The Live Presentation
David Langford writes: This "Live Thog's Masterclass" has been delivered, or performed, or whatever you call it, at more British conventions than I care to remember -- not to mention a couple in the USA, the 1999 Worldcon in Australia, and the 2003 Worldcon in Canada. It developed from an earlier, anarchic version (seen at the 1994 Eastercon and 1995 Glasgow Worldcon) in which Paul Barnett and I forced hapless audience members to read "randomly" chosen Thog quotations. The text below is more or less as revised for the 2004 Discworld Convention.
Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the wonderful world of Thog the Mighty. In case anyone doesn't know the hideous background -- I'm Dave Langford, I publish a nasty little sf gossip-sheet called Ansible, whose secret history I'll be talking about on Monday, and one of Ansible's most deplorably popular departments is Thog's Masterclass. This is a showcase for memorable sf and fantasy quotations which have been hand-picked by that legendary barbarian Thog for being ... differently good. Thog has an eye for the sort of prose which is best appreciated with a large spiked mace. Examples will follow, and by special permission of Mr Slant of the Lawyers' Guild, none of them are by Terry Pratchett.
To set a suitably low tone, let's begin with a few of Thog's most cherished lines from the big names of fantasy, sf and even that mainstream stuff. Sensitive authors should already have left the room. As Erich von Däniken put it in Chariots of the Gods? -- 'It took courage to write this book, and it will take courage to read it.' Or to quote the series blurb for the Usborne Spinechillers imprint, these are 'Full length spinetingling tales -- too scary to read in the dark!' Here we go ...
- Brian Aldiss demonstrates his knowledge of arcane geography in Remembrance Day: 'She wore large bronze earrings made in an obscure country which rattled when she laughed.'
- Kevin J. Anderson's Hidden Empire comes up with a whole new reason why interstellar spaceships don't need pretty streamlining: 'In the vacuum of space no one could see beautiful lines or shiny hulls anyway.'
- Poul Anderson's story 'Among Thieves' suggests an futuristic method of spring-cleaning: 'He swept the antechamber with the eyes of a trapped animal.'
- Isaac Asimov mentions an unusual throat problem in Prelude to Foundation: 'His mouth, for a moment, ran liquid and then it slid, almost of its own accord, down his throat.'
- J.G. Ballard presents the concept of fun-loving facial hair in Cocaine Nights -- 'The underwriter seemed equally amused, frisking up the ends of his moustache, eager for them to join in the fun.'
- Stephen Baxter reveals a daring combat technique in his story 'The Star Beast': 'He closed with Arabs whose breath stank of spices and who fought with knives clutched in their teeth.'
- Arthur C.Clarke explains the mysteries of relativity in 'The Sentinel' -- 'That mountain's less than twelve thousand feet high -- that's only two thousand under Earth gravity ...'
- Storm Constantine's Hermetech describes a young woman with unusual physical endowments: 'He could feel the bones through her spare buttocks.'
- Robert Heinlein sensitively describes a kiss from the female viewpoint in The Number of the Beast: 'Our teeth grated, and my nipples went spung!'
- Thomas Harris conjures up a slightly fishy image in Hannibal -- 'Excitement leaped like a trout in the public trousers.'
- Robert Holdstock combines horror with fruit salad in The Stalking: 'His head suddenly began to peel, the flesh tearing away from the bone in ragged strips, like a pink banana.'
- Patricia McKillip diagnoses another throat condition in The Riddle-Master of Hed -- 'Something jumped in the back of Morgon's throat. It was huge, broad as a farmhorse, with a deer's delicate, triangular face.'
- Kim Stanley Robinson finds a brand-new simile for a space elevator in Green Mars: 'Just to the south of them, the new Socket was like a titanic concrete bunker, the new elevator cable rising out of it like an elevator cable ...'
Now you may be asking yourselves, is Thog's Masterclass just a sadistic exercise in tearing defenceless prose fragments from their literary context and holding them up to the cruel light of scorn? I'd like to assure everyone that that's completely correct. One redeeming feature is that we are all guilty. Every author, even Terry Pratchett, gives hostages to Thog. Even John Grant, the original creator of the character Thog, woke up one day to find he'd written this about a tomboyish young heroine confronting the realities of growing up: 'Then she would feel her breasts and discover that she lacked a penis ...'
The idea of collecting the best of Thog's Masterclass into a book came from Ursula Le Guin, who volunteered to write the introduction. Admittedly the sf publishers so far have all wailed 'We can't print this, you've got our best-selling authors in there!' ... But planning the book forced us to work out some system for classifying Thog quotations under various tasteful headings. These include 'Eyeballs in the Sky', 'Mysteries of Anatomy', 'The Purple Prose of Cairo', the very popular 'True Romance' department, and one tasty section which I'm afraid is entitled 'See Nipples and Die'.
Under Mysteries of Anatomy, for example, we discover again and again that in the worlds of sf and fantasy, even the humans have strangely alien bodies. Would anyone like to guess what exactly is happening in this bit from A.A.Attanasio's The Dragon and the Unicorn? -- 'That was before the sixth gate of his body opened, and the strong eye siphoned the energy from his throat into his skull, leaving behind a wake of laughter.' Here are some more puzzlers:
- Robin Wayne Bailey, Shadowdance -- 'Her head gimbaled back to rest between her shoulders.'
- From Joe Buff's Thunder in the Deep: 'Taylor struggled to his console, tried to lift the red handset to Damage Control back aft, and realized his right collarbone was smashed. He grabbed for the phone with his left.'
- Ramsey Campbell, The One Safe Place -- 'Then Marshall squeezed his eyes shut and nodded his torso a few times ...'
- Leah R. Cutter's Paper Mage describes interesting internal noises: 'A deep joy bubbled inside her, sounding like a sparkling stream full of spring rain.'
- Jack Dann, The Memory Cathedral -- 'His two missing teeth could be seen only when he smiled.'
- Esther Friesner's story, 'How to Make Unicorn Pie' suggests a whole new line in detachable prosthetics -- 'Wellcome slapped his brow and let his celluloid smile glide across the room.'
- Simon R. Green, Deathstalker -- '... his face seemed polite but partly absent ...'
- Charles Harness, The Paradox Men -- 'Then a horrid, unforgettable giggle bit at his unbelievable left ear.'
- China Miéville shows the meaning of a detached viewpoint in Perdido Street Station -- 'Isaac threw up his face and swung it around him, desperately searching for light.'
- Margaret Weis and Don Perrin have an excitable chap in The Knights of the Black Earth -- 'His heart was pumping like a photon combustion chamber.'
- Perhaps the worst of these internal problems is suffered by the hero of John Saul's horror novel Suffer the Children -- 'He sighed to himself and cursed the necessity of having a social worker in his midst.'
- And in Carl Huberman's Eminent Domain there's a fellow who finds an important organ has entirely the wrong contents -- '"Can I use the bathroom?" Stanley asked, his bladder full of fear.'
Getting more crudely anatomical, there's a wonderful euphemism for uncontrollable flatulence in Flight by Vanna Bonta -- 'Juristac's reproach had been sufficient and he pleasured in the effect it had created on Loptoor who remained several paces behind him, emitting rapid dispersals of fear.' Possibly his bladder was full of it.
Onward! The Eyeballs in the Sky department takes its name from the old Perishers comic strip, and deals with the inventive things that fictional characters' eyes get up to. Our biggest catch here is Vladimir Nabokov, whose painful line from Invitation to a Beheading is immortalized in the Oxford English Dictionary: 'And with his eyes he literally scoured the corners of the cell.' And more:
- Isaac Asimov in 'Satisfaction Guaranteed': 'She looked away, then let him slide gently into the corner of her eye.'
- In E.F. Benson's 'Home, Sweet Home', a woman refuses to meet the narrator's gaze: 'Her jolly brown eyes made a complete circuit round my head ...'
- Here are some specially athletic eyeballs in Mary Brendan's The Silver Squire: 'She took a few paces within, her amber eyes clambering up library steps, sliding along polished shelves housing neatly ranged books within a mellow wood gallery then down the stairs on the opposite side of the room.'
- Charles de Lint's Someplace to be Flying gives us paws, as it were, for thought: 'Only Lily could tell there was more to it, because whatever was haunting the back of his eyes made a trail of uneasy paw prints up her own spine.'
- Gordon Dickson's Young Bleys has a particularly full-frontal example -- 'They looked at each other with naked eyes.'
- Richard Matheson's The Shores of Space gives us a chap with Olympic-quality eyelids -- 'He blinked away the waves of blackness lapping at his ankles.'
- Sax Rohmer reveals the hazards of smoking in The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu: 'Smith struck a match and relighted his pipe. He began to pace the room again. His eyes were literally on fire.'
- Patrick Tilley, The Amtrak Wars -- 'He covered his face and pressed his fingertips against his closed eyes in a vain effort to wipe the blood-stained images from his retinas. His fingers could not reach deep enough.'
- And a special over-the-top treat from Salome The Wandering Jewess by George Viereck & Paul Eldridge -- '"Seigneur, I have invented forty new dishes for tonight's banquet," Francois said pathetically, his eyes creeping out until they hung on the rims of their sockets like desperate people wavering on the edges of precipices.'
But I can see various eyes in the audience falling to the floor and bouncing listlessly around. Probably it's time to get a bit less physical and move to the pure delights of prose craftmanship, in Thog's collection of Flowers of Rhetoric. One that haunts my dreams is this unforgettably vivid image from Jane Gaskell's The Serpent -- 'I suppose I looked mesmerized already as a skinned rabbit.'
- Robin Wayne Bailey's Shadowdance shows how to work up suspense at dinner -- '"The tension is thicker than the gravy," he said.'
- Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Heritage of Hastur -- 'It was not a cancer on the face of Darkover, but a strange and not unbeautiful garment.'
- Kunma by Frank Corsaro contains Thog's all-time favourite simile: '... the abbot watched dazedly as they rushed like lemurs towards destruction.'
- A cheap shot from the StarGateTM novelization by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich -- 'The shot went through Freeman's head like a soft watermelon, raining pieces of him onto the screaming crowd.'
- Stephen Gallagher's Red, Red Robin made me wonder whether the author is buying his meat from a really reliable shop -- 'They'd see the way that some of their husbands twitched into life like dead meat when introduced into her company.'
- David Gerrold's 'Chess with a Dragon' has a wicked way with a metaphor -- 'The argument was a peripatetic orang-utan, bouncing off the walls of their separate frustrations like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel.'
- Bernard King, Time-Fighters -- 'Her English accent would have cut glass, even in the Highlands where pewter or pottery was more traditional.'
- Michael Kring, The Space Mavericks -- 'The two with broken arms got to their feet and sped away like drunken iguanas waddling on a fence, whimpering like a lost puppy.'
- A tasteful variation on that Ed McBain line 'The city was a woman' appears in Adrian Matthews's novel Vienna Blood -- 'Vienna, in that perfunctory way of hers, has sighed and spread her legs to be shagged by the winter solstice.'
- Patrick Tilley, The First Family -- 'To use a pre-Holocaust term, Brickman was clearly a hot potato -- a vegetable that no one in the Federation had tasted for nigh on a thousand years.'
- Robert Charles Wilson, The Harvest -- 'It was an Everest of understatement.'
- And N.Lee Wood's Faraday's Orphans has an obviously carefully researched sound effect: 'The shadow froze and a noise like a disembowelled sparrow chirped above him.'
Beyond these mere temperate 'Flowers of Rhetoric' is the steamy hothouse area of the Thog Complex which holds more exotic blooms, under the title The Purple Prose of Cairo. A certain lavish over-the-topness is the entry qualification here, especially if immediately followed by a verbal pratfall.
- Gordon Dickson's Naked to the Stars provided the winner of the Folio Society's 1984 'Worst First Sentence' contest, with -- 'The voice, speaking out of the ancient blackness of the night on the third planet of Arcturus -- under an alien tree, bent and crippled by the remorseless wind -- paused, and cleared its throat: "Ahem", it said. "Gentlemen...."'
- Alan Glasser, in The Demon Cosmos, offers an image I really wish I could forget -- 'When he was yet a million miles away the bright ring of fire that marked its portal filled the sky in front of him, flexing and twisting like the devil's anus in spasms of immortal agony.' That's ... really piling it on.
- Bernard King, The Destroying Angel -- 'There are some sounds in nature which are anathema to man. For most people they are confined to the strangled screaming of a vixen in heat, hideous and unearthly in the black voids of a sleepless night.' The question you have to ask yourself here is, 'Am I most people?'
- Dean R.Koontz's Phantoms contains a tasty metaphor -- 'Somewhere in Snowfield, were there living human beings who had been reduced to the awful equivalent of foil-wrapped Pop Tarts, waiting only to provide nourishment for some brutal, unimaginably evil, darkly intelligent, other-dimensional horror?' Students of the deep grammar of horror novels suspect that the answer was probably Yes.
- Felicity Savage, Humility Garden -- 'When they finished eating, they would lie silently under the blankets until sleep shuffled over the roofs to the leaded skylight and threw itself down on them, sprawling like a wanton over their faces.'
- Finally from Jeffrey M. Wallmann's Death Trek -- '... with lightning whisper, the group blenched from a gnomish elder who hunched ashen on one wizened leg.' Don't try this at home.
In another part of the psionics laboratory, carefully preserved under vacuum-sealed glass, is Thog's collection of Great Scientific Insights. Some of these are not immediately obvious, like the bit in Brian Aldiss's story 'His Seventieth Heaven' -- 'The name of the satellite was Gratitude One. It orbited Earth once every twenty-four hours, three thousand two hundred kilometres above the centre of the Earth ...' Which, when you think about it, is over 3,000 kilometres underground.
But even the most fearsome scientific pedant can't quarrel with this bit of chronology from A.A.Attanasio's The Dark Shore -- 'Less than a day remained before dawn ...'
- Marion Zimmer Bradley explores Newtonian physics in her story 'The Climbing Wave': 'It is impossible to shrug one's shoulders in free fall; the motion sends you flying across the cabin ...'
- Philip E.High depicts alien geometry in Twin Planets -- 'The alien device was a blank, black cube about a foot high and three feet long.'
- Peter F.Hamilton's Mindstar Rising shows subtle evidence of scientific research based on the original poster for Alien: 'He'd soon learnt to speak in a half shout, sound didn't carry far in free fall.'
- The secret of living for a very, very long time is revealed in Galaxies Ahead by Terence Haile, and apparently it's easier than you might think. '"Peters, we are over a million years old!" he announced quietly. "When we were caught up in that double-sun explosion, we must have been carried along in its giddy orbit for over a million years! We were kept alive simply because we were in an air-locked compartment and did not do anything but sleep for most of the time, thus conserving our energy and our bodies to allow us to behave now as if we were normal men."'
- Edmond Hamilton, in City At World's End, neatly explains the Big Bang -- 'Einstein's equations proved that if matter moved faster than light, it would expand indefinitely ...'
- Bernard King's Skyfire explains a little-known fact about the past: 'The seasons were different in those days.'
- Dean R. Koontz displays his mastery of weapons physics in Star Quest: 'Laser cannon erupted like acid-stomached giants, belching forth corrosive froth ...'
- J.M.H.Lovegrove's The Krilov Continuum offers an astonishing insight into genetics: '"I wonder, John," said Piers to Rattray, "is this ability to engineer an antigravity drive a hereditary thing ...?"'
- Anne McCaffrey solves a tricky problem of spaceship navigation in The Tower and the Hive -- '"Captain Vandermeer, if you will please initiate a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree turn of the Washington, we'll begin the long journey home."'
- Matthew Reilly's novel Temple explains the secrets of matter itself -- 'As I think you were told before, thyrium-261 is not indigenous to Earth. It comes from a binary star system called the Pleiades, a system not far from our own. / Now, as you can probably imagine, planets in binary star systems are affected by all sorts of forces because of their twin suns -- photosynthesis is doubled; gravitational effects, as well as resistance to gravity, are enormous. As such, elements found on planets in binary systems are usually heavier and denser than similar elements found here on Earth. Thyrium-261 is just such an element. / It was first found in petrified form in the walls of a meteor crater in Arizona in 1972.'
- Margaret Weis & Don Perrin, in The Knights of the Black Earth, know all about particle physics -- 'They were within two hundred meters, rocketing toward nullgrav steel doors that could absorb a direct hit from a meson without buckling.'
But this is what the science in fiction used to be like, from D.R. Smith's 'In the Grand Manner' published in Novae Terrae in 1938 --
'Something glittered on the alien blue-green sward not fifty yards from the ship. Intensely intrigued, all rushed to it.
'"Why, it's only a cogwheel," cried Madeleine. Steve gave her a glance from which love and respect were conspicuously absent.
'"A left hand helical mitre gear," he said, with emphasis on the last word. "Involute tooth form, helix angle about twelve, ground after hardening," he went on didactically.
'"What does it all mean?" cried Madeleine hysterically. Steve regarded her irritably.
'"It means I know more about gears than you do."'
This subtle portrayal of gender relationships leads naturally into Thog's True Romance department, full of misty-eyed moments guaranteed to bring a tear to the most hardened fan's nostrils. Of course there is some more hardcore material too. Leigh Brackett's 'The Secret of Sinharat' sets the tone with its hint of a slightly unusual sexual position: 'The women of Shun are tall and strong, bred to stand beside their men in war as well as love....'
- The late Robert L.Forward saluted his favourite female characteristics in Saturn Rukh -- 'He was handsome and blond, with the same height and almost the same muscular build as Chastity, except her chest-circumference measurement involved different lumps from his.'
- Joan Hunter Holly, in The Green Planet, paints what I can only call a cheeky picture of a scantily clad lady -- 'Her dress was ragged at the hem, and too short as the clear air pulled her up tall, but her cheeks were flushed with excitement.'
- John Norman's Time Slave indicates the proper respectful attitude for a woman -- 'She looked on him. Never before in her life had she seen such a male. He made even Gunther seem a lesser man. Her imagination had not even dreamed that such a man could exist. The men she had known earlier, even Gunther, had been no intimation that there might be males such as these. Such men, she thought, could not exist in her time. In her time there was no place; there could be no place, for such men as these.' Please don't ask me about Gunther.
- Guy N. Smith's Night of the Crabs shows the sentiments of a staunch Englishman -- 'He wasn't going to leave Pat Benson on her own, crabs or no crabs.'
- John Saul, in Punish the Sinners, chooses his words very carefully. The context is that the hero discovers that he's been secretly hypnotized and involved in a homosexual orgy with the naughty monks of the Society of St Peter Martyr. He investigates these events: 'For the first time in several days, Peter thought he had a chance of getting to the bottom of the Society of St Peter Martyr.'
- One chap in the novel Abduction by Rodman Philbrick & Lynn Harnett takes a keen scientific interest in romance: '"I'm going to remove the skull so I can watch what happens in the brain when I make you my mate," he said. "No one has ever determined if there is any actual physical response in the brain."'
- E.E. Smith in Second Stage Lensmen has a marvellously unashamed wedding ritual -- 'Then, as Kinnison kissed his wife, half a million Lensed members were thrust upward in silent salute.'
- And I'd just like to say that it's terribly unfair and prurient of Thog to pick on this cosy domestic picture from H.G.Wells's The War of the Worlds -- 'His landlady came to the door, loosely wrapped in dressing-gown and shawl; her husband followed ejaculating.'
In a small annexe to the 'True Romance' department, behind a locked door with signs saying AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, NO CHILDREN and BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD, we find some particularly thrusting Thoggisms under the overall title See Nipples and Die. For some reason an awful lot of these lines seem to be from Robert Heinlein's 'The Number of the Beast -- ' ... including the immortal female reflection 'I'd be an idiot to risk competing with Deety's teats.' and the subtle masculine insight of 'My darling keeps her feelings out of her face, mostly, but those pretty pink spigots are barometers of her morale.' Meanwhile:
- From Michael Avallone's, The Horrible Man * -- 'She ... unearthed one of her fantastic breasts from the folds of her sheath skirt.'
- Gregory Benford, in Furious Gulf, uses subtle, oblique imagery -- 'Jocelyn came through the fog wall, muttering, her breasts swaying like two angry red eyes looking for a fight.'
- Gary L. Holleman's Howl-O-Ween offers a rare sighting of deep-penetration nipples -- 'Her breath caught in her throat and her nipple burrowed into his palm like a friendly mole.'
- The lady in Graham Joyce's The Tooth Fairy sounds even more dangerous to touch: 'Her nipples stood erect, like twin blades ...'
- One of the real greats of fantasy, Fritz Leiber, had an alarming moment in The Knight and Knave of Swords, describing a young lady with 'small breasts and rather larger nipples ...'
- J.T.McIntosh's 'Planet on Probation' was published in 1960, before that decade really started swinging: 'Blake had a tantalizing glimpse of two impudent little breasts which made up in quality what they lacked in quantity.' Later in the narrative: 'Blake noticed that when she was angry her bust measurement was fully adequate.'
- Genetically engineering can make these things far more than adequate, as in Don Pendleton's The Guns of Terra 10 -- 'More interesting to Whaleman were the fantastic breastworks, huge swollen globes of shiny flesh upon her chest, crowned with soft pink suckler tips -- no doubt, the Gunner surmised -- the mammary evidence of a runaway GPC maternal code. He realized that he was inspecting her with excessive interest but could not help himself. The mammala were exquisitely formed, curiously hard-soft in appearance, and jutting out from the chest in a manner that aroused Whaleman's engineering curiosity.' Remember that one, chaps! Always explain that it's just your engineering curiosity.
- Also in this collection of items that go spung!, we find Jane Gaskell's fine cameo of female decadence from Some Summer Lands, which in the Clinton years seemed especially relevant to American politics -- 'Sedili rolled herself a cheroot and tamped it hard on her clitoris, which stood up ready to be of use.' The important thing, boys and girls, is not to light the cheroot first.
- Of course, old-fashioned sf writers preferred to describe these things in rather less detail, as in Dan Morgan's and John Kippax's A Thunder of Stars -- 'As an old Spaceman, Carter believed that male and female sides of a crew should meet and, without infringing duty in the least, get their adjustments in a normal manner.' I imagine these adjustments being approached via sexy chat-up lines like this example from a very, very early John Wyndham story, The Secret People -- 'You're lovely; and you're a brick.'
Moving rather hastily on, we come to the category despairingly called Beats Me -- for those epigrammatic moments when at first glance we can't quite see what the author meant, and a second look makes things suddenly less clear. Our old friend A.A.Attanasio is particularly good at this: here's a slightly worrying line from The Dark Shore -- 'Since she has died, her fragrance is everywhere.'
- Stephen Baxter, Ring -- 'Louise remembered the ancient, beautiful names. Pan, Atlas, Prometheus, Pandora, Epimetheus ... Names almost as old, now, as the myths from which they had been taken ...'
- Alfred Bester provokes a sudden double-take in 'Hell is Forever': 'The girl squawked and sputtered. Exactly, Peel noted, like a decapitated hen.'
- Frank Belknap Long's 'Monster From Out of Time' requires the reader to pay close attention as ... 'Dorman felt all of his muscles growing tense in preparation for an encounter that he could not hope to avoid if his voice carried less far than it would have done if he had been just a little nearer.'
- Frank Corsaro makes a subtle theological point in Kunma: 'Catholics as a rule avoid divorce -- unless one of them dies.
- That StarGateTM novelization again -- 'The hunter could move no faster than the stone walls of the cave that surrounded him ...'
- Jenny Diski, Monkey's Uncle -- 'It was dark. No darker than it had been while she fell through her dialectical hole, but no lighter, either. It was the kind of disorienting dark that, had she been a feather in a large, unopened can, she wouldn't have the faintest idea which way was up.'
- Stephen R. Donaldson, White Gold Wielder -- 'They were featureless and telic, like lambent gangrene. They looked horribly like children.' When I met Stephen Donaldson a few years ago, I was terrified that he'd show me photographs of his children.
- Terence Haile's Space Train lets a character show shrewd detective instinct by saying -- '"For a farmer, you seem very interested in the opposite sex."'
- A linguistics special from Fred & Geoffrey Hoyle's The Incandescent Ones -- '"Hello, stranger on the road," a voice called in a language not known to me, Turkish presumably.'
- Bernard King, Blood Circle -- 'Her father had died on her twelfth birthday, drenching her presents with tears and rendering the cake inedible.'
- Michael Kring, The Space Mavericks -- 'The green fur made it look like a Terran gorilla more than anything.'
- Tanith Lee, Vivia, 1995 -- 'Vivia herself was a woman. Not only physically, as of course was Lilliot, but psychosomatically.'
- Peter Senese and Robert Geis, in Cloning Christ, describe an unusual religious burden -- 'QUOTE The Crusader vision of our equestrian order is at the service of our faith UNQUOTE were words from Muhlor's investiture into a centuries old order of Church knighthood that he carried with him everywhere.'
- Dan Simmons demands close attention in Ilium: 'As with most aerial bombardments in my era, the effects of the attack were more terrifying than the results.'
- Robert Charles Wilson's The Divide illustrates the importance of remembering a little bit about your previous sentence: 'Susan awoke to an absolute silence: the traffic outside the hotel had been utterly stilled. John was in the bathroom -- she could hear the shower running.'
- And 'Karl Zeigfried' makes it clear in his classic novel Android that we have absolutely no idea how this weapon works, and neither does he -- 'He pressed the button of the vibratory emulator; there was an inaudible beam, a wavelength of death, a movement that was less than a movement, and a motion that was less than a motion. And yet there were movements and motions that were more than movements and motions.'
One of the rules of Thog's Masterclass presentations is that we must always pay homage to Thog's favourite author: Robert Lionel Fanthorpe. Here is a rare passage from his novel Neuron World, showing Lionel's mastery of colourful prose. This, science fiction fans, is the definitive description of what hyperspace looks like:
- 'Never, not even in the deepest natural darkness that she had ever experienced, had she encountered an absence of light as total as this. It was unutterably dark, this was the Stygian darkness of which poets wrote. This was the pit of Acheron of which the creators of classic prose made mention. This was a kind of darkness that made thick, black velvet seem like chiffon by contrast. This was the kind of darkness that turned pitch into translucent polythene, when the two were placed side by side. This was the kind of darkness that made the wings of the raven resemble the pinions of the dove.'
Fortunately things cheer up a bit as the ship emerges into normal space and at last there's enough light to read the thesaurus. After the outlook has been grey for about a page, not to mention canescent, opalescent, pearly and cinerary, we're treated to a prose poem of roguish reds, ornate oranges, outlandish yellows, garish greens, brilliant blues, iridescent indigos and volatile violets. Really there should have been a warning on the cover: READING THIS BOOK COULD MAKE YOU GO BLIND.
For some reason the room has begun to go a bit dim, and I think I need to grope my way to the bar. To finish, here's a startling critical insight from the on-line catalogue of Powell's City of Books in Oregon: 'Terry Pratchett is one of America's most entertaining writers.' Many thanks to you all for listening so long.