Department header
Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

Embedded Quotes
and New Frontiers


An Associate Editor raises a question about the punctuation received in the original version of a submission in this issue.


Quick question. In “To the Horizon,” conclusion:

Massey [...] recited: “Warm yourselves [...] from the great fear of darkness in each man.”

When someone quotes another source (Ray Bradbury) in dialogue, should we use single quotes?

Charles C. Cole

Good question. It comes down to: What shall we do with an unattributed embedded quote?

The answer is less obvious than one might expect. Anyone who “recites” something is quoting, by definition. But he may be quoting himself, as in reciting a poem he’s written. In that case, block quote indentation alone might suffice; there would be no need to use quotation marks at all.

In “To the Horizon,” no attribution accompanies the quotation, but Massey and Dawson subsequently imply that the words are Bradbury’s, as though the two characters were orally adding a footnote. And that means you’re right; single quotes are called for:

Massey [...] recited: “‘Warm yourselves against the night of ignorance, the long snows of superstition, the cold winds of disbelief, and from the great fear of darkness in each man’.”

I’ve added the single quotation marks to the text.

Why end with ’.”? I don’t like triple quotation marks; they’re both messy and hard to see. They can’t be avoided at the beginning of the sentence, but at the end we can signal more clearly that one quote is embedded inside another. It’s the same principle as starting a sentence with a capital letter and ending with lower-case.

My question is: Why quote Bradbury at all? The reason is not obvious; we have to guess. Perhaps the quote is used as an oblique rebuke to climate-change deniers. That is possible, but readers of that persuasion will not see it that way. And Dawson has somewhat different concerns.

In any event, Bradbury’s science fiction is hardly enthusiastic about “new frontier” space exploration. The Martian Chronicles, for example — like most of his other stories that are set on other planets or in outer space — are dark, cautionary tales about Earth.

But maybe that’s the point, especially since Dawson feels ambivalent about leaving Earth. Like Dawson, readers will have to say how they would feel about Massey’s offer. In the same circumstances they might, like Dawson, go “to” the horizon, but would they see more to be gained than lost in going beyond it?

Don Webb
Managing Editor
Bewildering Stories

Copyright © 2013 by Bewildering Stories

Home Page