by Gary Westfahl

Yale University Press


461pp/$25.00/October 2005

Science Fiction Quotations
Cover by John Springer Collection

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

“Nothing is deader than yesterday’s science-fiction.”
-Arthur C. Clarke, The Sands of Mars

 However, as Clarke, himself notes in his foreword to Gary Westfahl’s Science Fiction Quotations, “works of science fiction are littered with witty remarks….” The subsequent 419 pages are a compendium of some of those witty remarks, or poignant ones, or ones which just seemed to capture the editor’s fancy at the right moment.

Westfahl has drawn from a significant number of sources and authors, all of which are listed in one of two indices (one of authors, one of titles).  In addition to the obvious works, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune (30 quotes), Westfahl has scoured lesser known stories, such as Malcolm Jameson’s “Pride” (2 quotes), in his quest for quotable material.  In addition to the written word, Westfahl has also turned his attention to film, television, and radio, including quotes from “Star Wars,” “The Outer Limits,” and “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” among others.

Once Westfahl selected his quotes, he sorted them into 129 categories in order to present similar quotes in proximity to each other.  He also explains in his introduction that for the most part he has chosen to list the quotes in chronological order, thereby providing a sort of evolution of thought on any given topic.

Many of the quotes are very specific, not only to science fiction, but to the specific stories in which they take place.  “Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen front on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancien shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination…” may bring a smile to readers of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, but isn’t particularly useful elsewhere.  Similarly, “The doorknob opened a blue eye and looked at him” from Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore’s “The Fairy Chessmen” is not a quotation which is easily worked into daily conversation. 

It seems likely that Westfahl’s book is meant less as a genre-specific version of Bartlett’s Book of Quotations than it is a book to bring forth fond memories among readers of science fiction, or, perhaps, to introduce those readers to works with which they might be unfamiliar.  Its form certainly invites general perusal as opposed to cover-to-cover reading.

The book clearly demonstrates the breadth of Westfahl’s reading, which should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with his reviews.  At the same time, his choices to not come across as elitist.  He is joyfully welcoming anyone who cares to peruse the book into the fold of science fiction readers, offering them samples and pointers to authors and works with which they might be unfamiliar.  Certainly this means that people will have quotes from books Westfahl did not include, but Science Fiction Quotations surely has something for all readers.

Science Fiction Quotations also proves Clarke’s quote from The Sands of Mars wrong.  Yesterday’s science fiction is not dead.  It offers literature to new readers and, in the worlds of H. Bruce Franklin, it is a “literature which, growing with science and technology, evaluates it and relates it meaningfully to the rest of human existence.”

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