Certain lines can’t be uncrossed,
Certain maps will get you lost,
Once you’ve past the border then you’ll have to play the game.
Roll the dice but count the cards,
Break the glass but keep the shards.
The world is out of order. It’s been broken since you came.
The broken doors are hidden in the blood and in the bone.
My darling child, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.
This is an odd one because the work itself doesn’t exist.
What I’m quoting is a fragment of Don’t Go Out Alone, a children’s book that exists in-universe in Mira Grant’s Parasite, but is not confirmed to be fully transcribed. (Mira Grant is a pen name used by Seanan McGuire, so we’ve got an author who created an author who created an author… it’s turtles all the way down. Well, turtles with scalpels.)
Parasite is a lovely book; compelling characters, good pacing, a mounting sense of dread. The lines from Don’t Go Out Alone just chime through it and accentuate it. Absolutely worth reading.
The proof is this: they are here, the Goster County dogs.
This is one of those moments where you really need to read the story in order to appreciate the line, which on the one hand I kind of tend to avoid–but on the other hand after four years of wanting a copy of Bob Leman’s collection Feesters in the Lake, I am looking like I will actually get a copy of Feesters in the Lake, and I am celebrating.
I’ve spoken about Bob Leman before. His writing, from what I’ve seen, is elegant and restrained. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it understated, but his horror whispers, it does not shout.
You can read “Loob” in full at Weird Fiction Review.
Oh, where are you coming from, soldier, gaunt soldier,
With weapons beyond any reach of my mind,
With weapons so deadly the world must grow older
And die in its tracks, if it does not turn kind?
Stephen Vincent Benét isn’t very well-known for his science fiction, as far as I can tell; he wrote “By the Waters of Babylon“, and the story is known, but since he was better known for other work and came to science fiction late in a relatively short life, his name doesn’t bubble to the top very easily in genre discussions.
I ran across the poem while looking up The War Game (1965, BBC, an “and you though Threads was upsetting” kind of mockumentary), which uses it as an epigram. About once every eight months I run across it again, and then I spend three days humming it to a tune that’s something like “The Streets of Laredo”.
This time, I thought I’d share; the text in its entirety is here.
I shall plan my cousin’s escape from that Canton mad-house, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.
Oh, I have so much to say about Lovecraft.
The first work of his I read was either “The Dunwich Horror” or “Pickman’s Model”. I didn’t start noticing how stridently he kept bringing up race and miscegenation for a long time, to which the only defense that I can offer is that I started way young (and I actually have something else to say about my tendency to not question authorial voice, which is a different issue for another time).
But this quote; this one chimes with me. Because while I believe Lovecraft thought he was writing a terrible horror story about the triumph of degeneration, the more I read it the more it’s about a triumphant escape, and coming home, and realizing who you are to dwell in a place of loveliness and acceptance.
(Also, you know, Deep Ones. Who are neat, although I prefer ghouls.)
For now, they had simpler concerns. Keeping the children from the roofs at night, the bereaved from crying out too loud, the young in summer from falling in love with the human. It was a life.
I think this one appeals because it actually focuses on the quiet or peaceful life of a society, rather than a handful of individuals. It kind of pulls back and gives you space to relax.
(Also, you know, hidden society of monsters.)
Mind, I generally find Barker’s style to be dreamy and faintly detached; I’m not sure it would work as well if he wasn’t building on an entire novel in the same vein. Either way, though, it’s very relaxing.
One side of his face cuddled too hard into the sand, and one leg kicked the air three times before it stopped.
I am not doing Peter S. Beagle justice by quoting that line out of The Last Unicorn. I think I might not be doing him justice by quoting any line out of The Last Unicorn; they all build into each other and the one carries you along to the next and what starts in a lilac wood ends so very far away.
But at the same time, I remember very many of the lines from that book, and the one I have quoted remains, to my mind, one of the most affecting death scenes in fiction.
It’s The Last Unicorn. If you haven’t read it, do.
There is death in the Barry-O tonight but still they come down from the neon and lasershine of Hy Brazyl, the five of them. They have given themselves names, as the ones who come down will, names like Zed and Lolo and Cassaday and the Shrike and Yani. Noble they are, comely, their fathers are Company men, bound by blood and contract, their mothers are Company women; they are born to live lives of lofty altitude among the crystal pinnacles of Hy Brazyl. So: why have they exchanged their Projects and corporadas for the tar-paper and plastic favelas of the Barry-O, where the faces have no contracts and no consequence and the rain washes the names from the streets?
This is how Ian McDonald’s “Gardenias” begins; I am very sorry to see that according to ISFDB it hasn’t been printed in twenty-three years. It was one of the first times I’d met what I thought of as fantasy language in a science fiction setting, and I have hung onto the aging paperback anthology that contains it through three moves and at least one decade. The language flows.
It doesn’t seem to be currently available in either paper or electronic format, but I’ve had some luck picking up old paperbacks secondhand, lately, and someone looking for the novelette could do worse than try AbeBooks.
Image is found here, by Juan Davila, used under the CC0 1.0 license
AP/Nassau: The excursion liner Carib Swallow reached port under tow today after striking an obstruction in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras. The obstruction was identified as part of a commercial trawler’s seine floated by female corpses. This confirms reports from Florida and the Gulf of the use of such seines, some of them over a mile in length. Similar reports coming from the Pacific coast and as far away as Japan indicate a growing hazard to coastwise shipping.
That cheery fragment is actually one of the less upsetting pieces of text in Tiptree’s “The Screwfly Solution”. It’s a fairly hard-hitting story, especially when you (for example) go in thinking that while it’ll probably be a good story, it’ll be a little dated and there’s no reason to think it’d make more of an impression than others you’ve read.
(I was corrected. To borrow a phrase from another work, I was corrected harshly.)
That short story’s remarkable to me at least in part because I honestly feel like the last few lines weaken the horror of it. Partly that’s surprising because I find most of Tiptree’s work is remarkably consistent and builds well on itself; partly that’s interesting because I’ve got a class on beginnings and endings tomorrow, and I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately.
Tiptree wrote a great many stories, and it’s hard to choose what to recommend first, but after “The Screwfly Solution” you could do worse than go with “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!”, “The Man Who Walked Home”, and “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.
Latro, California: “Terrible diarrhea, Doctor, and I feel so weak!”/“Take these pills and come back in three days if you’re not better.”
Parkington, Texas: “Terrible diarrhea. . . .”/“Take these pills . . .”
Hainesport, Louisiana: “Terrible . . .” “Take . . .”
Baker Bay, Florida . . .
Washington, DC. . . .
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania . . .
New York, New York . . .
Boston, Massachusetts . . .
Chicago, Illinois: “Doctor, I know it’s Sunday, but the kid’s in such a terrible state—you’ve got to help me!”/“Give him some junior aspirin and bring him to my office tomorrow. Goodbye.”
EVERYWHERE, USA: a sudden upswing in orders for very small coffins, the right size to take a baby dead from acute infantile enteritis.
I skimmed my first John Brunner novel somewhere in my early 20s and thought it was creepy but neat.
I read my second John Brunner novel in 2007. It was Stand on Zanzibar. To the best of my recollection, I spent a weekend feeling very stunned by the influx of information and the intensity of the plot. The last SF novel I’d read about overpopulation was Make Room! Make Room! and while I liked it, it did not quite have the impact of Brunner’s mosaic of plot, sorrow, and horror.
This quote is from The Sheep Look Up, which is about pollution in the same way Stand On Zanzibar is about overpopulation. I don’t find it quite as affecting as Stand on Zanzibar, but it is most definitely worth reading.
Image is found here, by Witch Kiki, used under the CC0 1.0 license
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Admittedly when you’re talking about picking great quotes, I feel that this is low-hanging fruit. But it is a great quote, and I’m including it.
That is the opening to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, one of the great haunted house novels. It was published 58 years ago, in ’59. Shirley Jackson wrote 6 novels and well over a hundred stories. Odds are good that people in the North American school system at least were exposed to “The Lottery”, but if you’ve missed it, I recommend picking up “The Summer People“.
(I’m not explicitly picking opening quotes, by the way; I am just trending in a direction that avoids spoilers, and since a lot of the great quotes that resonate with me are beginnings or endings–which is part of why I’m taking Cat Rambo’s class on same this month–I’m mostly going to lean heavily towards beginnings.)