Worst (Best) Century to Have Lived In?

Post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction love to imagine dark times.

In 2004, Channel 4 in the UK ran a three-part programme on the world’s worst century, which the makers selected as the 14th century, largely due to the Black Death.

Ten years on, let’s re-assess. The Black Death must have been horrible, but are there other candidates for the post-apocalyptic award (first prize a large book decorated with seven seals: don’t open them all at once…)?

Our very own twentieth century will surely look bad from the point of view of future people: the two greatest wars up till then, the greatest ever epidemic by number of dead, the atom bomb, the Cold War, Vietnam, etc.

The 6th century AD must have been terrible. It had a plague that went on for decades, social breakdown following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, natural catastrophes.

What about future centuries from science fiction? In the Doctor Who universe, for example, the 22nd century AD will be bad with the Dalek invasion.

The above examples are eurocentric. From the point of view of South Americans, the 16th century AD must have terrible due to the arrival of the Conquistadors.

So, what’s the worst (or best, depending on your point of view)?

Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Links

Here are twenty lesser-known science fiction and fantasy blogs that I have recently discovered and follow and which I think deserve to be better known. They are of different types, so there should be something for everyone here. Happy reading!

More Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Sentences

In my previous post on this topic, I referred to an article published in the Guardian (UK) newspaper earlier this year. The Guardian article asked whether genre fiction contained sentences as good as those in “literary” fiction. My post was an acceptance of the challenge and an invitation to the science fiction and fantasy community to discuss this issue and to suggest great sentences from these genres.

The response has been good so far. People have suggested lots of sentences from various authors and there has been discussion as to what constitutes a “great” SFF sentence and whether we as a community should even focus on individual sentences rather than books as a whole. That is exactly the kind of exchange of ideas that I hoped to stimulate.

Neither my previous post nor these one are intended to be definitive of what  a great sentence is (which would be impossible to define), although some time in the future we might be able to put together our own list of the very best sentences! So keep the nominations coming in.

For my previous post, I chose to share some of my favourite sentences from Theodore Sturgeon’s novel More Than Human. As someone commented, Sturgeon’s simple elegance is a notable contrast to the more florid style usually considered “literary”. With the same aim of stimulating debate and by way of further contrast, I set  out below a small selection of sentences from Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” and Jack Vance’s “Emphyrio”:

1. They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of the empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind.

2. Some morning they’ll find me lying stark, with the puppets climbing over me, peering in my mouth, tweaking my ears… . Jack Vance, Emphyrio.

3. Each trifling area of soil exhaled a plasm: the recollection of a million tragedies, a million triumphs; of births and deaths; kisses exchanged; blood spilled; the char of fire and energy; songs, glees, incantations, war-chants, frenzies. Jack Vance, Emphyrio.

4. Billions of folk have come and gone, pale fish in an ocean of time. Jack Vance, Emphyrio.

Here are some readers’ suggestions received so far:

“Even nothing cannot last forever.” ― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“To condense fact from the vapor of nuance.” ― Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

“You say you have inside you both the power of good and the power of evil, the angel and the devil, but in truth you have just one thing inside you – the ability to imagine.” ― Michael Crichton, Sphere

“He loved her, as you can only love someone who is an echo of yourself at your time of deepest sorrow.” ― Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. – Mrs. Whatsit” ― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time


“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer.

  • “But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.” Ursula le Guin


 “The door dilated.” — Robert A. Heinlein

“His eyes fell on the floor.” — Philip K. Dick

“The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great battle of our time.”

“A day may come when the courage of men fails… but it is not THIS day.”

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
– Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

“I have said that I cannot explain my desire for her, and it is true. I loved her with a love thirsty and desperate. I felt that we two might commit some act so atrocious that the world, seeing us, would find it irresistible.”
― Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer

They passed the hundred-meter column. Scales, burnished under the dawn, bled the mists scarfing the plateau: the Serpent, animated and mechanical, symbol of this whole sequined sector of night, writhed on his post. As the crew stepped onto the moving roadway, an oblate sun rouged away night’s bruises. Katin tried to look reservedly doubtful. The expression was too complicated and came out blank – Nova by Samuel R Delany.

“I was born,” the Mouse said. “I must die. I am suffering. Help me. There, I just wrote your book.” – Nova by Samuel R Delany.

              • “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”
                “Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.”
                “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”


                “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
                ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

                “I saw my earlier selves as different people, acquaintances I had outgrown. I wondered how I could ever have been some of them.”


                We are not like you. We do not glory in having power over our own kind.” Haghuf turned to walk away. Then as an afterthought added over his shoulder, “Or imagining that we do.”― Haghuf, Dance of the Goblins by Jaq D. Hawkins


“What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms . . . or the memory of a brother’s smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.”

Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Sentences

Earlier this year, Claire Armitstead in the Guardian newspaper posed the question whether genre fiction sentences can equal those found in literary writers such as Joyce or Beckett. Science fiction writers like Gibson, Banks and M. John Harrison were mentioned as possible genre sources for great sentences.

I have thought quite a lot about this since then and I think that genre fiction did not show its best side in the ensuing debate. But then, Ms Armitstead only put the question to a bunch of Guardian readers (joke), whereas I am lucky enough to be able to call on the collective mind of the SFF community!

So let’s show what our genres can offer and then go back to planet Guardian with the genuinely greatest sentences in SFF.

I will start off with a brief selection from Theodore Sturgeon’s novel “More Than Human”, because I have just re-read it and noted candidate sentences along the way. I think these are examples of simple language creating beautiful imagery and often embodying deep insights:

1. A drawstring could not have pulled the fat man’s mouth so round and tight and from it his lower lip bloomed like strawberry jam from a squeezed sandwich.

2. The sap falls and the bear sleeps and the birds fly south, not because they are all members of the same thing, but only because they are all solitary things hurt by the same thing.

3. Wrong as a squirrel with feathers or a wolf with wooden teeth; not injustice, not unfairness – just a wrongness that, under the sky, could not exist … the idea that such as he could belong to anything.

4. The corn stretched skyward with such intensity in its lines that it seemed to be threatening its roots.

5. The open mouth was filled with carrot chips and gave her rather the appearance of a pot-bellied stove with the door open.

6. So it was that Lone came to know himself; and like the handful of people who have done so before him he found, at this pinnacle, the rugged foot of a mountain.

7. The blood was beginning to move in my hands and feet and they felt like four point-down porcupines.

8.He was as uncaring as a cat is of the bursting of a tulip bud.

9. You were the reason for the colors on a bantam rooster, you were a part of the thing that shakes the forest when the bull moose challenges; you were shining armor and a dipping pennant and my lady’s girlde on your brow, you were, you were … I was seventeen, damn it, Barrows, whatever else I was.

10. And here, too, was the guide, the beacon, for such times as humanity might be in danger; here was the Guardian of Whom all humans knew – not an exterior force nor an awesome Watcher in the sky; but a laughing thing with a human heart and a reverence for its human origins, smelling of sweat and new-turned earth rather than suffused with the pale odor of sanctity.

Science Fiction/Fantasy Links

Here is a revised list of useful SFF links of various kinds: bloggers, magazines, organisations, writers. Suggestions for others are welcome: