John Varley

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John Varley

John Herbert Varley (born August 9, 1947, in Austin, Texas) is an American science fiction author.


  • "In five years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman.
  • I’m decrepit, but I ain’t senile.
    • "Picnic on Nearside", The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (August 1974), reprinted in Peter Crowther ed. Tales in Space, p. 283
  • I thought his lack of curiosity must be monumental, but I was wrong. It turned out that he had some queer notions about the morality of the whole process, ideas he had gotten from some weirdly aberrant religion in his childhood. I had heard of the cult, as you can hardly avoid it if you know any history. It had said little about ethics, being more interested in arbitrary regulations.
    • "Picnic on Nearside", in Peter Crowther ed. Tales in Space, p. 286
  • There were worlds in the jewel. There was ancient Barsoom of my childhood fairy tales; there was Middle Earth with brooding castles and sentient forests. The jewel was a window on something unimaginable, a place where there were no questions and no emotions but a vast awareness.
    • "In the Bowl", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (December 1975), reprinted in The Persistence of Vision (1978)
  • It’s unpleasant to find that what you had thought of as moral scruples suddenly seem not quite so important in the face of a stack of money.
    • "In the Bowl" (1975), Nebula Winners Twelve, p. 91
  • Just because Beethoven doesn’t sound like currently popular art doesn’t mean his music is worthless.
    • "The Phantom of Kansas" (1976), The World Treasury of Science Fiction (ed. David Hartwell), p. 375
  • She was already putting her distance between herself and this woman she would kill. She was becoming an object, something she was going to do something unpleasant to; not a person with a right to live.
    • "Equinoctial" (1977), The Arbor House Treasury of Great Science Fiction Short Novels, p. 84
  • They understood the basic principles of morals: that nothing is moral always, and anything is moral under the right circumstances.
    • "The Persistence of Vision", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (March 1978), reprinted as the title story in The Persistence of Vision (1978)
  • What they had going certainly came as near as anyone ever has in this imperfect world to a sane, rational way for people to exist without warfare and with a minimum of politics. In the end, those two old dinosaurs are the only ways humans have yet discovered to be social animals. Yes, I do see war as a way of living with one another; by imposing your will on another in terms so unmistakable that the opponent has to either knuckle under to you, die, or beat your brains out. And if that’s a solution to anything, I'd rather live without solutions. Politics is not much better. The only thing going for it is that it occasionally succeeds in substituting talk for fists.
    • "The Persistence of Vision"
  • Why is it that once having decided what I must do, I'm afraid to reexamine my decision? Maybe because the original decision cost me so much that I didn’t want to go through it again.
    • "The Persistence of Vision"
  • I didn't become rich, but I was usually comfortable. That is a social disease, the symptom of which is the ability to ignore it while your society develops weeping pustules and has its brains eaten out by radioactive maggots.
    • "The Persistence of Vision"
  • Buildings were just the world's furniture, and he didn't care how it was arranged.
    • "The Pusher", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (October 1981), reprinted in The John Varley Reader (2005)
  • I had kept a straight face under worse provocation, so I trust I did well enough then.
    • "Press Enter", Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (May 1984)
  • She looked at me askance. “Of course I bribed him, Victor. You’d be amazed to know how cheaply. Does that bother you?”
    “Yes,” I admitted. “I don’t like bribery.”
    “I’m indifferent to it. It happens, like gravity. It may not be admirable, but it gets things done.”
    • "Press Enter"
  • I am vehemently anti-religion. That is, organized religion. I despise them all. I try to despise them equally, but lately Islam has shot to the top of my hate list, for obvious reasons. I don’t give a shit what they do in their own squalid little dictatorships, but they seem to want to export “Submission” to the whole world, and they are willing to kill the likes of Salman Rushdie and those Danish cartoonists for insulting Islam. They are basically living somewhere around the 8th Century, and I often wish I had a time machine to send them back there. (Yes, I know there are moderates. So why don’t they do something about the zealots?) So when I mention religion at all in my stories, the practitioners are usually doing something nutty. About as nutty as praying five times a day facing Mecca, saying a rosary, handling deadly snakes, or speaking in tongues.
  • Religion and science don’t mix well, as science likes to observe and draw conclusions—to learn, in other words—and religion cares only about learning the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, etc. They don’t need to learn about this world, because they already know. A good way to describe a wasted life, as far as I’m concerned. Religious people already know things, with no more proof than some words in an old book. In short, they’re crazy.

The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977)[edit]

All page numbers from the mass market edition published by Ace Books
  • But now she was fifty-seven, and suddenly ancient. Soon she would be dead. Dead. You can’t get any more ancient than that.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 4)
  • This was a killer. Quite possibly a soldier, though Lilo was not expert in mental diseases.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 23)
  • She was a reader; there were many citizens who were not. The prevailing social explanation for illiteracy was that there were people who were temperamentally unsuited for reading—and indeed there were few callings in a computerized, video-saturated world that required literacy. Lilo accepted that, but had always had a feeling that most people never learned to read because they simply were not smart enough.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 49)
  • If only she could convince them, perhaps she could convince herself.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 89)
  • It was not pleasant to admit what one is willing to do to go on living.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 141)
  • We’ve become a race of engineers. What we never seem to understand is that after it’s time to railroad, there’s time to build a beautiful railroad. The state of the art has advanced enough; we can afford to pay a small penalty in efficiency.
    • Chapter 17 (p. 167)
  • You've got to watch yourself when you get as old as I am. You have to try new things, sometimes for no better reason than that they’re new. Otherwise you rust.
    • Chapter 18 (p. 170)
  • I found that it is much more pleasurable to read adventures than to live them.
    • Chapter 23 (p. 210)

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