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John Holbrook Vance (August 28, 1916 – May 26, 2013) was an award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, who wrote the four-book Dying Earth series.
Born: August 28th, 1916
Died: May 26th, 2013
Quotes: 150 sourced quotes total (includes 2 about)
|Words (count)||31||7 - 172|
|Search Results||13||10 - 220|
"My clever baton holds your unnatural sorcery in abeyance."
"All is mutability, and thus your three hundred terces has fluctuated to three."
Happiness is fugitive; dissatisfaction and boredom are real.
Nothing is more conspicuous than a farting princess.
He must approach the subject critically, alert for contradictions, pedantry and vagueness.
I categorically declare first my absolute innocence, second my lack of criminal intent, and third my effusive apologies.
Now was the present, now was the time containing that sweet union of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, spirit, will and imagination named Nancy.
Enough of this intolerable inanity! I propose that such loquacity passes beyond the scope of the nuisance and over the verge of turpitude.
Dismount and kneel before me, that I may strike off your head with fullest ease. You shall die in this tragic golden light of sunset.
Notice this rent in my garment; I am at a loss to explain its presence! I am even more puzzled by the existence of the universe.
We are sufficiently at the mercy of machines, Roger; if our music must necessarily be mechanical, then it is time for us to throw in the sponge, and abandon all hope for the future of humanity.
"A natural scientist, examining a single atom, might well be able to asserevate the structure and history of the entire universe!" :Bah!" muttered Hurtiancz. "By the same token, a sensible man need lisen to but a single word in order to recognize the whole for egregious nonsense."
"What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously. "I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue."
"The folk are peculiar in many ways," said Erwig. "They preen themselves upon the gentility of their habits, yet they refuse to whitewash their hair, and they are slack in their religious observances. For instance, they make obeisance to Divine Wiulio with the right hand, not on the buttock, but on the abdomen, which we here consider a slipshod practice. What are your own views?" "The rite should be conducted as you describe," said Cugel. "No other method carries weight." Erwig refilled Cugel's glass. "I consider this an important endorsement of our views!"
The purportedly free was seldom as represented.
I give dignity second place to expedience.
A notable scheme has occurred to me.
His brain ached with the want of knowing.
I am not called Cugel the Clever for nothing.
Die then. This is my cure for sore knees.
Sir, your ideas are incorrect in every possible respect.
A barbarian is not aware that he is a barbarian.
An inch of foreknowledge is worth ten miles of after-thought.
It is useless, after all, to complain against inexorable reality.
He was neither lazy nor incompetent; he merely had occupational claustrophobia.
I challenge Destiny, yes, but I do not leap off cliffs.
We need no chieftain; such folk eat more than their share.
Count me not your friend but the enemy of your enemies.
Your thoughts move with the deft precision of worm-tracks in the mud.
Since we are not permitted to act, we are obliged to know.
Control is necessary and even good—so long as I do the controlling.
The town’s lack of special quirks was almost a peculiarity in itself.
Mischief moves somewhere near and I must blast it with my magic!
You have frightened and daunted me. I will stop stealing at once.
I have seen all I care to see and heard rather more.
I'm only giving orders because I'm more efficient and smarter than you are.
“Tomorrow?” “Sh.” She put her hand across his lips. “Never say the word!”
Until work has reached its previous stage nympharium privileges are denied to all.
Jack Vance’s Lyonesse books are the greatest fairy tale of the twentieth century.
I fear, Master Zamp, that you are a victim to your own perfervid imagination.
My fees are not too high. Your wage scale may simply be too low.
What a strange and unfamiliar world if everyone were treated according to his deserts!
Vance has a genius in evoking the beauty of strangeness, the strangeness of beauty.
If there were no such creatures as minstrel-maidens, it would be necessary to invent them.
“Let him talk as he will!” scoffed Zamp. “His motives are not at all obscure.”
"The contingency is remote." (This is also a Jeeves quote in the PG Wodehouse Novels)
Dango, Pume, Thwither: down with Visbhume’s breeches; let him hold his backside at the ready.
Damned meddlers. It’s hard to know when their curiosity is official and when it’s just curiosity.
Another busy day! So let’s to business. The clock moves forward; wasted time is life defeated!
“The crime,” said the Jacynth softly, “is abstract and fundamental: the innate depravity of extinguishing life.”
Guyal reined his horse and reflected that flowers were rarely cherished by persons of hostile disposition.
I do not care to listen; obloquy injures my self-esteem and I am skeptical of praise.
You are a particularly clever girl: almost as clever as you are appealing to the eye.
It had been suggested to her that the flaw lay not in the universe but in herself.
A single question remained, the age-old cry of anguish: “How could one so beautiful be so base?”
IF THERE BE HERE LESSON OR MORAL, IT LIES BEYOND THE COMPETENCE OF HIM WHO INSCRIBES THIS RECORD.
Cease the bickering! I am indulging the exotic whims of a beautiful princess and must not be distracted.
And, stretching in languid warmth, she contrived to twist her body into first one luxurious position, then another.
Aillas groaned. “Destiny could never be so unkind.” Suldrun said in a soft voice: “Destiny doesn’t really care.”
Speaking our language, you will understand us—and if you can think as another man thinks, you cannot dislike him.
I suspect that the word (art) was invented by second-rate intelligences to describe the incomprehensible activities of their betters.
Ildefonse said ponderously: "If your analysis is correct, we must undertake to secure the future against this pangynic nightmare."
Beauty compelled admiration and erotic yearning; such was its organic function. But never by itself could it command love.
The mind was a marvellous instrument, thought Shimrod; when left to wander untended, it often arrived at curious destinations.
Music is like a language: you cannot understand it unless you learn it, or more accurately, are born into it.
Your character, Apollon Zamp, is marred by a certain paltriness of spirit, a diffused universal distrust which I truly deplore.
Who is seducing whom? If we are working to the same ends, there is no need for so many cross-purposes.
Sir, my life, drab and insipid though it may seem to others, is the only life given me to live.
“Navigation on this lake is forbidden to aliens,” he declared. “We are ordered to sink all intruding vessels. Prepare to drown.”
Yes, I realize that I see but a semblance, but so do you, and who is to say which is real?
Kings, like children, tend to be opportunistic. Generosity only spoils them. They equate affability with weakness and hasten to exploit it.
He’s like an imbecile with a pepper shaker; a little makes his food taste good, therefore a lot will make it wonderful.
A man is like a rope: both break at a definite strain....The solution is not splicing the rope; it’s lessening the tension.
The colour, noise and festivity failed to elevate Carfilhiot’s mood; in fact—so he told himself—never had he witnessed so much pointless nonsense.
He used a name for himself, true, but we played at Romance, and this is a game where truth is a bagatelle.
He adjudicated the case in a manner I still find perplexing, but which must have been equitable, since it pleased no one.
Freedom, privileges, options, must constantly be exercised, even at the risk of inconvenience. Otherwise they fall into desuetude and become unfashionable, unorthodox—finally irregulationary.
I gathered that the old fellow suffers from some advanced form of senile dementia, and so perhaps his analysis is not totally accurate.
“If ambush I must, then ambush I will,” Aillas muttered to himself. “A fig for chivalry, at least until the war is won.”
“Truth” is contained in the preconceptions of him who seeks to define it. Any organization of ideas whatever presupposes a judgment on the world.
When you demand the nature of my motives, you reveal the style of your thinking to be callow, captious, superficial, craven, uncertain and impudent.
Consider the human mind! It is capable of amazing feats when used properly. Conversely, without exercise it atrophies to a lump of gray-yellow fat.
He said that humanity in the main was crass, stupid, boorish and vulgar, and that I could learn at least this much from you.
“Tell me, then! What is so important?” “Your life! I could not bear that you should lose it!” “I feel much the same. Say on.”
The void is a mouth crying to be filled, a blank mind aching for thought, a cavity desperate for shape. What is not implies what is.
There are no absolute certainties in this universe. A man must try to whip order into a yelping pack of probabilities, and uniform success is impossible.
“I'm sure you didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” Madoc Roswyn laughed a soft forlorn laugh. “The sad truth is that I didn’t care—which may be worse.”
The creature displayed the qualities reminiscent of both coelenterate and echinoderm. A terrene nudibranch? A mollusc deprived of its shell? More importantly, was the creature edible?
It was right and proper to exploit the excellences of the moment, but still, when conditions reached an apex, there was nowhere to go but down.
"When one deals with the Murthe, the unthinkable becomes the ordinary, and Zanzel's repute carries no more weight than last year's mouse-dropping - if that much."
“Why not alter the habits of a lifetime and speak with candour?” asked Shimrod. “Truth, after all, need not be only the tactic of last resort.”
I may be called upon to address the company. No one will listen, of course, which is just as well, since I have nothing to say.
"I distrusted him from the start! Still, who could imagine such protean depravity?" Bunderwal, the supercargo, concurred. "Cugel, while plausible, nonetheless is a bit of a scoundrel."
What, given the circumstances, would have been Emphyrio’s course of action? Truth. Very well, thought Ghyl: it shall be Truth, and let the consequences fall where they may.
Gassoon, for all his lore, subscribed to a common fallacy: he assumed that all those whom he encountered appraised him in the same terms as he did himself.
Your doctrines are remarkable! As if I existed only to fulfill your cravings! Then, since I do not care to do so, the cosmos must be considered insane.
Of all questions, why? is the least pertinent. It begs the question; it assumes the larger part of its own response; to wit, that a sensible response exists.
Shimrod said: “Once I thought of you as a child in a woman’s body.” Melancthe smiled a cool smile. “And now?” “The child seems to have wandered away.”
Roger tried to find out all about her: he wanted, in one brief hour, to make up for a lifetime of non-acquaintance, a lifetime for all practical purposes wasted.
"Enter, my friend, enter. How goes your trade?" "In all candor, not too well," said Cugel. "I am both perplexed and disappointed, for my talismans are not obviously useless."
Human interactions, stimulated as they are by disequilibrium, never achieve balance. In even the most favorable transaction, one party—whether he realizes it or not—must always come out the worse.
I must cite an intrinsic condition of the universe. We set forth in any direction which seems convenient; each leads to the same place: the end of the universe.
"At Gundar we conceive 'innocence' as a positive quality, not merely an insipid absence of guilt," stated the Nolde. "We are not the fools that certain untidy ruffians might suppose."
Aillas replied that while King Audry cited several points of technical interest, and used the resources of abstract logic in an adroit manner, he had actually made no connection with reality.
In measured tones he answered Madouc: “Your condition lacks dignity; you bring ridicule upon us all.” Madouc gave a stony shrug. “If you do not like what you see, look elsewhere.”
And I understand they are, in a sense, artists? That is to say, they understand the creative process, the sublimation of fact to symbol and the use of symbol to suggest emotion?
There can be no doubt as to the facts as I have stated them. Orthodoxy derives from this axiomatic foundation, and the two systems are mutually reinforcing: hence each is doubly validated.
“Sir Tristano spoke: “Stop! You are taking the great green pearl!” “Naturally!” said the voice from a point close behind. “That is the whole point of robbery: to acquire the victim’s valuables!”
King Aillas talks softly and with great politeness; he has the uncomfortable skill of calling one a false-hearted blackguard, a liar, a cheat and a villain, but making it seem a fulsome compliment.
“I think that I will not answer that question,” he said at last. “I would create as many false images as there were ears to hear me.” “Half as many,” Clissum pointed out delicately.
“You must save yourselves,” Rogol Domedonfors told them. “You have ignored the ancient wisdom, you have been too indolent to learn, you have sought easy complacence from religion, rather than facing manfully to the world.”
The merchant voiced an inarticulate protest. Glystra glared at him, “Do you think I trust you?” “Trust?” said the merchant with a puzzled expression. “Trust? What word is that?” And he tested it several times more.
He looked around the landscape. Drenched in the golden haze of late afternoon it seemed wonderfully tranquil and beautiful, though permeated with a sense of remoteness and even melancholy, like a scene remembered from one’s youth.
The less a writer discusses his work—and himself—the better. The master chef slaughters no chickens in the dining room; the doctor writes prescriptions in Latin; the magician hides his hinges, mirrors, and trapdoors with the utmost care.
“Down we go,” said Paddy. “Now pray to Saint Anthony if you be a good Catholic—” “I'm not,” snapped Fay, “and if you'll give more mind to the boat and less to religion we’ll gain by it.”
“It is no hardship whatever,” said Aillas. “You have never strained at the deed. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and suddenly you find the idea incredible. Do you not sense a taint of unreality?”
“Let them scoff as they see fit! I will never compromise what I consider my art, especially for the sake of gain!” “For the sake of gain I’d compromise the art of my grandmother,” muttered Zamp under his breath.
Excellent; all is well. The 'everlasting tedium' exactly countervenes the 'immediate onset of death' and I am left only with the 'canker' which, in the person of Firx, already afflicts me. One must use his wits in dealing with maledictions.
What is peace? Balance three iron skewers tip to tip, one upon the other; at the summit, emplace and egg, so that it too poises static in mid-air, and there you have the condition of peace in this world of men.
How to know, oh how to know! All is relative ease and facility in orthodoxy, yet how can it be denied that good is in itself undeniable? Absolutes are the most uncertain of all formulations, while the uncertainties are the most real...
“Is this the conduct of a ‘sly and unpredictable villain’?” “Decidedly so, if the villain, for the purposes of his joke, thinks to simulate the altruist.” “Then how will you know villain from altruist?” Cugel shrugged. “It is not an important distinction.”
I have transcended that phase in my intellectual growth where I discover humour in simple freakishness. What exists is real; therefore it is tragic, since wherever lives must die. Only fantasy, the vapours rising from sheer nonsense, can now excite my laughter.
“You drink only sparingly. Is the beer too thin?” “No at all. I merely wish to keep my wits about me. It would not do if both of us became addled, and later woke up in doubt as to who was who.”
The history of man is a compendium of such evil. We are an evolutionary product, descendants of predators. A few synthetic foods aside, every morsel eaten by man is taken from another living thing. We are intended for murder; we kill to exist!
“I am more inclined to punish Hurtiancz for his crassness,” said Ildefonse. “But now he simulates a swinish stupidity to escape my anger.”“Absolute falsity!” roared Hurtiancz. “I simulate nothing!”Ildefonse shrugged. “For all his deficiencies as polemicist and magician, Hurtiancz at least is candid.”
All page numbers from the 2000 trade paperback edition published by Victor Gollancz Note that the year of publication is complex; the novel was first published in 1952 in a magazine, then in an abridged version in 1957, and then as the full-length book in 1978
"Here you see the pattern from which my great work is derived. It expresses the symbolic significance of NULLITY to which TOTALITY must necessarily attach itself, by Kratinjae's Second Law of Cryptorrhoid Affinities, with which you are possibly familiar." "Not in every aspect," said Cugel.
“Are you yourself a Christian?” The young man made a negative sign. “The concepts of religion baffle me.” “This inscrutability is perhaps not unintentional,” said the ex-priest. “It gives endless employment to dialecticians who otherwise might become public charges or, at very worst, swindlers and tricksters.”
They call me a renegade. The epithet is inaccurate and undeserved. I cannot be faithless to a cause which I never have endorsed. Indeed, I am absolutely faithful to the only cause I espouse, which is my own welfare. I take pride in this unswerving loyalty!
“It sees that you are wrong, that you are guided by faith indeed.” The Demie fell silent. His face seemed to stiffen. “Are these not facts?” asked Joaz. “How do you reconcile them with your faith? “The Demie said mildly, “Facts can never be reconciled with faith.”
“I would define ‘avarice’ as a consequence of the human estate: a condition arising from turbulence and inequality. In none of the paradises, where conditions are no doubt optimum, does ‘avarice’ exert force. Here, we are men struggling toward perfection and ‘avarice’ is a station along the way.”
Ah! Five hundred years I have toiled to entice this creature, despairing, doubting, brooding by night, yet never abandoning hope that my calculations were accurate and my great talisman cogent. Then, when finally it appears, you fall upon it for no other reason than to sate your repulsive gluttony!
“I was trained in the old tradition! We found our strength in the basic verities, to which you, as a patrician, must surely subscribe. Am I right in this?” “Absolutely, and in all respects!” declared Cugel. “Recognizing, of course, that these fundamental verities vary from region to region, and even from person to person.”
“We are supposed to set you a good example,” said Devonet. “As a start, I will point out that a lady of refinement would not wish to be found so high in a tree.” “Then I am a lady of refinement well and truly,” said Madouc, “since I did not wish to be found.”
“I learned a great deal,” said Beran. “And then I lost all heart for further learning.” Palafox’s eyes glinted. “Education is not achieved through the heart—it is a systematization of the mental processes.” “But I am something other than a mental process,” said Beran. “I am a man. I must reckon with the whole of myself.”
“It is simple dog-eat-dog,” said Waylock. It’s basic battle for survival, fiercer and more brutal than ever before in the history of man. You have blinded yourself; you subscribe to false theories; you are permeated with your obsession—not only you but all of us. If we faced the facts of existence, our palliatories would be less crowded.”
Shanne said, “You are quiet; are you sad?” “In a way. Do you know why?” She put her hand across his mouth. “Never speak of it. What must be, will be. What can never be—can never be.” Ghyl turned to look at her, trying to divine every last scintilla of her meaning. “But,” she added in a soft voice, “what can be—can be.”
Kergan Banbeck threw up his hands, turned once more to the sacerdote. “How can I halt his nonsense? How can I make him see reason? The sacerdote reflected. “He speaks not nonsense, but rather a language you fail to understand. You can make him understand your language by erasing all knowledge and training from his mind, and replacing it with patterns of your own.”
“Now it seems that Roger has once more taken up with Miss Roswyn. I can’t say that I approve, but he has not troubled to ask my advice.” She heaved a sigh. “But I am sure that the world will never go precisely to my liking.” “Does it for anyone?” asked Bernard Bickel with good-natured cynicism. “Probably not, and I must reconcile myself to the fact.”
Ghyl laughed also. “If I'm too serious, you're too irresponsible.” “Bah,” retorted Floriel. “Is the world responsible? Of course not! The world is random, vagrant, heedless. To be responsible is to be out of phase, to be insane!” Ghyl pondered a moment. “This is perhaps the case, in a world left to itself. But society imposes order. Living in a society, it is not insane to be responsible.”
“Poor Pymfyd! Your world is built of fear and dread! As for me, I have no time for such emotions.” Pymfyd spoke in an even voice. “You are a royal princess and I may not call you a witless little fool, even should the thought cross my mind.” Madouc turned him a sad blue-eyed glance. “So that, after all, is your concept of me.” “I will say only this: persons who fear nothing are soon dead.”
"Llorio, you are a woman of surpassing beauty, though you would seem to lack that provocative warmth which draws man to woman, and adds dimension to the character." The Murthe responded curtly: "The quality you describe is a kind of lewd obsequiousness which, happily, has now become obsolete. As for the 'surpassing beauty,' it is an apotheotic quality generated by the surging music of the female soul, which you, in your crassness, perceive only as a set of pleasing contours."
He indicated the pair of grotesques. "For instance, I have seldom seen objects so studiously repulsive as this pair of bibelots. Skillfully done, agreed! Notice the detail in these horrid little ears! The snouts, the fangs: the malignance is almost real! Still, they are undeniably the work of a diseased imagination." The objects reared erect. One of them spoke in a rasping voice: "No doubt Cugel has good reason for his unkind words; still, neither Gark nor I can take them lightly."
Madouc, this is my advice: pick up yonder clod of dirt, and tender it to that pop-eyed little imp, speaking these words: “Zocco, with this token I both imburse and reimburse you, in full fee and total account, now and then, anon and for ever, in this world and all others, and in every other conceivable respect, for each and every service you have performed for me or in my behalf, real or imaginary, to the limits of time, in all directions.”
“Dame Fairy of the Silver Eyes: allow me to put you a question, which is this: where should I seek the Holy Grail?” “Determine its location and go to that spot; that is my wise advice.” Travante spoke tentatively: “If you could guide me to my lost youth, I would be most grateful.” Twisk jumped high in the air, pirouetted, settled slowly to the ground. “I am not an index of the world’s worries. I know nothing either of Christian crockery nor truant time! And now: silence!
Man had dominated the Earth by virtue of a single assumption: that an effect could be traced to a cause, itself the effect of a previous cause. Manipulation of this basic law yielded rich results; there seemed no need for any other tool or instrumentality. Man congratulated himself on his generalized structure. He could live on desert, on plain or ice, in forest or in city; Nature had not shaped him to a special environment. He was unaware of his vulnerability. Logic was the special environment; the brain was the special tool.
"Very well," said Cugel. "I will ride with you to Taun Tassel, but you must accept these three terces in full, exact, final, comprehensive and complete compensation for the ride and every other aspect, adjunct, by-product and consequence, either direct or indirect, of the said ride, renouncing every other claim, now, and forever, including all times of the past and future, without exception, and absolving me, in part and in whole, from any and all further obligation." Iucounu held up small balled fists and gritted his teeth toward the sky. "I repudiate your entire paltry philosophy! I find zest in giving!"
“You will understand,” said the Weaponeer, “that a pattern for events exists. It is the function of such as myself to shape events so that they will fit the pattern.” He bent, with a graceful sweep of arm, and seized a small jagged pebble. “Just as I can grind this bit of rock to fit a round aperture.” Kergan Banbeck reached forward, took the pebble, tossed it high over the tumbled boulders. “That bit of rock you shall never shape to fit a round hole.” The Weaponeer shook his head in mild deprecation. “There is always more rock.” “And there are always more holes,” declared Kergan Banbeck.
'Humanity is old, civilization is new: the mesh of cogs is by no means smooth and this is as it should be. Never should a man enter a building of glass or metal, or a spaceship, or a submarine, without a small shock of astonishment; never should he avoid an act of passion without a small sense of effort. We of the Institute receive an intensive historical inculcation; we know the men of the past, and we have projected dozens of possible future variations, which, without exception, are repulsive. Man, as he exists now, with all his faults and vices, a thousand gloriously irrational compromises between two thousand sterile absolutes is optimal. Or so it seems to us who are men.'
“I watch the sea and the sky; sometimes I wade in the surf and build roads in the sand. At night I study the stars.” “You have no friends?” “No.” “And what of the future?” “The future stops at ‘now’.” “As to that, I am not so sure,” said Shimrod. “It is at best a half-truth.” “What of that? Half a truth is better than none: do you not agree?” “Not altogether,” said Shimrod. “I am a practical man, I try to control the shape of the ‘nows’ which lie in the offing, instead of submitting to them as they occur.” Melancthe gave an uninterested shrug. “You are free to do as you like.” Leaning back in the divan, she looked out across the sea. Shimrod finally spoke. “Well then: are you ‘good’ or ‘bad’?” “I don’t know.” Shimrod became vexed. “Talking with you is like visiting an empty house.” Melancthe considered a moment before responding. “Perhaps,” she said, “you are visiting the wrong house. Or perhaps you are the wrong visitor.”