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.
“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.
“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.”