See Nipples and Die

Back in SFX #150, I opened the Thog's Masterclass file – that archive of Differently Good prose – to reveal the strange antics of fictional eyeballs. Younger readers should perhaps turn the page before similar, as it were, exposure of female bosoms.

Back in prudish 1960, ladies' frontage was cautiously described: "Blake had a tantalizing glimpse of two impudent little breasts which made up in quality what they lacked in quantity." (J T McIntosh, "Planet on Probation".) Later in this story, the same girl proves to have variable geometry: "Blake noticed that when she was angry her bust measurement was fully adequate."

Many male authors get strangely carried away when describing a storm in a C-cup. Some of their women seem oddly under-endowed: "She runs one hand along the lines of her body, her breasts like damp petals." (Bruce Boston, All The Clocks Are Melting.) Others are positively alarming: "Beneath the contour jewellery her breasts lay like eager snakes." (J G Ballard, 'The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D'.) 'Her tits were like smoke detectors and it looked like the little red lights were flashing.' (Paul Meloy, 'Dying in the Arms of Jean Harlow'.) "Her breasts winked at him, and he chastised himself as he felt a stir of arousal." (David Weber, Heirs of Empire.)

That stir of arousal might deflate at the thought of eager snakes or deep-penetration nipples, as in Gary L Holleman's Howl-O-Ween: "Her breath caught in her throat and her nipple burrowed into his palm like a friendly mole." Or Graham Joyce's The Tooth Fairy: "Her nipples stood erect, like twin blades ..." Or Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Pashazade, featuring a woman with a built-in thermal printer 'letting her suddenly erect nipple write a line of fire across his palm.' Or this thriller whose imagery isn't easy to, er, accurately visualize: "I looked at her breasts jutting against the soft fabric of her dress, nipples like split infinitives." (Max Byrd, Fly Away Jill.) Referring to the same bodily parts, Robert A Heinlein memorably wrote: "those pretty pink spigots are barometers of her morale." ("The Number of the Beast".)

Our next author had seemingly met either a very fragile woman or very resilient bubbles: "His fingers enveloped the fullness of her breasts quite as a boy grasps soap-bubbles and marvels at their intact resistance." (Maxwell Bodenheim, Replenishing Jessica.)

This lady is more of a handful: "By anyone's standards, Nina was a big woman with breasts as round and large as pumpkins in the Autonomous Region of the Ukraine, if pumpkins grew there indeed, which Vitrio would not have doubted. And even whether or not the Ukraine, known to the world primarily for its wealth of grain, was autonomous was also a matter upon which Vitrio would not have liked to be questioned. But that Nina's breasts were large as pumpkins – any region's, anybody's pumpkins – that could not be doubted. [...] Like her great namesake, the Soviet discus thrower, the psychic Nina Dumbatse had shoulders to match her pumpkins, and she now shrugged them ..." (Uri Geller, Shawn.) Enough – or the author will come round and bend my spoons.

Sometimes, what gets into print isn't quite what the writer intended: "'Good Night, Farder Coram,' she said politely, clutching the alethiometer to her breast and scooping up Pantalaimon with the other." (Philip Pullman, Northern Lights.) Watch for the falsies: "He gently removed her glasses, and his hard chest rubbed against her breasts as he leaned over to put them on the table next to his gun." (Julie Garwood, Shadow Dance.)

Male characters deserve equal time, but we'd better stick to delicate euphemism: "At the point where in the human male there droops that Thing of Joy which is a Beauty for ever, these ethereal visitors were as bald and smooth as porcelain." (Richard Cowper, Kuldesak.) Or tasteful double-entendre: "He exhibited his seed ... 'What do you want done with it?' inquired Virginia, holding it to the light between her thin thumb and finger." (David Lindsay, The Violet Apple.)

John Updike's Brazil features all the excitement of a recent trip to the farmer's market: "He felt his cashew become a banana, and then a rippled yam, bursting with weight." But my candidate for all-time worst male euphemism appears in Nicholson Baker's The Fermata when the narrator – who habitually manipulates time for acts of "chronanism" – refers to "my triune crotch-lump".

David Langford is wondering nervously how our artist will illustrate this one.