More Plus Infinity: More Quotes from They’d Rather Be Right

I saved a ton of quotes for They’d Rather Be Right that I didn’t use. Here are a few that I thought were worth sharing:

And the imaginings were worse than the visions. So clear, so intricately clear, they become memories. Memories as sharp and clear as any other reality. Eight-year-old Joey could not yet know the reasoned verbalization: an imaginary experience can have as profound an effect upon personality development as a real one. He knew only that it was so.

Early on in the novel, there’s a lot of talk about Joe’s young telepathic powers having a huge impact on him. There’s even mention of his father beating him, but that never actually happened. Since Joe can read minds, he could see and feel what his father was thinking, and that hurt him just as deeply as any physical blow.

It’s a fascinating idea and it would’ve been great if the novel was entirely about a young telepath surviving in a world that didn’t understand him and that he understood far better than they could imagine.


“This is highly irregular, doctor,” Rogan said firmly, before Billings could comment. “I trust you have not been questioning indisputable facts! I trust you have not been planting disturbing doubts in the minds of our future citizens! I trust you know Congress approved those facts for school textbooks long ago! It would be most subversive, not to mention a waste of time and tax money, to question them now!”

The novel goes at length to discuss how all opinion and thought are being controlled by the government. They present the United States as an empire on the verge of collapse, as well. None of the themes of the novel are about societal collapse or dystopias, and, despite both being indicated, nothing is done with those threads.

It felt like personal opinion being interjected where the story hardly warranted any of it.


But it was different with Bossy. Bossy was a machine, and therefore the processes which would substitute for thought must be approached mechanically. Bossy recognized solely through mechanical indexing—no different in principle from the old-fashioned punched card sorter. This and this and this is the same as that and that and that—therefore these two things have a relationship to one another. Comparison of new data with old data, a feedback process of numerous indexed impulses and these to the external sense receptors and their stream of new impulses—really it was quite trivial.

Given the technology of the time, I like the idea of Bossy since its a precursor to modern computers, but a computer built without microchips would need to be massive to work. I’ve always understood this to be the case, but my modern vantage has shielded me from the concept that every part of a computer in this era would have to consist of moving parts, giant in size and even larger in scope.


“How could you continue to respect me if you knew these things about me?” He had not yet arrived at the knowledge that Joe would have seen thousands of carbon copies of such traits in others, would have grown up with them, accepting them from the first as being no more than normal to any human being. That in the balance scale of a man’s life, achievement was even more splendid because it did gain ascendancy over the furtive quirks; that man was even nobler in that, at the same time, he was so reprehensible.

Again, further proof that the telepathy parts would’ve been far more interested to focus on.


“It is natural that a new concept, however valid, will be questioned. The semantic vocabulary has not yet been built up to convey the idea comprehensively. It is necessary that we search with great effort to find meanings which words, as yet, are inadequate to convey. Naturally the tongue will stumble in trying to form concrete pictures from new abstractions. Naturally, any illustration must prove inadequate for if the reality had come into actual being it would not be a new concept.”

This is the one quote that I genuinely love. I so hate prescriptivists who say a word ought to mean ‘x’ and then pretend like definitions are infallible, immutable, and unyielding.


But Mabel was wise. Even before she had gone into Bossy, she knew that no woman could fill all of a man’s life, that her relationship to him was compartmentalized, that the woman who tries to monopolize both love and companionship usually winds up with neither. She did not pretend to fill more than a woman’s place in Joe’s life.

And we end on a quote that made me cringe reading it. Oh well, it was a different time and it shows beyond just piecing together a computer. Thankfully, the gender politics are otherwise fairly muted (largely because there is only one female character).

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