She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot.

— Twain

A Definition of Science Fiction

Science Fiction is that class of prose narrative treating of a situation that could not arise in the world we know, but which is hypothesised on the basis of some innovation in science or technology, or pseudo-science or pseudo-technology, whether human or extra-terrestrial in origin.

— Kingsley Amis

Then, later

… science fiction presents with verisimilitude the human effects of spectacular changes in our environment, changes either deliberately willed or involuntarily suffered.

The business about Xi space and its effects in our universe occupies the position given in ordinary fiction to matters of human situation or character; in this sense it is the hero of the story. Ideas as hero is the basis of a great deal of science fiction, corresponding to what Edmund Crispin in another of his incarnations has called the plot as hero type of detective story, that traditional category in which the circumstances of the crime determine the process of its explanation and thus furnish the entire structure of the narrative. The primacy of idea means that a good science fiction story of this kind will sound good in paraphrase, and in this direction lies some support to the plea that stylistic adequacy is all one need demand from examples of the idea-category, which is not a vehicle for the verbal imagination. I might broaden the notion of idea as hero by pointing out that an idea of scientific interest, or even of scientific respectability, is no requirement, provided as always that conceivability is not outraged.

— Kingsley Amis

I like to collect definitions of SF.

Movable Type

Once I could be parachuted blindfold anywhere in the world, take the blindfold off and look around, and I could see the shop facias and newspapers, and I would know where I was just from the typeface. I’d see the type of Roger Excoffon and know that I had landed in France. But now a typeface is released in Tokyo or Berlin or London and it’s gone around the world overnight, and it has completely lost its sense of origin.

— Matthew Carter

An unexpected side effect. The Nazis standardized type faces in countries they’d conquered. To increase readability (and compliance) in occupied populations, they eschewed the traditional Gothic fonts associated with old Germany, in favor of Roman-style type. Even after they lost the war, this standardization persisted throughout Europe, effectively eliminating identifiable, regional type varieties. Eventually, modern Swiss typefaces like Helvetica and Univers spread around the world, robbing Carter of his ability to pinpoint nationality with type design. (see Just My Type by Simon Garfield)


Poetry is not magic. In so far as poetry, or any other of the arts, can be said to have an ulterior purpose, it is, by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.

Catharsis is properly effected, not by works of art, but by religious rites. It is also effected, usually improperly, by bull-fights, professional football matches, bad movies, military bands and monster rallies at which ten thousand girl guides form themselves into a model of the national flag.

The condition of mankind is, and has always been, so miserable and depraved that, if anyone were to say to the poet: “For God’s sake stop singing and do something useful like putting on the kettle or fetching bandages,” what just reason could he give for refusing? But nobody says this. The self-appointed unqualified nurse says: “You are to sing the patient a song which will make him believe that I, and I alone, can cure him. If you can’t or won’t, I shall confiscate your passport and send you to the mines.” And the poor patient in his delirium cries: “Please sing me a song which will give me sweet dreams instead of nightmares. If you succeed, I will give you a penthouse in New York or a ranch in Arizona.”

— Auden

The new order

The human race progresses, perfecting its powers. Everything that is unattainable now will some day be near at hand and comprehensible, but we must work, we must help with all our strength those who seek to know what fate will bring. Meanwhile in Russia only a very few of us work. The vast majority of those intellectuals whom I know seek for nothing, do nothing, and are at present incapable of hard work. They call themselves intellectuals, but they use “thou” and “thee” to their servants, they treat the peasants like animals, they learn badly, they read nothing seriously, they do absolutely nothing, about science they only talk, about art they understand little. They are all serious, they all have severe faces, they all talk about important things. They philosophize, and at the same time, the vast majority of us, ninety-nine out of a hundred, live like savages, fighting and cursing at the slightest opportunity, eating filthily, sleeping in the dirt, in stuffiness, with fleas, stinks, smells, moral filth, and so on. . . And it’s obvious that all our nice talk is only carried on to distract ourselves and others. Tell me, where are those créches we hear so much of? and where are those reading-rooms? People only write novels about them; they don’t really exist. Only dirt, vulgarity, and Asiatic plagues really exist. . . . I’m afraid, and I don’t at all like serious faces; I don’t like serious conversations. Let’s be quiet sooner.

You know, I get up at five every morning, I work from morning till evening, I am always dealing with money — my own and other people’s — and I see what people are like. You’ve only got to begin to do anything to find out how few honest, honourable people there are. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I think: “Oh Lord, you’ve given us huge forests, infinite fields, and endless horizons, and we, living here, ought really to be giants.”

You want giants, do you ? . . . They’re only good in stories, and even there they frighten one

— Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard

Essentially, the three views of economic history in the play get summarized in this one section.

Tempus fugit

“What, then, is time? If no one asks of me, I know: if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.”

— St. Augustine

Home sweet home

If ever the last 50,000 years of man’s existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately sixty-two years each, there have been about 800 lifetimes. Of these 800 at least 650 were spent in caves.

— Hans Kung