Protons and Simile

In the interestingly skewed language of John Barnes's fantasy One for the Morning Glory, protons and simile are a famous ethnic dish consisting of roast protons in a sludge of simile made from boiled piecemeal. Elsewhere in the genre, similes are tasty figures of speech which can be spoiled by clumsy cooking. Some favourite examples follow.

Over-the-top: "They were lifted off the ground like salmon plucked out of the Kushiro River as they headed upstream to spawn in the mountains of Hokkaido." (Alexander Besher, Rim). "A swirling lava lamp of colors boiled on the screen like a hallucination that the cat had dragged in." (Rim again). "Now at last Vera Verovna knew what she felt like: the mouse before the cat, the bee before the bear, the frog before the snake, the child before the dinosaur, the leaf before the wind, the beauty before the beast." (Uri Geller, Shawn). Perhaps also the cart before the horse.

Earthy: "The sound of water grew louder, and the gusting of the wind was like the eerie farting of a giant animal." (G.P. Taylor, The Curse of Salamander Street). "When he was yet a million miles away the bright ring of fire that marked its portal filled the sky in front of him, flexing and twisting like the devil's anus in spasms of immortal agony." (Alan Glasser, The Demon Cosmos). "The thought felt like a tapeworm lodged in the gut of his mind." (Brian Ruckley, Winterbirth) As a certain SF critic once put it, this is a concept which the mind cannot stomach.

Interestingly mistyped: "... the abbot watched dazedly as they rushed like lemurs towards destruction." (Frank Corsaro, Kunma).

Sexy: "Her nipples were still pink like goldfish snouts ..." (Robert Wells, Right-Handed Wilderness). "Excitement leaped like a trout in the public trousers." (Thomas Harris, Hannibal) Maybe that isn't meant to be sexy, but I have a persistent vision of this high-class tailor murmuring, "On which side does Sir keep his trout?"

Cryptic: "From Ujuk, however, a heavy, misshapen umbrage fell and lay like a prone incubus beside his chair." (Clark Ashton Smith, Zothique). "The sun set, like a fried egg sliding over a pan and being lost in the fire." (R.L. Fanthorpe, "Face of Evil"). "Pieces of a jigsaw puzzle began to pop into place like rabbits into holes at the sound of dog." (Peter Hawkins, "The Edge of Oblivion"). "He sounded like a dead child discovering that eternity is some buzzing, languorous dream of Bath." (M. John Harrison, "Running Down"). "... tears coursed hot streaks down his cheeks, falling like mercury snowdrops ..." (Andy Remic, War Machine). Mercury snowdrops must be rather like small lead balloons.

A tasty gourmet image: "Lydia flapped around on the ground like a wounded fish as Flag tried to fry her." (Kris Greene, The Dark Storm). Could she be flapping like a trout in the public trousers?

Impossible to argue with ... describing a space elevator: "Just to the south of them, the new Socket was like a titanic concrete bunker, the new elevator cable rising out of it like an elevator cable ..." (Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars).

If aspiring authors need more examples, do please avoid the "Striking Similes" section of Grenville Kleiser's deadly serious compilation Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases (1917) – designed to improve your paltry prose style beyond all recognition. I wish I knew where he found this fine specimen: "She flounders like a huge conger-eel in an ocean of dingy morality." Or, as the case may be, in the public trousers.

David Langford flung these words at the keyboard like a madman shaking a dead geranium.