John Kilian Houston Brunner (September 24, 1934 – August 26, 1995) was a science fiction author. His work in the new wave sub-genre is highly acclaimed and influential. His earlier (prolific, often pseudonymous) space operas are generally considered unremarkable.
Born: September 24th, 1934
Died: August 26th, 1995
Quotes: 98 sourced quotes total
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"They surely are condemned to Hell Who rule their lives by greed and lust And Satan waits for those as well Who in machines repose their trust."
If there is such a phenomenon as absolute evil, it consists in treating another human being as a thing.
First you use machines, then you wear machines, and then ...? Then you serve machines.
You don’t have to know everything. You simply need to know where to find it when necessary.
I love the place, and when they get love down to a bunch of factors you can analyse with a computer there’ll be nothing left of whatever makes it worth being human!
How do you whip up resentment against absentee landlords and pocketers of bribes when the highest ambition of the people is either to become the former or be in a position to receive the latter?
The theory was and always had been: this is the thing the solid citizen has no need to worry about. Important, later all-important question: what about the hollow citizen?
First we had the legs race. Then we had the arms race. Now we're going to have the brain race. And, if we're lucky, the final stage will be the human race.
“How does it feel to have just changed the course of history?” “I don’t know what you mean,” said the navigator. “To my way of thinking, by the time history happens I’m going to be dead.”
Papa Hegel he say that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. I know people who can't even learn from what happened this morning. Hegel must have been taking the long view.
He had once, for example, put down a spokesman for the pesticide industry with a remark that people still quoted at parties: “And I presume on the eighth day God called you and said, ‘I changed my mind about insects!’ “
SCANALYZER is the one single, the ONLY study of the news in depth that’s processed by General Technics’ famed computer Shalmaneser, who sees all, hears all, knows all save only that which YOU, Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere, wish to keep to yourselves.
Fifteen minutes out of Mexico City for Tokyo a passenger aboard a 747 screamed that he was being eaten by red-hot ants, and managed to open the emergency door at 23,000 feet. He had been to the washroom and drunk from the faucet there before takeoff. It was, after all, labeled DRINKING WATER.
I don’t hate her personally, though if she were enough of a person to be worth such a strong emotion I think I easily could. What I hate is what she represents: the willingness of human beings to be reduced to a slick visual package, like a new television set—up-to-the-minute casing, same old works.
If you want to know what's shortly due for the guillotine look for the most obvious of all symptoms: extremism. It is an almost infallible sign — a kind of death-rattle — when a human institution is forced by its members into stressing those and only those factors which are identificatory, at the expense of others which it necessarily shares with competing institutions because human beings belong to all of them.
“Governments don’t change things,” she said. “Only time does that.”
“Ah, go to hell!” “That’s a remarkably Christian attitude, Donald. Both meaningless and barbaric.”
Nothing short of religion could persuade a normal girl to make herself look so awful.
COINCIDENCE You weren’t paying attention to the other half of what was going on.
Who should know better than a cosmetician that human beings are less than rational creatures?
So not only the world, but he himself, was different from what he had imagined.
“Rumors that the sun is out at Santa Ynez are without foundation,” the radio said.
You have many years to live—do things you will be proud to remember when you're old.
“Yes, for most people nowadays television is their only contact with the world beyond their work.”
We’ve always cared more about property rights than human rights in this country. You should know that.
If the evidence says you’re wrong, you don’t have the right theory. You change the theory, not the evidence.
“I think,” Chad grunted, “that if he [Shalmaneser, the computer] really is intelligent nobody will recognise the fact. Because we aren’t.”
UNFAIR Term applied to advantages enjoyed by other people which we tried to cheat them out of and didn’t manage.
What in God’s name is it worth to be human, if we have to be saved from ourselves by a machine?
At night, when he lay down to sleep, he felt that his brain was resonating with the heartbeat of the planet.
He had decided it was better to be a volcano than a man; at least one set no store by what one’s acts destroyed.
HIPCRIME You committed one when you opened this book. Keep it up. It's our only hope. — The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan
“I haven’t changed my mind, if that’s what you’re getting at,” he said at length. The stench and crackle of burning boats was vivid to him.
Like living creatures, automobiles expired when their environment became saturated with their own excreta. We ourselves are living creatures. We don't want the same to happen to us.
“I don’t believe in God,” said the captain. “I wouldn’t care to believe in anyone who could make such a stinking lousy species as the one you belong to.”
I can make a guess. There’s going to be trouble. Come to think of it, that’s a safe catch-all prophecy. Whatever happens in present circumstances there’s going to be trouble.
We’re aware of the scale of the planet, so we don’t accept that our own circumscribed horizons constitute reality. Much more real is what’s relayed to us by the TV.
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw, Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread. — John Milton: "Lycidas"
I never thought of asking anyone to do it for me. Something’s wrong with me. In a time of trouble should people not be able to ask help without feeling demeaned?
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Isn’t it typical? We train one man—one ordinary, inoffensive, retiring little man—to be an efficient killing machine and he kills the one person who stood a chance of saving us from ourselves!
“A crank, like I say. Won’t let him fly. Says she wants her grandchildren to see the sun. What difference it makes if a plane flies with one seat empty, I don’t know!
LEADERSHIP A form of self-preservation exhibited by people with autodestructive imaginations in order to ensure that when it comes to the crunch it’ll be someone else’s bones which go crack and not their own.
I can't see heaven but I credit hell — I live in New York so I know it well. When they shut out heaven with the Fuller Dome God gave it up and He went home.
They’d have me out and shoot me the first day they took charge. Anyone like me is intolerably subversive to an authoritarian régime, because I’m not interested in imposing my ideas by force on other people.
“It would have been a longer and slower job, I’m sure, and probably there would have been a high price to pay. But what is the price of freedom?” “What’s the price of life?” Donald countered bitterly.
It's not because my mind is made up that I don't want you to confuse me with any more facts. It's because my mind isn't made up. I already have more facts than I can cope with.
"But I was never put on trial, never convicted!" "You are not entitled to a trial." "Anybody's entitled to a trial, damn you!" "That is absolutely true. But you see you are not anybody. You are nobody.
Faust felt like this. The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike, the devil will come and Faustus must be damned … How long did he buy with the currency of his soul — ten years?
“What are you going to do for a career?” Diverted from his orbit, Donald binked. “Well, something which uses up a minimum of my time, I imagine. So I can use the rest to mortar up the gaps in my education.”
Any society which gives lip-service to the idea of equal opportunity is going to generate jealousy of others who are better off than you are, even if the thing that’s in short supply can’t be carved up and shared without destroying it.
Bathed in his currents of liquid helium, self-contained, immobile, vastly well informed by every mechanical sense: Shalmaneser. Every now and again there passes through his circuits a pulse which carries the cybernetic equivalent of the phrase, “Christ, what an imagination I’ve got.“
LOGIC The principle governing human intellection. Its nature may be deduced from examining the following propositions, both of which are held by human beings to be true and often by the same people: “I can’t so you musn’t,” and “I can but you musn’t.”
This year we take our vacation somewhere else. Where is there where Americans aren’t likely to be stoned by a howling mob? Spain, Greece? No, got to be out of range of the stench from the Med. Looks like we might as well stay home.
Not that a car would have been much faster anyway, what with the police posts at state lines, the searches, the restricted zones not merely in cities—one expected that during August—but right out in the country, in agricultural areas. Because of hijackers after food trucks, of course.
One might as well claim that the tide which rubs pebbles smooth on a beach is doing the pebbles a service because being round is prettier than being jagged. It's of no concern to a pebble what shape it is. But it's very important to a person.
NEGRO Member of a subgroup of the human race who hails, or whose ancestors hailed, from a chunk of land nicknamed—not by its residents—Africa. Superior to the Caucasian in that negroes did not invent nuclear weapons, the automobile, Christianity, nerve gas, the concentration camp, military epidemics, or the megalopolis.
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Next, the stalled cars had their windows opaqued with a cheap commercial compound used for etching glass, and slogans were painted on their doors. Some were long: THIS VEHICLE IS A DANGER TO LIFE AND LIMB. Many were short: IT STINKS! But the commonest of all was the universally known catchphrase: STOP, YOU’RE KILLING ME!
In short order they fell into the same pit as their rivals, who had for decades ignored the plain and simple fact that to a starving man “freedom” implies a full rice-bowl—or, if he has an exceptional imagination, a healthy ox to pull his plough. It has nothing to do with voting for a political delegate.
SHALMANESER That real cool piece of hardware up at the GT tower. They say he's apt to evolve to true consciousness one day. Also they say he's as intelligent as a thousand of us put together, which isn't really saying much, because when you put a thousand of us together look how stupidly we behave.
In an individual one would regard it as evidence of insanity to see someone repeatedly undertaking enterprises that resulted in his losing precisely what he claimed he was trying to achieve; it is not less lunatic to do it on the international scale, but if you’ve been catching the news lately you’ll have noticed it’s being done more than ever.
I just haven’t been conditioned into thinking that the right answer can’t be a simple one. When I told you you’d been contaminated I meant by that attitude, which is wider-spread than the common cold and just as undermining. Did nobody ever point out to you that the only liberty implied by free will is the opportunity to be wrong?
Until last year, although this town was barely fifty miles from Denver, the road had been bad and only a handful of visitors had chanced on it. The increasing tendency for people to take mountain vacations, however, since the sea had become too filthy to be tolerable, could not be ignored. The road now was excellent and the area had exploded.
Even this far from shore, the night stank. The sea moved lazily, its embryo waves aborted before cresting by the layer of oily residues surrounding the hull, impermeable as sheet plastic: a mixture of detergents, sewage, industrial chemicals and the microscopic cellulose fibers due to toilet paper and newsprint. There was no sound of fish breaking surface. There were no fish.
I marvel’d how Man, by his GOD-sent wit, Thus tam’d the salamander Element And loos’d the Metal in the mountain pent To make us Saws, and Shears, and useful Plows, Swords for our hands, and Helmets for our brows, The surgeon’s Scalpel, vehicle of Health, And all our humble Tools for gaining wealth . . . ”De Arte Munificente,” Seventeenth century
Your country, mine, every other country in the world, has the same cause and what it does is, it takes people who don’t give a pint of whaledreck for it and sends them off to kill women and children. Yes, it’s the cause of every country on earth! And you know what I call that cause? I call it naked stinking greed.
All this time, though, this feeling that the world was ‘’bound’’ to go to hell! Okay, so it’s true these mothers have turned prairies into dustbowls and used the sea for a giant sewer and laid concrete where there used to be forests. So stop them! Don’t just let them walk over you, crush you face-down into the dirt! Crush them first!
“The whole of modern so-called civilised existence is an attempt to deny reality insofar as it exists. When did Don last look at the stars, when did Norman last get soaked in a rainstorm? The stars as far as these people are concerned are the Manhattan-pattern!” He jerked his thumb at a window beyond which the city’s treasure-house of coloured light glimmered gaudily.
“When did you last bask in the sun, friends? When did you last dare drink from a creek? When did you last risk picking fruit and eating it straight from the tree? What were your doctor’s bills last year? Which of you live in cities where you don’t wear a filtermask? Which of you spent this year’s vacation in the mountains because the sea is fringed with garbage?”
But there isn’t an outside. Talking about “society’s outcasts” or “opting out” is so much whaledreck. The fact that we generate huge quantities of waste is all that allows people to go outside; they’re benefiting from the superficial affluence which conformists use to alleviate boredom. In essence, using the term “out” is as meaningless as trying to define a location outside the universe. There’s no place for “outside” to be.
Opening the door to the visiting doctor, all set to apologize for the flour on her hands—she had been baking—Mrs. Byrne sniffed. Smoke! And if she could smell it with her heavy head cold, it must be a tremendous fire! ”We ought to call the brigade!” she exclaimed. “Is it a hayrick?” ”The brigade would have a long way to go,” the doctor told her curtly. “It’s from America. The wind’s blowing that way.”
Rather painfully, we managed to digest Darwinian evolution so far as physical attributes were concerned within half a century of the initial controversy. (I say “we,” but if you’re a Bible-thumping fundamentalist I expect you at this point to take the book by one corner at arm’s length and ceremonially consign it to the place where you put most sensible ideas, along with everything else you decline to acknowledge the existence of, such as mainly shit.)
When the politicians claim that the public isn’t interested any longer in environmental conservation, they’re half right. People are actually afraid to be interested, because they suspect—I think rightly—that we’ll find if we dig deep enough that we’ve gone so far beyond the limits of what the planet will tolerate that only a major catastrophe which cuts back both our population and our ability to interfere with the natural biocycle would offer a chance of survival.
. . . include prima facie but not ipso facto the following: (a) Homosexuality or gross indecency with another male person; (b) Possession of or trading in an illegal narcotic or other drug; (c) Living upon the earnings of prostitution; (d) Membership in the Communist Party or one of its front organizations (see schedule attached); (e) “Trainism”; (f) Advocating the violent overthrow of the government; (g) Slandering the President of the United States; (h) . . .
What hurt him most of all, made him feel like a sick child aware of terrible wrongness and yet incapable of explaining it to anyone who might help, was that in spite of the evidence around them, in spite of what their eyes and ears reported—and sometimes their flesh, from bruises, stab wounds, racking coughs, weeping sores—these people believed their way of life was the best in the world, and were prepared to export it at the point of a gun.
People didn’t fly the Atlantic any more if they could help it, except from bravado. Even if your plane wasn’t sabotaged or hijacked, it was certain to be behind schedule. Not that there was much to be said for ocean travel either, since the sinking of the Paolo Rizzi last summer and the drowning of thirteen hundred passengers in a sea made foul by a hundred and eighty thousand tons of oil from the tanker she’d collided with. Moral, definitely: stay home.
The plane droned on through the black sky, above the clouds masking the Atlantic. It suddenly occurred to Michael that he ought to look at the moon. He hadn’t seen it all the time he was in Paris, nor the stars. He slid up the blind of his window and peered out. There was no moon visible. When he consulted his diary he discovered that it had set, a tiny sliver, at exactly the time the plane had taken off from London.
It was cool and quiet in here because instead of windows there were cosmoramic projections, latest of late devices to prevent the intrusion of untasteful exterior reality. Nearby the chimneys reeked a twenty-four-hour day yet the view was of clean white clouds, blue sky, yellow sun not so bright that it dazzled. Superior to the natural article, yes. Also birds flew or perched between two layers of glass on real branches in air-conditioned environment. It was not ordinary to see birds. Very yes.
“I can at least comfort myself with the idea that whatever I’ve done I’ve helped to nail a lie, and I’m coming to think that lying is among the worst of all human failings. Next to actual killing. And experience has made us almost equally good at both of them.” “I have killed many people and seen many more killed on my orders,” Jogajong said. “It is what must be paid to buy what we want.” “What we’ve been told we want, by liars more skilled than ourselves.”
Unto the third and fourth generation, General Motors, you have visited your greed on the children. Unto the twentieth, AEC, you have twisted their limbs and closed their eyes. Unto the last dawn of man you have cursed us, O Father. Our Father. Our Father Which art in Washington, give us this day our daily calcium propionate, sodium diacetate monoglyceride, potassium bromate, calcium phosphate, monobasic chloramine T, aluminium potassium sulphate, sodium benzoate, butylated hydroxyanisole, mono-iso-propyl citrate, axerophthol and calciferol. Include with it a little flour and salt. Amen.
There’s one bright spot in the generally gloomy picture know as the Pacific Conflict Zone. According to my calculations, by the year 2500 or so we should have killed off every last member of our species who is stupid enough to take part in so futile a pastime as this war between “ideals,” and with luck they won’t have left their genes behind because they’ll typically have been killed at an age when society thinks they’re too young to assume the responsibility of childbearing. After that we may get some peace and quiet for a change.
Behind her chair, from a wall covered in a very expensive velvet-flock paper, a portrait of her grandfather looked down. He had been an Episcopalian bishop, but the picture showed him in the costume of a New England gentleman keeping up the Old English custom of riding to hounds: red coat, brown boots, distinguished with a white dog-collar and black silk front. Hugh referred to him as being dressed to kill. The salad was replaced—though Hugh had sampled only a mouthful of his—by a dish of cold fish with mayonnaise. He didn’t even touch this course. He was suddenly afraid of it because it had come from the sea.
By the door, a large red object with a mirror on the upper part of its front. Installed last fall. Japanese. On a plate at the side: Mitzuyama Corp., Osaka. Shaped like a weighing machine. Stand here and insert 25c. Do not smoke while using. Place mouth and nose to soft black flexible mask. Like an obscene animal’s kiss. Usually he laughed at it because up here in the mountains the air was never so bad you needed to tank up on oxygen to make the next block. On the other hand some people did say it was a hell of a good cure for a hangover . . .
At the big Georgia paper mill the saboteur was obviously a chemist. Some kind of catalyst was substituted for a drum of regular sizing solution and vast billowing waves of corrosive fumes ruined the plant. Anonymous calls to a local TV station claimed it had been done to preserve trees. The same day, in northern California, signs were posted on a stand of redwoods that the governor had authorized for lumbering: about two hundred of the last six hundred in the state. The signs said: FOR EVERY TREE YOU KILL ONE OF YOU WILL DIE TOO. The promise was carried out with Schmiesser machine-pistols. The actual score was eighteen people for seventeen trees. Close enough.
Most of the drivers, however, had the sense to stay put, fuming behind their blank windshields as they calculated the cost of repairs and repainting. Practically all of them were armed, but not one was stupid enough to pull a gun. It had been tried during a Trainite demonstration in San Francisco last month. A girl had been shot dead. Others, anonymous in whole-head masks and drab mock-homespun clothing, had dragged the killer from his car and used the same violent acid they applied to glass to write MURDERER on his flesh. In any case, there was little future in rolling down a window to curse the demonstrators. Throats didn’t last long in the raw air.
. . . and Dr. Isaiah Williams, whose body was recovered from a ravine near San Pablo. Inquiries are being hampered by what an Army spokesman termed the obstinate attitude of the local people. “They won’t admit they know their left hands from their right,” he asserted. Here at home Senator Richard Howell (Rep., Col.) today launched a fierce attack on the quote chlorophyll addicts unquote who, he claims, are hamstringing American business, already staggering under the load of high unemployment and recession, by insisting that our manufacturers comply with regulations ignored by foreign competition. In Southern Italy rioting continues in many small towns formerly dependent on fishing. Meantime, dust storms in the Camargue . . .
“Yes? . . . Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that. Please convey him our best wishes for a speedy recovery. But the president did ask me to pass this message informally as soon as possible; I may say he feels very strongly about the matter. Of course, not knowing if the rumor is well founded, we didn’t want to handle it on an official level . . . Yes, I would be obliged if you could make sure the ambassador is told at the earliest opportunity. Tell him, please, that any attempt to nominate Austin Train for the Nobel Peace Prize would be regarded as a grave and—I quote the president’s actual word—calculated affront to the United States.”
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.
“It's natural for a man to defend what’s dear to him: his own life, his home, his family. But in order to make him fight on behalf of his rulers, the rich and powerful who are too cunning to fight their own battles—in short to defend not himself but people whom he’s never met and moreover would not care to be in the same room with him—you have to condition him into loving violence not for the benefits it bestows on him but for its own sake. Result: the society has to defend itself from its defenders, because what’s admirable in wartime is termed psychopathic in peace. It’s easier to wreck a man than to repair him. Ask any psychotherapist. And take a look at the crime figures among veterans.”
General Kaika: Was it black men who filled the Mediterranean with poison? No, it was destroyed by the filthy wastes from European factories! Reporter: Well, the Aswan dam-- General Kaika: Yes, yes, the Aswan dam may have tipped the balance finally, but before that the sea was dying. Because so many had to starve on the African coast there began this war. That is why I say the white countries are responsible. It is the typical white habit to ruin what you have and then go to steal from other people. Reporter: Oh, General, you’re stretching the facts a bit! General Kaika: Is the fact that it is dangerous to swim in the Mediterranean? Is the fact that the fish have died? Reporter: Well, yes, but-- General Kaika: I have no more to say.
Watching their sets in a kind of trance were people in Mexico, people in France. They don't chase Jones but the dreams are the same — Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere, that's the right name! Herr und Frau Uberall or les Partout, A gadget on the set makes them look like you. When the Everywhere couple crack a joke It's laughed at by all right-thinking folk. When the Everywhere couple adopt a pose It's the with-it view as everyone knows. It may be a rumor or it may be true But a gadget on the set has it said by you! "What do you think about Yatakang?" "I think the same as the Everywhere gang." "What do you think of Beninia then?" "The Everywheres will tell me but I don't know when." Whatever my country and whatever my name A gadget on the set makes me think the same.
Gilt-tooled on yard-square panels of green leather—imitation, of course—the zodiacal signs looked down from the walls of the executive lunch-room. The air was full of the chatter of voices and the clink of ice-cubes. Waiting to be attacked when the president of the company joined them (he had promised to show at one sharp) was a table laden with expensive food: hard-boiled eggs, shells intact so that it could be seen they were brown, free-range, rich in carotene; lettuces whose outer leaves had been rasped by slugs; apples and pears wearing their maggot-marks like dueling scars, in this case presumably genuine ones though it had been known for fruit growers to fake them with red-hot wires in areas where insects were no longer found; whole hams, very lean, proud of their immunity from antibiotics and copper sulphate; scrawny chickens; bread as coarse as sandstone, dark as mud and nubbled with wheat grains . . .
. . . that the Army is using defoliants in Honduras to create fire-free zones. This charge has been strongly denied by the Pentagon. Asked to comment just prior to leaving for Hawaii, where he will convalesce for the next two or three weeks, Prexy said, quote, Well, if you can’t see them you can’t shoot them. End quote. Support has been growing for a bill which Senator Richard Howell will introduce at the earliest opportunity, forbidding the issue of a passport to any male between sixteen and sixty not in possession of a valid discharge certificate or medical exemption. Welcoming the proposal, a Pentagon spokesman today admitted that of the last class called for the draft more than one in three failed to report. Your steaks are going to cost you more. This warning was today issued by the Department of Agriculture. The price of animal fodder has quote taken off like a rocket unquote, following the mysterious . . .
. . . published today as a United Nations Special Report. The alleged rise of intelligence in so-called backward countries is ascribed by the scientists who conducted the three-year investigation to improved diet and sanitation, while the as-yet unconfirmed decline in advanced nations is attributed to intensified pollution. Asked to comment on the report just prior to leaving for Hollywood, where he is tonight slated to open his annual retrospective, Prexy said, quote, Well, if they’re so smart why aren’t they clever? End quote. At a press conference in Tegucigalpa the disappearance of Leonard Ross, field agent for Globe Relief, and Dr. Isaiah Williams, the British medico who’s also unaccounted for, was officially ascribed today to terrorism. Troops are searching the area intensively, but so far have reported no success. Following the shock resignation of the former president of the “Save the Med” fund, Dottore Giovanni Crespinolo, the Italian government has flatly denied his charge that the vast sums donated by corporations and individuals in forty-eight countries in the hope of saving the doomed landlocked sea have been embezzled. Reports from Rome, however . . .
Very well, the starting point would be that claim of Professor Quarrey’s, which had been in the news at the beginning of the year, that the country’s greatest export was noxious gas. And who would like to stir up the fuss again? Obviously, the Canadians, cramped into a narrow band to the north of their more powerful neighbors, growing daily angrier about the dirt that drifted to them on the wind, spoiling crops, causing chest diseases and soiling laundry hung out to dry. So she’d called the magazine Hemisphere in Toronto, and the editor had immediately offered ten thousand dollars for three articles. Very conscious that all calls out of the country were apt to be monitored, she’d put the proposition to him in highly general terms: the risk of the Baltic going the same way as the Mediterranean, the danger of further dust-bowl like the Mekong Desert, the effects of bringing about climactic change. That was back in the news—the Russians had revised their plan to reverse the Yenisei and Ob. Moreover, there was the Danube problem, worse than the Rhine had ever been, and Welsh nationalists were sabotaging pipelines meant to carry “their” water into England, and the border war in West Pakistan had been dragging on so long most people seemed to have forgotten that it concerned a river. And so on. Almost as soon as she started digging, though, she thought she might never be able to stop. It was out of the question to cover the entire planet. Her pledged total of twelve thousand words would be exhausted by North American material alone.
And then, all of a sudden, it was as though through those dark eyes an electrical circuit had been struck. She sat fascinated. Snake-and-bird fascinated. Afterwards she could not recall the details of what he had said. She remembered only that she had been absorbed, rapt, lost, for over ten minutes by the clock. She had perceived images conjured up from the dead past: a hand trailed in clear river water, deliciously cool, while the sun smiled and a shoal of tiny fishes darted between her fingers; the crisp flesh of a ripe apple straight from the tree, so juicy it ran down her chin; grass between her bare toes, the turf like springs so that she seemed not to bear the whole of her weight on her soles but to be floating, dreamlike, in slow motion, instantly transported to the moon; the western sky painted with vast heart-tearing slapdash streaks of red below the bright steel-blue of clouds, and stars coming snap-snap into view against the eastern dark; wind gentle in her hair and on her cheeks, bearing flower perfumes, dusting her with petals; snow cold to the palm as it was shaped into a ball; laughter echoing from a dark lane where only lovers walked, not thieves and muggers; butter like an ingot of soft gold; ocean spray sharp and clean as the edge of an axe; with the same sense of safe, provided rightly used; round pebbles polychrome beside a pool; rain to which a thirsty mouth could open, distilling the taste of a continent of air . . . And under, and through, and in, and around all this, a conviction: “Something can be done to get that back!” She was crying. Small tears like ants had itched their paths down her cheeks. She said, when she realized he had fallen silent, “But I never knew that! None of it! I was born and raised right here in New York!” ”But don’t you think you should have known it?” Austin Train inquired gently.