Quote Origin: This Is Only a Work of Fiction. The Truth, As Always, Will Be Far Stranger

Arthur C. Clarke? Stanley Kubrick? Mark Twain? J. B. S. Haldane?

Quote Investigator®
4 min readMay 1


Glass sphere from Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: Rapid computer hardware and software developments combined with extreme speculations about a technological singularity have led some science fiction writers to complain that envisioning the future has become too difficult. I am reminded of the following disclaimer for a novel:

This is only a work of fiction. The truth, as always, will be far stranger.

Do you know which science fiction author made this remark?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1968 science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke published “2001: A Space Odyssey” which depicted humanity’s first encounter with extraterrestrials. The work was written in conjunction with the movie of the same name directed by Stanley Kubrick. In the foreword to the novel, Clark suggested that humanity would meet “our equals, or our masters, among the stars”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI

Men have been slow to face this prospect: some still hope that it may never become reality. Increasing numbers, however, are asking: ‘Why have such meetings not occurred already, since we ourselves are about to venture into space?’

Why not, indeed? Here is one possible answer to that very reasonable question. But please remember: this is only a work of fiction. The truth, as always, will be far stranger.

The foreword ended with the initials A.C.C. and S.K. for Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, but QI thinks that Clarke was the primary author of the foreword.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1897 a thematically related epigram appeared in Mark Twain’s travel book “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”:²

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. — Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

In 1927 biologist J. B. S. Haldane published a germane remark in an essay titled “Possible Worlds”:³

Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. I have read and heard many attempts at a systematic account of it, from materialism and theosophy to the Christian system or that of Kant, and I have always felt that they were much too simple.

In 1968 Jeremy Bernstein published in “The New Yorker” an article discussing the film and book “2001”, and he referred to Clarke’s statement:⁴

Fiction it is, but in our time the line between fact and fiction is often as nebulous as the matter in outer space. In his foreword to “2001,” Clarke cautions, “But please remember: this is only a work of fiction. The truth, as always, will be far stranger.”

In 1992 Clarke published a book about communications and satellites titled “How the World Was One: Beyond the Global Village”. In the last chapter he discussed farfetched ideas such as communication via neutrino beams or gravitational waves:⁵

Still, I wouldn’t bet too much money on any of the possibilities (or impossibilities) discussed in this final chapter. I suspect that the truth, as always, will be far stranger.

In conclusion, QI believes that Arthur C. Clarke deserves credit for this quotation. It appeared in the foreword of “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968.

Image Notes: Glass sphere from Drew Beamer at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to AcademiaDreams and Jane Bella whose tweets led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

[1] 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, (A novel by Arthur C. Clarke based on the screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke), Section: Foreword, Quote Page 7 and 8, Arrow Books: An Imprint of the Hutchinson Group, London. (Verified with scans)

[2] 1897, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), (Chapter 15 Epigraph), Quote Page 156, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut; Also Doubleday & McClure Company, New York. (Internet Archive) link

[3] 1928 (First edition in 1927), Possible Worlds and Other Papers by J. B. S. Haldane, Essay 34: Possible Worlds, Start Page 272, Quote Page 298 and 299, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)

[4] 1968 September 21, The New Yorker, Books: Chain Reaction by Jeremy Bernstein, Start Page 180, Quote Page 184, The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Accessed on April 11, 2023 at archives.newyorker.com)

[5] 1992, How the World Was One: Beyond the Global Village by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter: Foreword, Quote Page 13, Victor Gollancz, London. (Verified with scans)



Quote Investigator®

Garson O'Toole specializes in tracing quotations. He operates the QuoteInvestigator.com website which receives more than 4 million visitors per year

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