The Insect World

The sorry truth was that I couldn’t study Texas hard enough to make it home. It remained a foreign country, an undiscovered dimension, too large a place to be one place, a country held together by a semimystical history and a semihysterical pride. The more it became urbanized, the more it insisted on being country. The politics seemed like a cruel joke played by the rich on the poor. When I read copies of letters sent back home from the first settlers, the lies leapt off the page like billboards advertising hell: no hot weather, no mosquitoes, free land. Like every other place I had been, it was all about money. No more, no less.

— The Final Country (2001), by James Crumley

When I was young, I had read Dickens, Conrad and Turgenev and then looked at their faces. The hooded glance of Ivan Turgenev, the sharp eyes of Joseph Conrad, the dreamy gaze of Charles Dickens — their eyes were all the same. And so, I thought, were their souls. I wondered if a profession was nothing but a collective personality, engaged in a hunt for a quarry whose scent attracted a particular breed, bred to that chase. Were glassblowers drawn to fire, and surgeons to bloody warmth? Why, in the name of God, were there such creatures as photographers?

— Michael Lesy

When I was young, I was sent to a series of private schools that served as cold storage lockers in which the sons of a regional version of the rich, the wellborn, and the able were kept at a temperature low enough to prevent spoilage but high enough to maintain circulation. It was thought that young men would emerge from such places in good enough condition to enter the best finishing and professional schools. Until that time, they were kept on ice to prevent them from doing themselves damage. Occasionally some of them would grow restless and come awake. They would look around uneasily, trying to understand how they came to be in such a cold and quiet place. But since there was nothing to see except other sleepers and since the air was so chill and silent, they would soon go back to sleep.

— Michael Lesy

"Look," Gannon said suddenly, taking my revolver and license out of a drawer, then leaned over the desk, clasping his meaty hands together, "can I put it to you straight?"

"Nobody wants to be fucked without a kiss." I had never gotten along all that well with cops even when I was one, so I braced myself for whatever bullshit Gannon had in mind.

The Final Country (2001), by James Crumley

"Things change," she said as she broke down and packed her cue. "But never quite enough," she added sadly, then just as quickly grinned brightly, as lively as a baby chick. "Is that what you do for a living? Find people?"

"Hard times, people, lost dogs," I said as I lit a cigarette.

The Final Country (2001), by James Crumley

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