Michael Swanwick

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At the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, August 2005

Michael Swanwick (born November 18, 1950) is an American science fiction and fantasy author.



Short fiction

Novelette originally published in The Dragon Quintet. Page numbers from the reprint in David G. Hartwell (ed.), Year’s Best Fantasy 4 (p. 6)
  • The oracle-glass was maddeningly literal, capable of answering only the question one asked, rather than that which one wanted answered.
    • p. 6
  • “They’re just kids,” Will said scornfully.
    “Do not despise them because they are young. The young make excellent soldiers and better martyrs. They are easily dominated, quickly trained, and as ruthless as you command them to be. They kill without regret, and they go to their deaths readily, because they do not truly understand that death is permanent.”
    • p. 30
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 0-441-35869-1
  • If I have to play your stupid games, at least I don’t have to pretend to enjoy them.
    • Chapter 1, “Mummer Kiss” (p. 4)
  • Sam stood in the center of the church, listening for the presence of God. It was a hot place. The air was blue with floating radioisotopes. She glanced up at the clouds and they staggered by as if the walls were falling in on her. She looked away quickly. The air flowed around her, calm and peaceful and blue. But there was no divine presence.
    • Chapter 3, “Boneseeker” (pp. 99-100)
  • These hands were almost crippled digging coal so that rich men in Boston might grow even richer.
    • Chapter 4, “Mutagen Fair” (p. 130)
  • “What you propose to do today is to bring civilization to a lawless corner of the world. I know that you claim more modest ambitions. But when the protection of law is extended to the innocent and weak, that is civilization. Now I hold that in the natural state, there are only two kinds of people in the world—the men with guns, and the victims. And the one kind feeds off the other.”
    • Chapter 4, “Mutagen Fair” (p. 130)
  • I’m a politician. I agree with the majority of whoever I happen to be with at the moment.
    • Chapter 5, “Marrow Death” (p. 151)
  • People will believe in just about any kind of superstitious crap nowadays.
    • Chapter 5, “Marrow Death” (p. 152)
  • Your girlfriend is none too tightly wrapped, if you’ll forgive me for saying so. I don’t think she’s actually crazy, but—I been watching her a long time, and it is my considered opinion that she is none too clear on where the line between fantasy and reality should be drawn.
    • Chapter 5, “Marrow Death” (pp. 180-181)
All page numbers from the hardcover first edition published by Arbor House
  • The secret of a good scam is not to get greedy.
    • Chapter 4, “Londongrad” (p. 50)
  • Machines!” Wyeth snorted. “Machines are the easiest things in the universe to outwit because they’re predictable—that’s their function, to be predictable, to do exactly what they’re designed for, time after time.
    • Chapter 4, “Londongrad” (p. 57)
  • I’ll have to throw it at him, Rebel thought. Swing it up, catch him under the jaw, break a few teeth. Then grab the knife and hold him for the security people. That was a good plan. It ranked right up there with suddenly learning how to teleport.
    • Chapter 5, “People's Sheraton” (pp. 74-75)
  • It was the kind of discovery that shatters old universes and opens up new ones in their place.
    • Chapter 11, “Cislunar” (p. 179)
  • We had ambition, and ascended into Hell.
    • Chapter 14, “Girlchild” (p. 224)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Eos ISBN 0-380-81761-6
Won the Nebula Award in 1992. Also nominated for the Hugo Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
  • “I would appreciate it if just this once you would make the effort to curb your negativism.”
    “I have to say what I think. That’s what I’m being paid for, after all.”
    “A very common delusion.”
    • Chapter 1, “The Leviathan in Flight” (p. 10)
  • The bureaucrat was sensitive to this kind of friction. It arose wherever the moving edge of technology control touched on local pride.
    • Chapter 1, “The Leviathan in Flight” (p. 14)
  • Tyranny always has its rationale.
    • Chapter 2, “Witch Cults of Whitemarsh” (p. 26)
  • Money can always be traced. It leaves a trail of slime behind it wherever it goes.
    • Chapter 2, “Witch Cults of Whitemarsh” (p. 26)
  • “I am playing a game called Futility,” she said. Are you familiar with it?
    “How does one win?”
    “You don’t. You can only postpone losing. I’ve managed to keep this particular game going for years.”
    • Chapter 3, “The Dance of the Inheritors” (p. 46)
  • It was a scream straight from the toad buried at the base of the brain, that ancient reptile that wants everything at once, delivered to its feet and set ablaze.
    • Chapter 6, “Lost in the Mushroom Rain” (p. 92)
  • Time was a flickering gray fire constantly consuming all things, so that what appeared to be motion was actually the oxidation and reduction of possibilities, the collapse of potential matter from grace to nothingness.
    • Chapter 6, “Lost in the Mushroom Rain” (p. 105)
  • “I trust I have not grown so gullible as to consult a doctor,” the bureaucrat said with dignity. “If I want medical attention, I hall employ the qualified machinery or, in extremis, a human with proper biomedical augmentation. But I will not swill down fermented swamp guzzle at the behest of some quasi-literate, uneducated charlatan.”
    • Chapter 7, “Who Is the Black Beast?” (p. 108)
  • “Did you experience hallucinations or illusions?”
    “What’s the difference?”
    “An illusion is a misreading of actual sensory data, while a hallucination is seeing something that isn’t there.”
    • Chapter 7, “Who Is the Black Beast?” (p. 109)
  • A magician does not send messages, you know—he orchestrates reality.
    • Chapter 7, “Who Is the Black Beast?” (p. 119)
  • Indeed, what is magic but impossible science?
    • Chapter 8, “Conversations in the Puzzle Palace” (p. 130)
  • You don’t hide information by destroying it. You hide it by swamping it with bad information.
    • Chapter 8, “Conversations in the Puzzle Palace” (p. 139)
  • A tension went out of the air. Their business here was over then, and they all knew it; the magic moment had arrived when it was understood that nothing more would be established, discovered, or decided today. But the meeting, having once begun, must drag on for several long more hours before it could be ended. The engines of protocol had enormous inertial mass; once set in motion they took forever to grind to a stop.
    • Chapter 8, “Conversations in the Puzzle Palace” (p. 141)
  • The announcers sounded giddily excited. Their faces flushed, their eyes bright. Natural disasters did that to people, made them feel significant, reassured them that their actions mattered.
    • Chapter 12, “Across the Ancient Causeway” (p. 223)
  • Be grateful. I’ve taught you a valuable lesson. Most people never do learn exactly how much they will do to stay alive.
    • Chapter 13, “A View from a Height” (p. 232)
  • “It was none of your foul science. I am an occultist.”
    “A distinction in terminology only. Our means may differ, but we employ identical techniques. First, render the brain open to suggestion. We use magnetic resonance, while you employ drugs, ritual, sex, terror, or some combination thereof. Then, when the brain is susceptible, imprint it with new behavior patterns. We use holotherapeutic viruses as the message carriers; you eat a rat. Finally, reinforce the new pattern in your daily life. Our methods are probably identical there. The skill is extremely old; people were being reprogrammed long before machines.”
    • Chapter 13, “A View from a Height” (p. 235)
  • You will study bioscience control, that ought to be useful—it will teach you the folly of thinking you can go against your genetic inheritance, for one thing.
    • Chapter 13, “A View from a Height” (p. 236)
  • Everyone dies—the rearrangement of when is a matter of only statistical interest.
    • Chapter 13, “A View from a Height” (p. 238)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Avonova ISBN 0-380-72098-1
Nominated for the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 1994 World Fantasy Award.
  • “So whose side are you on? You have to choose.”
    “I’m not going to be on anybody’s side anymore,” she said. “Sides are stupid.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 56)
  • “Excuse me,” she said hesitantly, “but what effect do these minor planets have on our behavior and fortunes? I mean, you know, astrological influence?”
    He looked at her. “None.”
    “None at all.”
    “But if the planets affect our fortunes—” She stumbled to a stop at the dispassionately scornful look on the pale man’s face, the slow way he shook his head. “Surely you’ll agree that the planets order and control our destinies?”
    “They do not.”
    “Not at all?”
    “Then what does? Control our destinies, I mean.”
    “The only external forces that have any influence on us are those we can see every day: the smile, the frown, the fist, the brick wall. What you call ‘destiny’ is merely a semantic fallacy, the attribution of purpose to blind causality. Insofar as any of us are compelled to resist the flow of random events, we are driven solely by internal drives and forces.”
    • Chapter 6 (p. 88)
  • “The intent of the Goddess is neither known nor knowable. She makes us dance, male and female, in ever-converging gyres that bring us ultimately each to our own destiny, and that destiny is always the same and never escapable. She does not tell us why.”
    “You said there were no outside forces ordering our lives. That there was nothing but chance and random occurrence.”
    He shrugged.
    “You did!”
    “The Goddess is unknowable and her aims unfathomable, unpredictable, and ineluctable. They might as well be random. We live our brief lives in ignorance and then we die. That’s all.”
    • Chapter 7 (p. 101)
  • “Well, birth control’s easy. The first thing you have to know is that it doesn’t work.”
    “Not consistently. No matter how careful you are, every time you play hide-the-salami with the boys, you’re running the risk of ending up with a belly full of consequences.”
    “Contraceptive spells are never entirely reliable. That’s because their power comes from the Mother, and the Mother wants children. Each cantrip has its loophole, every fetish its flaw. Ultimately, contraception is just a way of luring you into playing her game.”
    “You mean that sooner or later it’s going to fail me?”
    “That’s not what I said. It works well enough for enough of us that the rest will take their chances. But the odds are never going to be as good as you’d like them to be. There are no guarantees.”
    • Chapter 10 (pp. 168-169)
  • For all that she’d had no great expectations for it, sex was turning out to be even more squalid, tawdry, and cynical than she had suspected it would.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 172)
  • Hierarchies only work to the benefit of those on the top. If you’re high, you’ll get by. If you’re low, out you go! That’s how it is.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 209)
  • “I can’t figure you out.”
    “You’re not supposed to.”
    • Chapter 13 (p. 220)
  • The secret to successful scrying was to realize that the future was not fixed and there was no way of predicting it. None. All one could do was to identify what already existed unacknowledged. Lovers pledged themselves to each other long before their first kiss. Murder was implicit in friendship. A carcinoma that looked like a speck of dust on the X-ray spelled death. So much of what appeared to be random event was simply the working out of consequences.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 222)
  • Meanwhile, the Wheel turns. The humble are exalted and the mighty are humbled. The best are inevitably defeated, and the scum always rises to the top. Here is the source of all the world’s pain, that restless turning, ever accelerating, always bringing us around again to where we were before, but older, changed, scarred, and sorrowful. Had I only known the identity of the whisperer, I would never have listened. The Wheel would not have been set in motion.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 232)
  • “What was all that about?”
    “It’s an occupational hazard...You start by reading books, and you end by loving them.”
    • Chapter 15 (p. 262; ellipsis represents a minor elision of description)
  • “Your collection is not a woman. That’s only a metaphor—an abstraction! You’ll be dying for nothing, for a principle that nobody else can even comprehend.”
    As she spoke, Jane became convinced that she herself would never willingly die for a principle. She might feel guilty about it, but she’d smile and lie, knuckle under, pretend, anything, in order to survive. It made her feel a little sad to realize this, but also, at the same time, very adult.
    • Chapter 15 (p. 263)
  • Oh, Sirin, how could you? You know as well as I do how dangerous scrying the future can be. Half the time what it shows you wouldn’t happen if you hadn’t foreseen it.
    • Chapter 16 (p. 277)
  • Her life was a complete mess, true, but it could be straightened out. All it would take was money. Money could straighten out anything, if you had enough of it.
    • Chapter 16 (p. 288)
  • “You are still infested with hope. You think there is a life worth living somewhere, and that some combination of action, restraint, knowledge, and luck will save you, if only you can get the mix right. Well, I’ve got news for you. Right here, right now—this is as good as it gets.”
    “Things will get better!”
    “Have they ever?” The dragon’s contempt was palpable. The cabin hatch hissed open. “Go. Return to your dormitory room and enjoy your present. Come back when you’ve grown large enough to look upon futility without flinching. Come back when you’ve despaired and moved beyond despair to vengefulness. Come back when you’ve decided to stop lying to yourself.”
    • Chapter 17 (p. 304)
  • “Can you really kill the Goddess?” Jane asked.
    “You stupid gobbet of flesh! Don’t you understand yet? There is no Goddess.
    “No,” Jane cried. “You said yourself—”
    “I lied,” the dragon said with a fearful complacency. “Everyone you have ever met has lied to you. Life exists, and all who live are born to suffer. The best moments are fleeting and bought with the coin of exquisite torment. All attachments end. All loved ones die. All that you value passes away. In such a vexatious existence laughter is madness and joy is folly. Shall we accept that it all happens for no reason, with no cause? That there is nobody to blame but ourselves but that accepting the responsibility is pointless for doing so cannot ease, defer, or deaden the pain? Not likely! It is so much more comforting to erect a straw figure on which to blame it all.
    “Some bow down before the Goddess and others curse her every name. There is not a fart’s difference between the two approaches. They cling to the fiction of the Goddess because admitting the alternative is unbearable.”
    • Chapter 19 (pp. 339-340)
  • I want your help to destroy the universe.
    • Chapter 19 (p. 340)
  • “You ask a question that cannot be answered without knowing the nature of the primal chaos from which being arose. Is Spiral Castle like a crystal, once shattered, forever destroyed? That is what I prefer to believe. Or is it like a still pond, whose mirrored surface may be shattered and churned, but which will inevitably restore itself as the waves die down? You may believe this if you choose. You can even believe—why not?—that the restored universe will be an improvement on the old. For me, so long as I have my vengeance I care not what comes after.”
    “And us?”
    “We die.” An involuntary rise in the dragon’s voice, a slight quickening of cadence, told her that she had touched upon some unclean hunger akin to but less seemly than battle-lust. “We die beyond any chance of rebirth. You and I and all we have known will cease to be. The worlds that gave us birth, the creatures that shaped us—all will be unmade. So comprehensive will be their destruction that even their pasts will die with them. It is an extinction beyond death that we court. Though the ages stretch empty and desolate into infinity and beyond, there will be none to remember us, nor any to mourn. Our joys, sorrows, struggles, will never have been.
    “And even if there is a universe to come, it will know naught of us.”
    • Chapter 19 (pp. 340-341)
  • “Look,” Jane said. “Exactly what must I say to get rid of you?
    • Chapter 20 (p. 349)
  • Incolore sighed. “The loyalty of the systematically betrayed. Is there anything sadder?”
    • Chapter 21 (p. 378)
  • “Are you ready?” Jane asked.
    “Before I existed, I was ready.”
    • Chapter 22 (p. 394)
  • “We’ll be taking out the front gate and the Time Clock, and blasting the Goddess Stone to gravel.” She felt wild, free, vengeful, obscene—unstoppable. “Serving the Bitch notice.” She knew that there was no Goddess, save as a metaphor for what was otherwise inconceivable, that the forces they were going up against were as impersonal as they were vast. But it felt more satisfying this way.
    • Chapter 22 (p. 395)
  • There’s no future for me. All my life I’ve been stuck in a rigged game. The dice are loaded and I was declared a loser before I even began to play. These are not just words! What choice was I ever given? Only this one, right here, right now. I can swallow defeat meekly or I can throw the board up in the air and smash all the pieces. Well, I’ve been screwed from Day One—I have no intention whatsoever of being a good sport!
    • Chapter 22 (p. 399)
  • The universe has backed you into another corner—you can kill or die. There are no other choices. Doesn’t that make you angry? Doesn’t it make you want revenge? Or are you going to truckle to Dame Fate one more time, to be crushed and for all I know resurrected to run the maze of torment again and yet again? Stand up on your hind legs for once!
    • Chapter 22 (p. 407)
  • For a long time the Baldwynn did not speak. At last he said, “Will you serve the Goddess now? Knowingly and lovingly, in sweet obedience and humble acknowledgment of all that she is?”
    “No.” The word was a pebble in her mouth. She spat it out. “Not now, not tomorrow, not if I live to be a million. Never.”
    The Baldwynn stopped and took her hands in his. “Dear child,” he said. “I feared there was no hope for you.”
    • Chapter 23 (p. 418)
All page numbers from the hardcover first edition published by Avon Books ISBN 0-380-97444-4
Nominated for the 1997 British Science Fiction Award and the 1998 Hugo Award.
Passages in parentheses are spoken sotto voce by Mephistopheles to Faust.
  • They were not aware of the madness that lurked within their own minds.
    • Chapter 1, “Trinity” (p. 3)
  • “Now here is a treasure, Averroës Commentaries on Aristotle in a tolerable translation from the Arabic by Gerard of Cremona.” He lasciviously stroked the red leather boards, knowing well how his pupil ached for the chance to pore through it. “A liar’s gloss on a liar’s lies. Surely this is a rare criminal.”
    • Chapter 1, “Trinity” (p. 7)
  • The hearsay of hearsay is not admissible as scholarship.
    • Chapter 1, “Trinity” (p. 11)
  • Faust had no delusions of Heavenly aid. An involved and benevolent deity would have helped him long years ago when, young, he had yearned for knowledge as achingly as now and with far fewer stains on his soul.
    • Chapter 1, “Trinity” (p. 15)
  • He stood unmoving, wondering at his own abrupt and incomprehensible inability to act. He did not fear damnation. Nor did he give a fig for the common opinion of Mankind. There was nothing to stop him but fear alone—fear that his reasoning was wrong.
    • Chapter 1, “Trinity” (p. 17)
  • This is the price you must pay for knowledge: You must understand and acknowledge its consequences.
    • Chapter 2, “Revelations” (p. 30)
  • “How...how can”—savagely, he slashed an arm down before him in absolute negation of all he saw—“such be? How could God allow it?”
    “God? You fool—there is no God!”
    The words struck Faust like a great bronze clapper, shattering the crusted certainties of a lifetime, reverberating, setting up echoes that washed back and forth through his being in slowly lessening waves, leaving no atom unshaken, no belief untouched. There was no God. He knew this for the truth, recognized it as such on an almost physical level, for it summed up everything he had ever thought or reasoned. It resolved a thousand doubts. It left no question unanswered. There was no God! Everything was possible now. Nothing was forbidden.
    • Chapter 2, “Revelations” (pp. 30-31)
  • “Surely,” he cried, “this is not inevitable. Surely humanity could take the knowledge you offer and use it to ennoble itself. Surely they could apply it wisely and without folly.”
    “They could,” Mephistopheles said dryly. “But will they?”
    • Chapter 2, “Revelations” (p. 32)
  • “Now why on Earth would you tell him a thing like that?”
    “Because it’s true.”
    Sbrulius laughed. “That, dear Faust, is the single worst argument you could have raised. Many things are true. Few are proper. Fewer still are desirable.”
    • Chapter 4, “Flight” (p. 55)
  • “Out of doors on a moonless night?” Mette sneered. “Only fools, footpads, and astrologers stray where there is no light.”
    • Chapter 4, “Flight” (p. 57)
  • “I have no need to expose myself to your flummery,” Mette said with dignity. “I believe in order that I may know. I do not know in order to believe.”
    “I marvel at your spite. Of what possible benefit can this willful ignorance be to you?”
    • Chapter 4, “Flight” (pp. 59-60)
  • (Information is information, Faust. Knowledge is knowledge. I make no distinction between the high and the low.)
    • Chapter 6, “Practical Designs” (p. 80)
  • (All human beings have their price, and quite often it is surprisingly small. The trick consists of knowing exactly what that price is, when they themselves do not.)
    • Chapter 6, “Practical Designs” (p. 83)
  • So it was that the Catherines poured water and spooned gruel, while the Clares prayed for the intercession of the saints. The Catherines changed sheets. The Clares practiced mortification of the flesh. The Catherines employed antibiotics. The Clares made a public display of a kneecap of their patron saint.
    It was soon widely know to which hospital one went to get well, and to which one went to die.
    • Chapter 9, “The Plague Kitchen” (p. 141)
  • Our records must be scrupulous, whether they show what we want them to show or not.
    • Chapter 9, “The Plague Kitchen” (p. 148)
  • Margarete saw, and disapproved, and understood. It was perfectly natural that Youth, being given a new and revolutionary truth, should embrace it too eagerly, should defend it too loudly, should proclaim it in the extremest terms and without regard for the sensibilities of others. Natural, too, that Age, vested as it was in things as they had always been, should reject the truth as unsettling and dangerous. In the ace of such strong emotions, the only sane thing to do therefore was to embrace the truth circumspectly, to hide one’s new allegiance from one’s elders.
    • Chapter 10, “The Sermon” (pp. 165-166)
  • There was so much going on, and so little he cared to know about!
    • Chapter 11, “Apes” (p. 184)
  • “The law,” Hoess suggested, “might not be entirely unhelpful here.”
    • Chapter 13, “Tabloids” (p. 214)
  • “Good men are dying at this very moment to protect you, your factories, your possessions, and all civilization.”
    “Good men are dying every moment,” Gretchen replied coldly, “somewhere. Since they did not ask my leave to do so, I feel no particular obligation toward them.”
    • Chapter 13, “Tabloids” (p. 219)
  • Still, it was no easy thing to flirt in German.
    • Chapter 13, “Tabloids” (p. 225)
  • “Let me explain to you,” the Horned One said, “the nature of history.”
    “The first thing you need to know is that history happens almost exclusively in the dark...Here is your second lesson: History is that which cannot be prevented...Here is your third and final lesson: History is simply life with all the bits any sane person might care to experience left out.”
    • Chapter 14, “Dreadnought” (pp. 246-256; extracts from a long narrative passage)
  • (There are three stages to a battle: First you’re bored. Then you’re terrified. Then you’re dead. Each is necessary, and they must all come in the proper order.)
    • Chapter 14, “Dreadnought” (pp. 248-249)
  • “Paid off? Do you mean bribery?”
    “That is, umm, not an entirely pleasant word for it.” Dreschler’s doughy face took on a pained expression. “It is more in the nature of an advance payment to ensure the labor force will be satisfied with the negotiated wage schedules.”
    • Chapter 15, “The Abortion” (p. 265)
  • Faust wallowed heavily over on his side, presenting a pitiable face to Wagner. “Never fall in love,” he said. “She will take lovers, and some of them will be more experienced and capable than you. I tell you this as a friend—there are dishes once tasted, a woman is loath to do without.”
    • Chapter 16, “The Wild Hunt” (p. 275)
  • “Tell me! What do you think of life? What do you think of ambition? What do you think of science, of learning, of love, of fame, of glory, of aspiration?”
    “I think...that those are all very different things.”
    “You are wrong. They are all one thing—a cunt.”
    “A cunt! Consider: The cunt is a nasty, ugly, filthy thing. Yet we desire it so greatly as to be willing to suffer any indignity to attain it. For the sake of it we labor and preen and whisper sugary words. We go to the theatre with flowers in our arms, climb over back walls by moonlight, write sonnets, jump out of windows with our trousers in our hands, give dangerous men their choice of weapons. We build love-nests for it sake, and cities, and civilizations. It is our all, our only, our ideal. It has created us and made us great. Such is life, such is ambition, such is science, learning, love, fame, glory, and aspiration. The Eternal Cunt,” he said significantly, “draws us onward.”
    • Chapter 16, “The Wild Hunt” (p. 276)
  • What the common man calls Evil, he once told me, is nothing more than the fear of one’s own potential.
    • Chapter 16, “The Wild Hunt” (p. 278)
  • Urban life was thus founded upon the principle of deliberately confounding those who were not a part of it. Civilization was a strategy of exclusion.
    • Chapter 16, “The Wild Hunt” (p. 287)
  • That is the true measure of love, you see, the evil one will stoop to for its sake...
    • Chapter 16, “The Wild Hunt” (p. 292)
  • It was not possible for her to rejoin the unthinking world, becoming as she had been before, sleepily and smugly ignorant of consequences. There were thoughts that once thought, could not be unthought.
    • Chapter 17, “The Agent” (p. 304)
  • This was human glory—a sad and exhaust-darkened memorial for good citizens to ignore and drunks to piss upon on their way home from the brothels. Here was the omega-point of all ambition.
    • Chapter 19, “Ashes” (p. 317)
  • He was not actually drunk, but emotion made him feel as if he were. Sorrow, loss, anger—these were as good as a bottle of the very worst gin.
    • Chapter 19, “Ashes” (pp. 318-319)
  • He had for many years thought of Christ as a rival in greatness. Now he realized they were both brothers in misery. Their enemies were identical: the howling mob, the fearful, the inferior, the baying hounds of conventional morality.
    • Chapter 19, “Ashes” (p. 320)
  • “Fool. There is no why. The very word is a semantic fallacy. Ask me how and I can lay out for you cause and effect, one thing leading to another, the alcohol acting on a grieving man’s mind, the door inadequately guarded, the people within isolated from the common lot of humanity by the dreadful secret of their ancestry.”
    He rattled his glass.
    Nathan refilled it.
    Faust drank. “But to ask why,” he continued, “implies that things happen for a purpose, and they do not. There is no purpose, no direction, no guidance to events. Nothing means anything. The world is a howling desert of meaningless, and reason is useless before it. There is only blind event.”
    He stared off into the bleak landscapes of the future while Nathan refilled his glass and refilled his glass and refilled his glass.
    He saw so clearly now, without delusion or hope. It was a crystal night of the soul.
    • Chapter 19, “Ashes” (pp. 327-328)
  • It pained him to think how naive he had once been.
    • Chapter 19, “Ashes” (p. 328)
  • Everything was dying, yet death did not suffice. Life had hidden resources. In a thousand ways it was concentrating strength, hoarding its energies in seed, chrysalis, and nectar, preparing for the warrior sweep out of exile that would undo the defeat of winter. Spring was implicit.
    • Chapter 19, “Ashes” (p. 330)
All page numbers from the mass market edition published by Harper Torch ISBN 0-380-81289-4, first printing (March 2003)
Nominated for the 2003 Nebula Award, the 2003 John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and the 2003 Hugo Award.
  • He was accustomed to questioning an essentially impassive universe. The physical world might be maddeningly close-lipped about its secrets, but it didn’t lie, and it never actively tried to deceive you.
    • Chapter 1, “Predation Event” (p. 11)
  • Common sense has very little to do with physics.
    • Chapter 2, “The Riddle of Achilles” (p. 29)
  • And she was off, leaping like a salmon from idea to idea. Hers was the kind of fast and playful intellect that enjoyed tossing a stone into the pond of received wisdom, just to see the frogs jump.
    • Chapter 2, “The Riddle of Achilles” (p. 37)
  • We did it the way we did it because according to the records, that’s the way we did it. The rules against paradox bind us as tightly as they do you.
    • Chapter 2, “The Riddle of Achilles” (p. 45)
  • Everybody dies. So much of growing up consists of coming to grips with this fact.
    • Chapter 3, “Lagerstätten” (p. 62)
  • She had learned at an early age that it was not how often you were wrong that counted in science, but how often you were right. One startling hit covered a multitude of bad guesses.
    • Chapter 4, “Cuckoo’s Nest” (p. 65)
  • But the way she saw it, you only had so much organization in your life. You had to choose: Invest it in your research, or fritter it away on housework.
    • Chapter 4, “Cuckoo’s Nest” (p. 66)
  • You have to spell things out for the press—you can’t rely on them to know even the simplest things.
    • Chapter 4, “Cuckoo’s Nest” (p. 75)
  • It really is a pity. Esme was so full of curiosity and enthusiasm when she was a child. She’d make a great biologist. But it was her misfortune to be born wealthy. She had dreams. But her parents had too much money to allow that.
    • Chapter 6, “Feeding Strategies” (p. 126)
  • The authority of superior knowledge was different in kind from the authority of assumed power. Still, he felt a little awkward assuming it.
    • Chapter 10, “Sexual Display” (p. 202)
  • “The problem was that when all you’re trying to do is survive, the universe seems a cold and hostile place. We needed a purpose. To distract us from our awareness of being a single spark of human warmth in an infinite expanse of silence. One small candle in the infinite night of being.”
    “Do you really think science is purpose enough?”
    “Yes, I do. I always have. Maybe it’s because I was a lonely kid, and there were times that learning things was all that kept me going. The search for truth is not an unworthy reason to keep going.”
    “You make it sound so arbitrary.”
    “Maybe it is. Yet I persist in believing that knowledge is better than ignorance.”
    • Chapter 10, “Sexual Display” (pp. 204-205)
  • “Okay, so we broke the rules. That’s good! There are no more rules—they’re broken. Anything is possible now. We’ll find a solution. There has to be a solution. There always is.”
    “Not in my experience.” They were, he realized, standing on opposite sides of the great divide that separates those who deal with scientific fact and those who deal with the consequences of human actions. Which is to say, those who believe in a rational universe and those who know that, given the existence of human beings, there is no such thing. “You and I belong to entirely different universes, did you know that?”
    • Chapter 11, “Chalk Talk” (p. 214)
  • “A man thinks with his dick,” Jimmy said, embarrassed. “That’s why his friends have to look out for him.”
    • Chapter 13, “Ghost Lineage” (p. 246)
  • She was one of those people who discredited their own ideas by the force with which they argued them.
    • Chapter 15, “Adaptive Radiation” (p. 284)
  • “Your system works fine in theory. But things are different in the real world.”
    ”I’m going to move to Theory some day,” Chuck said. “Everything works there.”
    • Chapter 16, “Buddy System” (p. 298)
  • “That’s impossible.”
    “Only to small minds,” Gertrude said.
    • Chapter 17, “Type Specimen” (p. 311)
  • It was a terrible blessing she’d been given, to see herself the way everybody else did.
    • Chapter 17, “Type Specimen” (p. 315)
  • He’s just an ambitious young beta male with delusion of alphahood. He wants power and double rations, is all. This whole thing stinks of primate politics.
    • Chapter 17, “Type Specimen” (p. 321)
  • It was classic cult behavior: the charismatic leader whose word was law, the unreasoning obedience, the pervasive fear.
    • Chapter 17, “Type Specimen” (p. 322)
  • In some ways she was not a very good scientist: impatient with data, too ready to leap to conclusions, apt to judge an idea not by its merits but by its sheer niftiness.
    • Chapter 18, “Peer Review” (p. 337)
  • Second chances were so rare in this world to be almost miracles.
    • Chapter 19, “Lazarus Taxon” (p. 363)
  • Still...the greatest adventure of her life was over and done for. She had returned from Never-Never Land, from Middle-earth, from El Dorado. The dragons were slain, the treasures dug up and hauled away in wagons, the swords and bright banners packed in trunks and stowed in the attic. Nothing she ever did would be as vivid and meaningful again.
    • Chapter 20, “Extinction Event” (p. 374)
  • She had gone rafting down the Eden. She had faced down the largest animals ever to walk the Earth. She had tended to a dying woman in her final days and nursed an ailing man back to health. She had known tears and laughter, toil, love, sweat, and danger.
    These were the primal satisfactions, the things that made life matter. What did Washington, D.C., in the twenty-first century have to offer that could compare with them?
    • Chapter 20, “Extinction Event” (p. 375)
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