Great science fiction and fantasy novels don't just expose us to other worlds and alternate timelines — they expand our minds and give us compass to steer by. Here are our favorite bits of advice and maxims from SF books.
You could do a lot worse than living your life according to principles espoused in science fiction books — in fact, here's somebody who claims that it's impossible to live a moral life unless you read science fiction. We won't go quite that far, but here are some words to live by from science fiction. Please do post your own favorite maxims and aphorisms from SF in the comments — I have a feeling it'll be a really amazing comment thread!
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools." — Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless.
"Reality is frequently inaccurate" — Douglas Adams, The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." — Philip K. Dick, How To Build A Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later.
"I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way did not become still more complicated." — Poul Anderson
"Man does not create gods, in spite of appearances. The times, the age, impose them on him. Man can serve his age or rebel against it, but the target of his cooperation or rebellion comes to him from outside. " — Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
"Our lives are about development, mutation and the possibility of change; that is almost a definition of what life is: change. [...] If you disable change, if you effectively stop time, if you prevent the possibility of the alteration of an individual's circumstances — and that must include at least the possibility that they alter for the worse — then you don't have life after death; you just have death." — Iain M Banks, Look to Windward.
"Believing takes practice." — A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
"The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly." — A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
"Keep violence in the mind, where it belongs." — Brian Aldiss, Barefoot In The Head.
"Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'" — Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake
"We do not often get to declare victories, Natch, and most of them do not remain victories for very long. Ultimately when you reach my age you realize that victories are temporary, and in all the years of human history there is one final battle which nobody has ever won.Time has a way of changing the terms of your victories over the years, until you begin to wonder precisely what it was you fought for so viciously, so uncompromisingly. You begin to see that victory and defeat are but alternate reflections from the same prism.You see that the measure of a person really might be the integrity with which he fought his battles and not their ultimate dispensation, just like your elders have been telling you all along." — Serr Vigal to Natch, in MultiReal by David Louis Edelman.
"Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature." — Max Brooks, World War Z
"Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they're used." — Max Brooks, World War Z
"Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life." — Sir Terry Pratchett.
"Generals are in the business of getting people killed. Captains like to keep theirs alive. You wanna put on a parade? Go find a general. You want to fight your way home? Talk to me." — Negation written by Tony Bedard (Crossgen Comics)
"In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn't a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is." — Unwind by Neil Shusterman.
"You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or, it is nowhere." — Shevek's speech to the workers in The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.
"It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, it turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have been forced to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give." — Shevek's speech to the workers in The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin again.
"I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it." — Sam in American Gods by Neil Gaiman
"There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous." — Mr. Wednesday in American Gods by Neil Gaiman
"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
"Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right."
— Two epigrams from Salvor Hardin, the first mayor of Terminus, in The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.
"You are precisely as big as what you love and precisely as small as what you allow to annoy you." — Robert Anton Wilson
"The difference between stupid and intelligent people — and this is true whether or not they are well-educated — is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations — in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward." — The Constable in The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.
"We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while." — Montag in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
"Everyone must leave something in the room or left behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime." — Granger in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
"Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards." — A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
"Premature burial works just fine as a cure for adolescence." — George Alec Effinger
"There are honest people in the world, but only because the devil considers their asking prices ridiculous." — A Fine And Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
"The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. Anger is. And when anger is the boss, you get unintended consequences." — Doon's father in City Of Ember by Jeanne Duprau
"When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing." — Fledgling by Octavia Butler
"If a grasshopper tries to fight a lawnmower, one may admire his courage but not his judgement." — Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
"Never try to out-stubborn a cat." — Time Enough For Love by Robert A. Heinlein
"Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more." — Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
"A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there. . . . And at the end of your life, your whole existence has the same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day." — Jurrassic Park by Michael Crichton
"All children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma." — Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
"Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something." — The Princess Bride by William Goldman
"There is nothing in the world so easy to explain as failure - it is, after all, what everybody does all the time." — Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
"Fear is the mind killer." — Dune by Frank Herbert
"If you need something to worship, then worship life - all life, every last crawling bit of it! We're all in this beauty together!" — Paul in Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
"There's a fine line between a superpower and a chronic medical condition." — Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
"You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons." — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
"Neighborhoods that mainly operated at night had a way of looking a lot worse in the morning." — Virtual Light by William Gibson.
"These are the people who hold a community together, who lead. Unlike the sheep and the wolves, they perform a better role than the script given to them by their inner fears and desires. They act out the script of decency, of self-sacrifice, of public honor — of civilization. And in the pretense, it becomes reality." Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
"If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Additional reporting by Kelly Faircloth and Mary Ratliff. Thanks also to Stephen Ratliff and Mark Townsend. We also found some good stuff on WikiQuote and GoodReads.