 41)
  • You thought you could treat me the way you did everybody else and beat me up for being smarter than you. Because you’ve always been the big king of the class, haven’t you, Your Majesty? Well, you’re not anymore. You were never anything but the plain old class bully, and now you’re the ex-bully. And the only reason people are bullies is because they’re stupid.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 83)
  • Papa always says there’s room for everyone, but some people certainly take theirs up without making it interesting.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 97)
  • He wasn’t as dumb as I thought, I realized—just not interested in the same things I was.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 97)
  • Writing about yourself is addictive. I hope all you kids noticed that. If you feel like autobiography, try heroin. Lots safer and easier to control…
    • Chapter 6 (p. 116)
  • Finally I asked, “Um, Tom—are the uh, Alien Artifacts really art, or did you just say that to hassle Mother?”
    “They have to be art. Remember the First Law of Anthropology: if they’re doing something you don’t understand, it’s either an isolated lunatic, a religious ritual, or art.”
    • Chapter 7 (p. 123)
  • Brains don’t exactly run in that family—they sort of dribble slowly away.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 133)
  • You can’t really win an argument against somebody’s feeling that something is just plain wrong.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 135)
  • “See, if you’re on top, it’s easy to think that what’s good for you is what’s good for the organization. In the short run it might even be—a company does better if it gets more work for less wages paid, or if it spends less on health and safety.
    “In the longer run, though, workers do the work. Management doesn’t. If workers are sick, hurt, pissed off, or broke, they don’t work as well.”
    As Papa’s daughter, I’m a pretty good debater myself, and cross ex is one of my strong points. “But then there’s no problem. Doesn’t the company have an interest in keeping the workers working?”
    “Sure—but for as little as possible. Suppose a manager got us all to work two extra hours per day for half pay. Who would get the added profit?"
    “NAC,” I admitted.
    “Well, that’s what I’m trying to say. Management works for the employer, and at least in the short run your employer’s interests are exactly opposite yours. No matter how nice a guy your manager is, he still gets paid to be your enemy.
    “But that’s not the whole story. Otherwise I suppose they just make slaves of us or we’d kill them. The fact is, they don’t dare win—because if they destroy the worker, who will make the product or buy it? The union limits how much management can win. So in a sense the union looks after the long run. Or justice, which might be the same thing.”
    • Chapter 8 (p. 166)
  • I burst into tears. It’s the best defense ever found against well-meaning people who are telling you something stupid “for your own good.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 172)

A Million Open Doors (1992)[edit]

All page numbers from the first mass market paperback edition published by Tor Books (November 1993) ISBN 0-812-51633-8
Nominated for the 1993 Nebula Award
  • “I never get into arguments between people of opposite gender,” he said. “Part of why I’m still healthy and vigorous at my age.”
    • Part 1 “Cantique de Fis de Jovent”, Chapter 3 (p. 40)
  • When all else fails, admit you’re an idiot.
    • Part 2 “Mission to a Cold World”, Chapter 3 (p. 82)
  • People who put principles before people are people who hate people. They won’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.
    • Part 2, Chapter 7 (p. 128)
  • It’s usually just ambition that puts them into it—and 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.
    • Part 2, Chapter 8 (p. 138)
  • The way you can tell there’s democracy going on is that nothing gets done.
    • Part 2, Chapter 8 (p. 172)
  • How he must have been astonished to see people behaving decently when what they believed was absolute anathema to him.
    • Part 3 “The Long, Long Road”, Chapter 1 (p. 190)
  • There’s just no fight left in her; that’s what happens when you really believe in something, and find out that it was never true.
    • Part 3, Chapter 1 (p. 190)
  • Justice has a way of not arriving where and when you wish it.
    • Part 3, Chapter 2 (p. 203)
  • 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 from 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 been sold on the idea that what they want is the ability to give themselves 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.
    • Part 3, Chapter 5 (pp. 254-255)
  • After a long interval, Margaret said, “Sorry. Effects of upbringing.”
    “We none of us escape them,” I said.
    • Part 3, Chapter 5, (p. 255)

Mother of Storms (1994)[edit]

All page numbers from the first mass market paperback edition published by Tor Books (May 1995) ISBN 0-812-53345-3
Nominated for the 1996 Nebula Award, the 1995 Hugo Award, and the 1995 Arthur C. Clarke Award
  • He’s stunned numb when she takes his hand and says, “Let’s give it a try. I’ve been thinking maybe I don’t bend enough or try to see anyone else’s point of view.”
    • Section 1, “Attractor“ (p. 18)
  • Work does not cause money; getting paid causes money.
    • (p. 45)
  • Philosophic clarity has been a key to his life in business, and he doesn’t fall for facile or self-flattering descriptions—not even, usually, for the self-flattery of thinking he is immune to self-flattery.
    • (p. 45)
  • Don’t get mad, and don’t waste time getting even.
    Get ahead.
    • (p. 46)
  • Yeats fussed about things falling apart and the center not being able to hold. What really happened was that the center ceased to exist altogether.
    • (p. 54)
  • Most people think the world is out to get them, because they have all the evidence they need—they don’t get enough of what they want. But that doesn’t make it so.
    • (p. 104)
  • It’s a game against the clock, but what isn’t?
    • (p. 104)
  • It is characteristic of information that it can be stolen an all but unlimited number of times.
    • (p. 125)
  • It’s a long step down the road to paranoia, but it’s been a proverb for a hundred years that being paranoid does not mean that they aren’t out to get you.
    • (p. 126)
  • Too bad about all those people, but as Hassan says, compassion speaks well of its holder but does little for its recipient.
    • Section 2, “Vortex“ (p. 214)
  • The only thing Carla has ever learned to like about dealing with power is how easy it is to embarrass people who have it.
    • (p. 261)
  • Experimentally she thinks about dumping toxic waste in pristine wilderness and killing the last great apes on earth with a club. She still finds both those thoughts disgusting. This is a relief; it seems to her that she’s just selfish, not evil.
    She was always taught they’re the same thing. She hopes she remembers, when she gets out of all this, that they’re not.
    • (p. 298)
  • Once I’m dead, I can afford to be patient.
    • (p. 350)
  • Once you understand what money can do it gets harder to live without it.
    • Section 3, “Singularity“ (p. 371)
  • Are you up to faking being sincere underneath faking being fake?
    • (p. 406)
  • “Jesse, news for the masses, whether it’s XV or all the way back to the old newspapers, is entertainment. People don’t follow the news to stay informed, no matter what they tell you in school, they watch or experience to be entertained. If it were like they teach in school, they’d put the congressional budget, scientific research, and bios of every important bureaucrat in the opening slot, and they’d do special editions for the Nobel Prizes and the World Health Organization’s annual report. That’s not what it’s about. They cover crime, sports, famous people having sex, funny animal stories, what it’s like to stay in an expensive hotel in a resort area. Because that’s what’s interesting and fun and entertaining.
    “It wouldn’t matter so much except that people’s lives are so dull they believe their entertainment—and for a hundred years we’ve been telling them that the world is very dangerous, that there are violent thugs everywhere, war is constantly imminent, sex is their most important need, all that crap.
    “Well shit, Jesse, if you were a shrink and you had a patient who only wanted to talk about violence, extravagance, cruelty, and his sexual fantasies—what would you suggest? More of the same?”
    Jesse’s a bit startled, but he asks, “Whatever happened to freedom of the press?”
    She snorts, a funny, ugly noise. Then she says, “Sorry, Jesse, but what does that have to do with the present day? You think the broadcast nets are like Ben Franklin, turning out little pamphlets for a few to read and most to ignore? Look, a few huge private corporations are making all their money by spreading fear, hate, depression, and an exploitive attitude. Justice would demand public hangings.”
    • (pp. 410-411)
  • He wonders if there is some requirement that you have to be an idiot to be a politician.
    • (p. 432)
  • He’s always known the real way to money is not through production but through control; “The hotel owner gets rich owning the keys, the maids stay poor keeping the toilets clean,” as one of his biz profs back at Madison used to say.
    • (p. 462)
  • One reason nature pleases us is its endless use of a few simple principles: the cube-square law; fractals; spirals; the way that waves, wheels, trig functions, and harmonic oscillators are alike; the importance of ratios between small primes; bilateral symmetry; Fibonacci series, golden sections, quantization, strange attractors, path-dependency, all the things that show up in places where you don’t expect them...these rules work with and against each other ceaselessly at all levels, so that out of their intrinsic simplicity comes the rich complexity of the world around us. That tension—between the simple rules that describe the world and the complex world we see—is itself both simple in execution and immensely complex in effect. Thus exactly the levels, mixtures, and relations of complexity that seem to be hardwired into the pleasure centers of the human brain—or are they, perhaps, intrinsic to intelligence and perception, pleasant to anything that can see, think, create?—are the ones found in the world around us.
    • (pp. 470-471)
  • The beautiful earth is being crapped up by an excess of people—lovely as individuals, towns, and cultures, but hideous in such profusion.
    • (p. 473)
  • The drive to see what’s over the next hill is in part the fear that one may never know, that if one doesn’t go over the hill today, one may never get farther than the village graveyard.
    • (p. 484)
  • With diligent effort he has established that there is no statistical basis for Murphy’s Law. He has also established that he believes in it anyway.
    • (p. 511)
  • Finally she resorts to the oldest tactic of all, telling the truth.
    • (pp. 545-546)

Earth Made of Glass (1998)[edit]

  • 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)[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]

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