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.