A selection of my favourite passages from different short stories in the book
THE FUTURE LOOKS GOOD
- They dance around each other, boy waltzing forward with want, woman pirouetting away.
- They knew that of the two of them, she might be able to soldier on without her daughter, but Enebeli would shrivel like a parched plant.
- there is this thing that distance does where it subtracts warmth and context and history and each finds that they’re arguing with a stranger
- I had violated her cardinal immigrant rule: Live quietly and above the law.
- Now, when no frantic knocks sound, I begin to feel the sheepishness of a child who has hidden whom no one cares to find
- the attention of an audience. Cry silent tears at first that build to anguished wails as all efforts to remain stoic come to naught.
- Some people find it easy to be good when the going is good but lack the fortitude for hardship
- If one is working with a child, use her on the women. Most will have children of their own, others will wish they did, so tears are guaranteed to elicit concern. Women should work on the men themselves, breasts a-heavin’, tears a-flowin’.
- You never considered another lifestyle, tethered to your mother by familiarity and a notion of loyalty
WHO WILL GREET YOU AT HOME
- The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unraveled as she continued walking, mistaking the little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone. By the time she noticed, it was too late, the leg a tangle of fiber, and she pulled the string the rest of the way to end it, rather than have the infant grow up maimed
- Even the raffia children of that morning seemed like dirty sponges meant to soak up misfortune when compared with the china child to whom misfortune would never stick
- A child that cost much brought much.
- A rubbish baby. It cried, the friction sound so frantic and dry, Ogechi imagined a fire flickering from the child’s mouth
- The second the words were out, they went back to work, as though the song were a sneeze to be excused and forgotten
- Sleeping alone reminded her that before she’d been mother, she’d been wife, and lover before that, and the bed needed to become something else if she was to survive.
- There was only so much a mother could ask a daughter to bear before that bond became bondage.
- Because the consequences of disrespecting a man like Dickson are always disproportionate to the sin. A grenade in retaliation for a slap. A world undone for a girl’s mistake
- he could move through a crowd of strangers and emerge on the other side with friends
- He didn’t seem to mind how joy had become a finite meal she begrudged seeing anyone but herself consume
- He always got what he wanted, always, and attributed it to ingenuity and perseverance, unaware of the halo of good fortune resting on his head
- I would go and sit with her because everyone knows how old people enjoy the company of young people. They suck at us like vampires, or wilting flowers that require the sunshine of our youth
- I felt jilted, and in that sly way infatuation can flip, the turning over of a mattress to hide an embarrassing stain, I began to despise her
- Girls with fire in their bellies will be forced to drink from a well of correction till the flames die out.
A selection of my favourite passages from the book
- 1, 2185: So we begin again. Actually, we began again fifty years ago, but did not know it then. There was hope, for a time, that there were more people left and that we could pick up where we had left off
- The technology had been too complex and too specialized and too regimented to be picked up and carried on
- The robots are not technologically minded. They were not built to be. They were built to bolster human vanity and pride, to meet a strange longing that seems to be built into the human ego—the need to have other humans (or a reasonable facsimile of other humans) to minister to our wants and needs, human slaves to be dominated, human beings over which a man or woman (or a child) can assert authority, thus building up a false feeling of superiority
- They are a part of the white man’s culture and are readily acceptable to us upon the basis of our one-time preoccupation with machine
- There can be little doubt that the disappearance of the human race and the inhibiting of aging must somehow be connected
- Knowing is the goal, not the using. We aren’t users. We have somehow risen above using. We can rest content to see resources lying idle; we might even think it shameful to try to use or harness them
- It seemed that we should not leave Earth entirely. Someone belonged here. An anchor man, perhaps, for the others who had gone. To keep the home fires burning. Be here to welcome the others back when they wanted to come home
- I can talk with flowers and flowing rivers and they can talk back to me, but an alien—I’d not know how to start.
- “I saw one once. I was told it was a book. It was said to me that it would speak to me if one knew the way. But the person who showed it to me had lost the way.” “You cannot read?” “This reading is the way? The way a book will talk?” “Yes, that’s it,” she said. “There are little marks. You read the marks.”
- Who was there anymore to say that, lacking humans who were interested, robots had no grounds to assume the task of keeping alive the spark of mankind’s ancient faith?
- It had been a victim of man’s mismanagement, of his overwhelming concept of property and profit. It had been manifested in lordly buildings filled with pomp and glitter rather than being nourished in the human heart and mind
- With man’s heavy hand lifted off the Earth the little, humble creatures are coming back into an olden heritage
- the way to truth was longer and more difficult than they had imagined and they still held no real inkling of the truth
- Hezekiah asked himself, that there was no room for both the faith and truth, that they were mutually exclusive qualities that could not coexist?
- Not the vain unraveling of truth, but the succor of one’s fellow men?
- Something worse than evil. A great uncaring. An intellectual uncaring. An intelligence that has lost what we think of as humanity. Perhaps not lost it, for it may have never had it
- Perhaps it had been something he had said: “Here you can trace and chart the path of man up from darkest night.” Saying it proudly, as if he were a man himself and alone, in terror and in hope, had trod that very path
- burning words had not been so much the work of many individual minds as the impact of a pattern of existence upon the minds of all mankind
- Would the humans rest with having satisfied an intellectual curiosity, or would they reassert their ancient ownership—although he doubted very much that at any time man could have been said to have truly owned the Earth. Rather, they had taken it, wresting it from the other creatures that had as much right of ownership as they, but without the intelligence or the ingenuity or power to assert their rights. Man had been the pushy, arrogant interloper rather than the owner
- Sitting in the silence and hushed loneliness, he was surprised to find himself untouched by the loneliness. For this was home, he thought, and no man could be lonely who stayed close within his home.
- The conservatism in me will not accept that so great a thing can be conferred upon the human race without the exaction of some sort of heavy payment
- Agricultural people who worked continually in the fields, following the plantings, the tending and the harvest. Ground down in poverty, living hand to mouth, tied so close to the soil they became the very soil
- Education we might have been capable of and even have enjoyed, but it was a dead end, for except for a questionable self-satisfaction it might have given us, we had no use for it. Humans used education for their self-improvement, to earn a better living, to contribute to society, to assure themselves of more enjoyment of the arts
- You’ve thought of a robot as a machine and it is not. It is a biological concept expressed mechanically…
- For that reason we would not want the humans to come back. They would interfere. They could not help the interference; it is intellectually impossible for them not to interfere in any affairs that touch them, even most remotely
- We certainly gave you no world for which you have occasion to be thankful. But now, as it turns out, we’re all in this together. If the People come back to occupy the planet, all of us will suffer
- And yet the fact remains that robot, rather than man, has kept not only Christianity, but the very idea of religion alive
- There is a plan, it seems to me, that reaches out from the electron to the rim of the universe and what this plan may be or how it came about is beyond my feeble intellect
- It had all begun, he told himself, when the first man had scratched the ground and planted seed and must, therefore, secure to himself the ground in which to plant the seed. It had started with the concept of ownership—ownership of land, ownership of natural resources, ownership of labor. And perhaps from the concept of security as well, the erecting of fences against the adversities of life, the protection of one’s station in life and the ambition to improve that station and, obtaining that improvement, to fortify it so well against one’s neighbors that they could never wrest it from one
- The man who owned was safe
- It was only his own people who held to ownership, and that was the sickness in them
- As if a great compassion came rolling out of him to make all things well and whole and yet, quite strangely, he felt no great compassion. Rather, he felt an uneasiness when he sensed an unwell or aching thing and somehow he must make it right again
- A machine does something to a man. It brutalizes him. It serves as a buffer between himself and his environment and he is the worst for it. It arouses an opportunistic instinct and makes possible a greed that makes a man inhuman
- The question, it seems to me, is not whether he will persist, but whether he has the right to. I shudder when I envision man, the prehistoric monster, continuing into a time and world where he has no place…
- You either are parapsychic or you aren’t. You are technological or you aren’t. You can’t be both of them. They are mutually exclusive because so long as you remain technological, you can’t be parapsychic and once you’re parapsychic you have no use for technology
- The Indians dare not touch it, for it would ruin the kind of life they’ve fashioned. They live with nature, not on it.
- Pride, he thought—pride and vanity. Would he ever rid himself of his pride and vanity? And he might as well admit it—when would he be rid of doubt?
A selection of my favorite passages from the book
Emperor of the Air
- Age, it seems, has left my wife alone
- The elm was dying. Vera was gone, and I lay in bed thinking of the insects, of their miniature jaws carrying away heartwood
- I didn’t think I was a sentimental man, and I don’t weep at plays or movies, but certain moments have always been peculiarly moving for me, and the mention of a century was one
The Year of Getting to Know Us
- I hadn’t wanted to see the counselor. Anne and I have been married seven years, and sometimes I think the history of marriage can be written like this: People Want Too Much
- “You don’t have to get to know me,” he said, “because one day you’re going to grow up and then you’re going to be me.”
- When the deodorant commercials come on the set he turns the TV off. That’s the way he is. There’s no second chance with him
- The ones who carry knives are the ones who hang out in front. They wouldn’t cut anybody but they might take the sidewall off your tire. They’re the ones who stopped at tenth grade, when the law says the state doesn’t care anymore. They hang out in front, drinking usually, only they almost never actually come in to see the movie
Where We Are Now
- Too much money makes you lose sight of things
- I’d been reading books. Not baseball books. Biographies: Martin Luther King, Gandhi. To play baseball right you have to forget that you’re a person; you’re muscles, bone, the need for sleep and food. So when you stop, you’re saved by someone else’s ideas. This isn’t true just for baseball players. It’s true for anyone who’s failed at what he loves
- You can sleep next to a woman, you can know the way she smiles when she’s turned on, you can see in her hands when she wants to talk about something. Then you wake up one day and some signal’s been exchanged—and you don’t know what it is, but you think for the first time, Maybe I don’t know her. Just something. You never know what the signal is.
We Are Nighttime Travelers
- What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth. What holds you to what you see of me is that grasp alone
- when I recall my life my mood turns sour and I am reminded that no man makes truly proper use of his time
- Time has made torments of our small differences and tolerance of our passions
- And as for conversation—that feast of reason, that flow of the soul—our house is silent as the bone yard.
- Francine is at the table, four feet across from my seat, the width of two dropleaves. Our medicine is in cups. There have been three Presidents since I held her in my arms
- For me this is futile, but I stand anyway. The page will be blank when I finish. This I know. The dreams I compose are the dreams of others, remembered bits of verse. Songs of greater men than I
- A bicycle tire: rimless, thready, worn treadless already and now losing its fatness. A war of attrition
- but when I gather my memories they seem to fill no more than an hour. Where has my life gone?
- But of all things to do last, poetry is a barren choice. Deciphering other men’s riddles while the world is full of procreation and war. A man should go out swinging an axe. Instead, I shall go out in a coffee shop.
- But how can any man leave this world with honor? Despite anything he does, it grows corrupt around him. It fills with locks and sirens
- Have I loved my wife? At one time, yes—in rages and torrents. I’ve been covered by the pimples of ecstasy and have rooted in the mud of despair; and I’ve lived for months, for whole years now, as mindless of Francine as a tree of its mosses.
- I have never written a word of my own poetry but can recite the verse of others. This is the culmination of a life. Coryphaena hippurus, says the plaque on the dolphin’s tank, words more beautiful than any of my own
- I have mean secrets and small dreams, no plans greater than where to buy groceries and what rhymes to read next, and by the time we reach our porch again my foolishness has subsided. My knees and elbows ache. They ache with a mortal ache, tired flesh, the cartilage gone sandy with time
- That day became the meridian of my mother’s life. For a year she wept at red lights and at drawers that didn’t close. She began coaching my sister and me about the viciousness of the world, and she began feeding us a whole new kind of diet
- she doesn’t know what to do with what she knows
- It seemed to me that all of them, she and my mother and Lawrence, had suffered a wound that had somehow skipped over me
The Carnival Dog, The Buyer of Diamonds
- He let the knowledge collect around him, in notebooks, binders, pads, on napkins and checks, everywhere except in his brain. His room was strewn with notes he never studied. Once in a letter home he said learning medicine was like trying to drink water from a fire hose.
- That was why Myron wanted to quit medical school. He hated the demise of the spirit