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Entry updated 8 April 2024. Tagged: Theme.

Sf has long suffered from the perception that its authors are characteristically excellent creators of ideas but clunky prose stylists, suggesting that the genre – and by inference the larger body of texts comprising Fantastika into which sf complexly fits – may not be distinguished by an abundance of well-turned phrases. Still, there are any number of statements by Genre SF writers and others, in stories and articles, that are regularly referenced and repeated, so much so that they might be deemed an integral aspect of the genre. A short list of memorable sf quotations might begin with various Laws, such as Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics; Arthur C Clarke's Laws, particularly the Third: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"; Robert A Heinlein's five rules for writers; Theodore Sturgeon's Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crud"; and William Gibson's often cited maxim from the late 1990s, whose wording varies slightly from cite to cite: "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed".

Within and beyond the porous "walls" of what may be thought of as classic sf, there are oft-cited proclamations from classic authors like Asimov's "Violence ... is the last refuge of the incompetent" from "Foundation" (May 1942 Astounding); A E van Vogt's Slingshot-Ending "Here is the race that shall rule the sevagram" from The Weapon Makers (February-April 1943 Astounding; 1946); the sentences that begin and close George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), "It was a bright and cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" and "He loved Big Brother"; the last lines of Arthur C Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" in Star Science Fiction Stories (anth 1953) edited by Frederik Pohl: "Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out", and of his Rendezvous with Rama (1973): "The Ramans do everything in threes"; and J G Ballard's "The only truly alien planet is Earth" from "Which Way to Inner Space?" (May 1962 New Worlds #118). More recent examples continue to surface, a prolific provider being Martha Wells in her Murderbot Diaries, including "I was having an emotion, and I hate that", and "But they were humans – who knows why they did anything?", both from Exit Strategy (2018).

Sf film and television have contributed familiar phrases like "Klaatu barada nikto" from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951); the eponymous Mad Scientist's closing exclamation addressed (as he rises from his wheelchair) to the American president, safe in a deep bunker while the bombs begin to fall in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bomb (1963): "Mein Führer, I can walk!"; the introductory narrations of the first Star Trek series (1966-1969): "Space ... the final frontier ... to boldly go where no man has gone before", and similarly of The Prisoner (1967-1968): "I am not a number. I am a free man!"; "May the Force be with you" from Star Wars (variously iterated from 1977 onwards); and "Never give up, never surrender!" and "By Grabthar's Hammer, by the Suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!'" from Galaxy Quest (1999), a Parody of sf bombast which itself has become nearly as well known as its targets.

To locate compilations of sf quotations, one can readily consult numerous online resources, though these are not always accurate and regularly attribute quotations solely to their authors, failing to provide dates and original sources. In print, there are books of quotations with special focuses, such as Heinlein's The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (coll 1978), which assembles all the cranky aphorisms scattered throughout Time Enough for Love (1973); Neil Gaiman's and Kim Newman's Ghastly Beyond Belief (anth 1985), devoted solely to avowedly wretched quotations from sf books and Cinema (the "Thog's Masterclass" department of David Langford's newsletter Ansible has continued this tradition since 1994); Stephen J Sansweet's I'd Just as Soon Kiss a Wookie: The Quotable Star Wars (anth 1996), a book of quotations from the first three Star Wars films; Jill Sherwin's Quotable Star Trek (anth 1999), offering numerous quotations from the first four Star Trek series and first eight films; and Cavan Scott's and Mark Wright's Wit, Wisdom and Timey-Wimey Stuff: The Quotable BBC Doctor Who (anth 2014), with quotations from various incarnations of the Doctor Who series.

Two volumes have endeavoured to cover the entire genre: William Rotsler's brief and eclectic Science Fictionisms (anth 1995) and Gary Westfahl's Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (anth 2005), which endeavoured to provide a comprehensive collection of accurately transcribed quotations, organized according to topics. One feature of the later work is a section entitled "Surrealism", devoted to examples of sf's unique ability to generate striking statements that would be absurd outside of their sf context, such as Henry Kuttner's and C L Moore's "The doorknob opened a blue eye and looked at him" from "The Fairy Chessmen" (January 1946 Astounding); Philip K Dick's "He could not argue with an angry bed" from Galactic Pot-Healer (1969); and Ursula K Le Guin's "The King was pregnant" from The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). [GW/JC]

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