If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: Science Fiction

William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

His stay in Edo had nurtured in him a passionate regard for the muted tones and subtle textures of a world of ritual and shadow. He longed now for the rattle of rain against oiled paper, for flowering weeds a-nod down tiny alleys, the glow of rush-lamps, for scents and darknesses, the shadows of the Low City…


William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

Such was the devilish mockery of these fraudulent bills that even quite normal adverts began to seem queer. As he scanned the bills, searching for double-meanings, every posted word seemed to decay into threatening nonsense. Mallory had never before realized the ubiquity of London’s advertisements, the sullen omnipresence of insistent words and images.

William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

“You don’t presume that has anything to do with real matters here in London, do you?”

“Very interesting question!” Mallory nodded. “Deep metaphysical roots! If I model a phenomenon accurately, does that mean I understand it? Or might it be simple coincidence, or an artifact of the technique? Of course, as an ardent simulationist, I myself put much faith in Engine-modeling. But the doctrine can be questioned, no doubt of it. Deep waters, Fraser! The sort of thing that old Hume and Bishop Berkeley used to thrive on!”

“You’re not drunk, are you, sir?”

“Just a bit elevated,” Mallory said. “Squiffy, you might say.”

William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

“It gave me a turn to see that long panel back in Fleet Street, mounted in front of the Evening Telegraph, clacking away like sixty, over the heads of the crowd! ‘Trains Closed As Sand-Hogs Strike,’ the thing said. ‘Parliament Decries State of Thames.’”

“What’s wrong with that?” Fraser asked.

“It doesn’t say anything,” Mallory said. “Who in Parliament? What state of the Thames, specifically? What did Parliament say about it? Wise things or foolish things?”

Fraser grunted.

“There is a wicked pretense that one has been informed. But no such thing has truly occurred! A mere slogan, an empty litany. No arguments are heard, no evidence is weighed. It isn’t news at all, only a source of amusement for idlers.”

“Some might say it’s better for idlers to know a bit than nothing at all.”

“Some might be damned fools, then, Fraser.”

William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

There was not a ray of sun, but the air was mortally still and the high cloudy sky had a leaden, glowering look, as if it wanted to rain but had forgotten the trick of it.

William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

Tobias plucked up the cards, dropped them through a slot, and pulled a bell-rope. There was a sharp clanging. In a moment a clacker arrived for the cards.

“Now what” Mallory said.

“We wait for it to spin through,” the boy said.

“How long?”

“It always takes twice as long as you think,” the boy said, settling back in his chair. “Even if you double your estimate. Something of a natural law.”

William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

Mallory was taken aback. “I talk well enough when I’ve a head of steam up, but to write a whole book in cold blood…”

William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – The Difference Engine (1990)

A daring fellow whisked past her, taking full advantage of the gritty new surface. Nearly recumbent within the creaking frame of a four-wheeled velocipede, his shoes were strapped to whirling cranks and his breath puffed explosively into the cold. He was bare-headed and goggled, in a thick striped jersey, a long knit scarf flapping out behind him as he sped away. Sybil supposed him an inventor.

Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warning (2015)

He said, “Could be anyone. The Kin. I mean…it’s like calling yourselves the People. It’s what pretty much every race-name means. Except for Dalek. That means Metal-Cased Hatey Death Machines in Skaronian.”

“Nothing O’Clock”

Stanislaw Lem – The Cyberiad (1974)

“No, Trurl, a sufferer is not one who hands you his suffering, that you may touch it, weigh it, bite it like a coin; a sufferer is one who behaves like a sufferer!”

excerpt (“The Seventh Sally”) appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981