William Tenn

British-American science fiction author (1920-2010)

William Tenn was the pseudonym of Philip Klass (May 9, 1920 – February 7, 2010), a British-born American science fiction author, notable for many stories with satirical elements.

William Tenn (2002)



Short fiction

See William Tenn's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
Originally published in the October 1951 issue of Fantastic Adventures. Page number from the 1968 reprint, titled A Lamp for Medusa, in the Belmont Double, catalogue number B60-077
  • He knew what the score was—and from here on out, he would be acting on what he knew rather than on what others told him.
    • p. 69
Page numbers from the mass market edition, published by Ballantine Books (catalogue number U6136), third printing, June 1968
Italics as in the book
  • And there, right there, is the area in which science fiction leads the literary side of its life. It is the job of the science-fiction writer to take the utterly fantastic, if need be, and make it seem as real as a copy of today's tabloid newspaper folded to the sports section. To the extent that he succeeds in this he is a good science-fiction writer, and to the extent that he fails to make the story believable he is a bad one, be it ever so full of faster-than-light gimmicks and futuristic individuals with triple brains and mechanical genitalia.
    • On the Fiction in Science-Fiction (p. 7)
  • Science fiction, thus considered, is not a mere pocket in the varicolored vest of modern writing; it is a new kind of fiction, the beginnings of a long-delayed revolution in letters consequent upon the revolutions that the last two hundred years have witnessed in science, industry, and politics. By this I do not at all mean that it is the only possible literature of the present time, just that it is the type most peculiar to it, most indicative of its larger intellectual trends.
    • On the Fiction in Science-Fiction (p. 10)
  • Whether or not the science fiction will eventually develop a Shakespeare, I would not dare to predict. But I do claim that it is a literature produced by our times as much as Shakespeare's was by his. And its unfortunate, frequent vulgarities can well be equated with the vulgarities and plebeian absurdities of much Elizabethan writing, both reflecting the primitive vitality of the mass audience that responded to them. It is, of course, in any age, only moribund fiction that is polished to a point of antisepsis, and that will, in losing touch with its audience, “lose the name of action.” This new medium has as yet lost neither.
    • On the Fiction in Science-Fiction (pp. 11-12)
  • The human mind is lit by an elemental sense of wonder, a probing, restless curiosity that is our primate heritage and that from its beginnings has sought a knowledge, some knowledge, of the future. To satisfy that need there has come into being a massive and thoroughly modern creation, science fiction, the literature of extrapolative, industrial man.
    • On the Fiction in Science-Fiction (p. 12)
  • “It's a rough war, isn't it?”
    I smiled back. “Rough? Why, if you're not careful, they tell me, you can get killed in it.”
    • Down Among the Dead Men (p. 18)
  • Irving Bommer looked like a man who had gone down into the Valley of the Shadow and had seen much more there to fear than such picayune things as Evil.
    • Everybody Loves Irving Bommer (p. 90; parodying Psalm 23.4)
  • “Wh-who are you? And what do you want?”
    “Joseph Burns, a poor but honest newspaperman.” He considered for a moment. “Well, poor, anyway.”
    • Flirgleflip (p. 105)
Page numbers from the mass market first paperback edition, published by Ballantine Books (catalogue number 159)
  • They are a highly individualistic people and still experience many frictions living in a centralized society. Despite several centuries of advanced civilization, most Gtetans look upon the Law as a delightful problem in circumvention rather than as a way of life.
    • Party of the Two Parts (p. 77)
  • But now he had to have another look. It might not be so bad the second time. “It’s always darkest,” he told himself with determined triteness, “before the dawn.” And then found himself involuntarily adding, “Except on days when there’s an eclipse.”
    • The Flat-Eyed Monster (p. 99)
Page numbers from the mass market first paperback edition, published by Bantam Books (catalogue number A1786)
  • “They said you treated them very well, that you showed them as much respect as a thing like you could generate. They also said you cheated them.”
    “Oh, well, Theseus,” Hebster spread his manicured hands. “I’m a businessman.”
    • Firewater (p. 5)
  • He reached into his soul for an article of fundamental faith, found it. “I can make money,” he quoted to himself. “That’s what I’m good for. That’s what I can always do.”
    • Firewater (p. 20)
  • Haven’t you ever heard it said that money isn’t everything, but that what it isn’t it can buy?
    • Firewater (p. 24)
  • “I’ve always been a loner. With whatever help I can buy, I take care of myself. I’m not interested in any goal except the extra buck. First and last, I’m a businessman.”
    “Oh, stop it!” the dark man took a turn up and down the office angrily. “This is a planet-wide emergency. There are times when you can’t be a businessman.”
    “I deny that. I can’t conceive of such a time.”
    Braganza snorted. “You can’t be a businessman if you’re strapped to a huge pile of blazing faggots. You can’t be a businessman if people’s minds are so thoroughly controlled that they’ll stop eating at their leader’s command. You can’t be a businessman, my slavering, acquisitive friend, if demand is so well in hand that it ceases to exist.”
    “That’s impossible.” Hebster had leaped to his feet. To his amazement, he heard his voice climbing up the scale to hysteria. “There’s always demand. Always! The trick is to find what new form it’s taken and then fill it!”
    “Sorry. I didn’t mean to make fun of your religion.”
    • Firewater (p. 27)
  • Science, my forward-looking friend, is a complex of interlocking theories, all derived from observation.
    • Firewater (p. 49)
  • A man doesn’t volunteer for a hitch in hell just so he can knock off one of the devils.
    • Time in Advance (p. 55)
  • Thank you very much for your lesson, but now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go on, please. Some of us aren’t civil service workers: our time is valuable.
    • Winthrop Was Stubborn (p. 110)
Page numbers from the mass market paperback first edition, published by Ballantine Books (catalogue number U6134)
  • His clothes, he knew, were in almost ostentatious good taste—they screamed restraint and expensive lowness of key.
    • The Malted Milk Monster (p. 51)
  • The real world. As good a name for it as any other. Carter was a mystic never and a Freudian only when the occasion suited him. His credo was simple: anything that is, is real.
    • The Malted Milk Monster (p. 62)
  • “Size, power, numbers—since the beginning of time, those three have been trying to correlate with right and wrong. So far, they haven’t succeeded.”
    Nodding, the Ambassador murmured, “Very true. But, on the other hand, they do exceedingly well with life and death.”
    • Sanctuary (p. 142)
  • The sad truth about political saints of any given past is that nobody but a scholar will take the trouble to read their complete works and try to see them whole.
    • Sanctuary (p. 147)
  • That’s the big gimmick in this business—dressing it up so they can’t tell it’s the same thing they’ve been seeing since they got their first universal vaccination. If you dress it up enough, the sticks will always go nuts over it. Maybe the critics will make cracks, sure, but who reads the critics?
    • Venus and the Seven Sexes (p. 188)
  • Laws produce lawbreakers, Bernie, like hens produce eggs. Civilization has nothing to do with it.
    • Bernie the Faust (p. 233)
Page number from the mass market paperback first edition, published by Ballantine Books (catalogue number U6132)
  • “Take it easy, Fatty, and we'll be all right,” I told him with all the assurance of a bank robber trying to explain to the policeman who caught him that he was only trying to deposit his gun in the vault and the cashiers misunderstood him.
    • Consulate (p. 186)
Page numbers from the mass market paperback first edition, published by Ballantine Books (catalogue number U6133)
  • It had taken a couple of billion years to produce me. In that couple of billion years, I had millions upon millions of ancestors. Slime-like ancestors, jelly-like ancestors, water-breathing ancestors, air-breathing ancestors, ancestors that floated, that swam, that crawled, that ran, that climbed, that finally walked. And all of those ancestors, no matter how different, had one thing in common.
    They had survived long enough to have descendants. Other species didn’t and their lines were extinct, bare bones in rock strata. But no matter how scarce food got, no matter what enemies they faced, what unprecedented natural upheavals they had to adjust to, my ancestors somehow managed to pull through, and have offspring. That’s how I happen to be here.
    • The Dark Star (p. 51)
  • The delegate returned to tell his countrymen that the Americans, always notorious for their madness, had finally specialized in cretinism.
    • Null-P (p. 66)
  • Don’t be bitter, young sir. If you want to go on living you have to be alert. And you can’t be alert and bitter at the same time.
    • Eastward Ho! (p. 89)
  • “Creatures trained in warfare are what he calls ‘philosophically anti-life.’”
    • The Deserter (p. 110)
  • “And, as a result of this examination,” the forked pink beard smiled down gently from above, “the specialists discovered that what you call the human race was nonviable. That is, while the individuals composing it had strongly developed instincts of self-preservation, the species as a whole was suicidal.”
    “Suicidal!” I found myself breathing up with rest.
    “Quite. This is a matter on which there can be little argument from the more honest among you. High civilization is a product of communal living and Man, in groups, has always tended to wipe himself out. In fact, a large factor in the development of what little civilization you do experience has been the rewards contingent upon the development of mass-destruction weapons.”
    • “Will You Walk a Little Faster” (p. 144)
  • The pull of fashion has always been that of the stampeding herd.
    • The Masculinist Revolt (p. 224)
  • People quoted Henry Dorselblad’s indictment of modern society: “Women needed the law’s special protection when they were legally inferiors of men. Now they have equality and special protection. They can’t have both!”
    • The Masculinist Revolt (p. 231)
  • Scrabbling like mad at their beloved fence, the politicians tried to avoid taking a definite position on either side.
    • The Masculinist Revolt (p. 234)
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