The Insect World

It should be noted that the modern man-boy’s predecessors tended to be a lot meaner than he allows himself to be. But they also, at least some of the time, had something to fight for, a moral or political impulse underlying their postures of revolt. The founding brothers in Philadelphia cut loose a king; Huck Finn exposed the dehumanizing lies of America slavery; Lenny Bruce battled censorship. When Marlon Brando’s Wild One was asked what he was rebelling against, his thrilling, nihilistic response was “Whaddaya got?” The modern equivalent would be “…”

A.O. Scott

Even motionless, his face looks like a stifled scream. It’s the eyes. Through all the calm, rapid-fire words, Bhanderi’s eyes seem frozen in a stare of absolute horror. It’s as if there’s something else in there, something ancient and unthinking and only recently awakened. It looks out across a hundred million years into an incomprehensible world of right angles and blinking lights, and finds itself utterly unable to cope.

— βehemoth (2004), by Peter Watts

Inside, the desk clerk waited for me with a faint appraising smile. He was the special model designed for hotels like El Campeador, the faint smile, the faint mustache, the unshakable poise of a man who knows his business well and wishes to hell he’d never bothered to learn. He saw it all, the wrinkled suit, the brand-new shave and hair-trim, the expensive pigskin bag the bellop was struggling with, and the bleary bloodshot eyes of his sleepless customer. He couldn’t see the .38 because that was buried deep in the suitcase, but I was willing to bet he could smell that thousand dollars. He swung the registration platform around for me without a word.

The Long Green (1952), by Bart Spicer

Inside Clarke’s head, things are beginning to change. The permeability of critical membranes is edging up a few percent. The production of certain chemicals, designed not to carry signals but to blockade them, is subtly being scaled back. Windows are not yet opening, but they are being unlocked.

She can feel none of this directly, of course. The changes, by themselves, are necessary but not sufficient—they don’t matter here where lungs are used, where pressure is a mere single atmosphere. They only matter when catalyzed by the weight of an ocean. But now, when Lenie Clarke goes outside—when she steps into the airlock and the pressure accretes around her like a liquid mountain; when three hundred atmospheres squeeze her head so hard that her very synapses start short-circuiting—then, Lenie Clarke will be able to look into men’s souls.

Not the bright parts, of course. No philosophy or music, no altruism, no intellectual musings about right and wrong. Nothing neocortical at all. What Lenie Clarke will feel predates all of that by a hundred million years. The hypothalamus, the reticular formation, the amygdala. The reptile brain, the midbrain. Jealousies, appetites, fears and inarticulate hatreds. She’ll feel them all, to a range of fifteen meters or more.

She remembers what it was like. Too well. Six years gone and it seems like yesterday.

All she has to do is step outside. She sits in her cubby, and doesn’t move.

— βehemoth (2004), by Peter Watts

The sun had come up like a flamethrower, chasing the night chill into the shadows behind the rocks, and the desert smog began to form, spreading across the depression of Palm Springs like a guilty conscience. But not mine.

Bordersnakes (1996), by James Crumley

Suzanne seems to be the only person drifting freely between the various groups. She’s resplendent in a black fringed suede jacket dripping with silver conchos, the rodeo queen from hell, the only sparks of color a glint of hard green eyes below the brim of her black cowboy hat, a snicker of a silver hatband above, the blood-red slash of her smile, and a faint but dark blush rising from her cleavage to her slender neck. In the hard desert light I can see that what looked like Irish cream skin in the shade has a distinct duskiness glowing through. But I still can’t place her in my memory.

Milo sneaks up on me while I’m watching her.

"Keep away from her, Sughrue," he whispers. "She’s mine."

"You’re welcome to her, cowboy," I whisper. "When I look at her she reminds me of grief and misery, heartache, pain, and cocaine, lies and dying young. I just don’t know why."

"It’s your guilty conscience," Milo chuckles, then slips back into the crowd.

Bordersnakes (1996), by James Crumley

“I think—” Achilles began at thirteen.

He no longer believed in the Church. He was after all an empiricist at heart, and God couldn’t withstand so much as ten seconds’ critical scrutiny from anyone who’d already figured out the ugly truth about the Easter Bunny.

Paradoxically, though, damnation somehow seemed more real than ever, on some primal level that resisted mere logic. And as long as damnation was real, confession couldn’t hurt.

“—I’m a monster,” he finished.

— βehemoth (2004), by Peter Watts

Clarke doesn’t often go into the residential quarter. She doesn’t remember ever having been in this particular section. The corridor here is sheathed in lattice paint and wired up to a mural generator. A forest of antlered coral crowds the port bulkhead; surgeonfish school and swirl to starboard, like the nodes of some abstract and diffuse neural net. A mesh of fractured sunlight dances across everything. Clarke can’t tell whether the illusion is purely synthetic, or powered by archived footage of a real coral reef. She wouldn’t even know how to tell the difference; of all the sea creatures that have made her acquaintance over the years, none have lived in sunlight.

A lot of families along here, Clarke figures. Adults don’t go in for evocations of the wild kingdom as a rule; it’s kind of hard to retain that esthetic once you’ve grasped the concept of irony.

βehemoth (2004), by Peter Watts

Miserable, I completed my uneventful round, and went to sit again in the office. If only the killer had left his John Doe somewhere else. If only I had found another agency to work for. If only Linda had picked a different night to come ask me her favor. But the “if only” song could begin much, much further back than that. Silently I sat there in the office and sang it.

Don’t Lie to Me (1972), by Donald Westlake

It is always more fun in a way playing with people who hate to lose.
Timothy Harris