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This could be about:
Delany, the academic.
Delany, the musician.
Delany, the madman. Some of these terms ("madman",
Delany, the mulatto. "hippie", "queer"...) probably
Delany, the queer. seem too negative: they call up
Delany, the hippie. stereotypes with associations
that don't match reality.
This is largely about Delany,
the science fiction writer.
The same can be said of the
term "science fiction writer".
Delany hit the scene in the late
sixties, cranking SF novels in
his teens and picking up Nebula
awards in his early twenties. Just about everything Delany
Back then he and Zelazny were has done is great by me, except
often compared, though as the for the Neveryon books, which I
seventies went by they diverged: must concede I just may not
Zelazny went low brow and Delany understand ("A Child's Garden
went high brow. of Semiotics"?).
The later novel "Star's In My
Pockets Like Grains of Sand", is
a beautiful job of detailing
hypothetical future cultures.
Everything is complex, ambiguity
abounds, and nothing is ever
explained away in a pat little One of the thing's it's
lecture. The exact opposite of about is interspecies homosexual
the simple-minded crap that orgies. There's supposedly a
usually passes as SF. sequel written that Delany has
decided not to publish immediately,
on the theory that it would be
irresponsible to do so before the
Aids issue is resolved...
An SF novel working with the This is an amazingly cohesive kitchen
idea that language is the medium sink of a novel... it's jammed with
of thought. EXCEPTION an impressive amount of sheer Stuff,
but still there are resonances that
Poet/linguist/starship captain echo between all the different
Rydra Wong is called upon by the events, the different premises.
military to decipher a "code" -- Maybe *the* central theme is
really a new language -- called communication between different
"Babel-17". Babel-17 is a tight, cultures. Or the importance of
logical, language designed for empathy, seeing things from the other
efficiency of thought, but it person's side.
turns out to be intentionally
crippled in one particular way.
(All in all, it sounds like the
perfect novel for H.Harper to read, no?
I thought so, too.)
Some pieces of the Stuff:
Two prospective pilots wrestle
in a ring in a crowded bar, to Rydra follows the action
show off their reflexes to by watching the body
potential captains that may want language of someone who
to hire them. understands the fighting
better than she does.
The crowd is very blue collar,
the interstellar transport
underclass necessary for the
existence of the over class....
Elaborate cosmetic surgery It took about twenty years
transforms them into a colorful before the cyberpunks caught
array of monstrosities. up with Delany on this.
One of the necessary components of
a starship crew is three people,
the "triple": the eyes, ears, and
nose of the ship. For the triple
to work, there must be a tight
between the three. Rydra finds a
broken triple: two men mourning
the loss of a woman. To replace Rydra plays a clever trick in
her, Rydra makes a trip to the selecting a woman who knows no
"morgue" where she selects a woman language understood by the two
in cryogenic storage. The woman men, on the theory that by the
she chooses is another remnant of time they've learned to
a broken triple who had herself understand each other they'll
frozen in grief when the two have learned to love each
others with her died. other.
At the beginning of the novel,
Rydra is frustrated about an
inability to let someone know
that she likes him:
A communication problem that
acts as a barrier to love.
So, this is a really great book.
There are other Delany books that are
great in a similar way:
"The Einstein Intersection"; "Nova";
The stories in "Driftglass".
One that's great in a different way --
A long piece of prose, detailing
the wanderings of a partially
amnesiac character through a
surrealistic, post-disaster city
that almost looks like it's
going to make sense in a few
The Toadkeeper had to explain
to me what this book really is: a
device for frustrating the This book *could* have been awful
expectations of a typical SF and unreadable, except that Delany
reader. Things repeatedly look took exceptional care to produce
like they're about to be perfect crystalline prose and
"explained" but it never happens. throughly detailed characters.
So this is a piece of meta-fiction.
An SF critic named Darryl
It was intensely Schweitzer used to like to
popular with college complain that this book is a
students, I presume "non-functional word pattern".
because they like to
read about people That's ridiculous: the words work
aimlessly wandering beautifully at conveying the
around. The return detailed texture of existance.
It has a non-functional
*plot* perhaps, in that
it doesn't function as a
One of the things that goes on: story. But there are
three characters fall other prose forms
into a menage et trios. Once besides stories.
again, two men and a woman.
The way this happens is strangely (I had a girl friend who found
symmetric: each pair of people meet this upsetting: It seemed to
and sleep together before the three her as though *all* of the
of them join together. character's had betrayed each
other. Her ideal would be to
The way this triple ends: a have three people spontaneously
disaster of sorts strikes the city drawn to each other at the same
and in the emergency the main time...)
characters are separated.
Some permutations are discussed...
a gang bang, men on women is shown,
the converse situation, women on men
happens off stage.
More interestingly, there's an
example of a triple that doesn't
work out: The two male main
characters first have sex with a
different woman, but
she regrets it in the morning
for reasons she won't try to
"It just wasn't my thing."
Delany also published an autobiography,
covering the early 60s:
"The Motion of Light in Water"
He got married to a girl from
his high school: Marilyn Some of the best things in the
Hacker. He was gay. They book are the excerpts of Marilyn
both knew it. He talks about Hacker's poetry.
a menage et trios that
developed with the two of I looked at a recent
them and a male lover of his. book of hers: a bit
Pieces of all these sketches than poems.
experiences can be
seen throughout a (It's funny that she's
lot of Delany's become a lesbian... there
work. Most is no hint of this in "The
directly with Motion of Light in Water",
"Dhalgren": but somehow it doesn't come
as that big a surpise.)
"I've always wondered if
three people can kiss at
the same time."
The way this particular group
breaks up: One day the man
decides he must leave -- maybe
temporarily? -- to visit his
He runs into a problem with the
law (his ex has been writing bad In this case, it's not just
checks, the cops think he was external factors - death, disaster,
doing it... because he had a the law -- that split up the
history similar crimes). triple. There's an internal
He ends up in jail. component. What made him decide to
Delany laments the lack of permanence
in non-standard relationships.
He doesn't speculate about why they aren't.
"The Heavenly Breakfast" is
another autobiography, this one
structured like a novel,
covering the "winter of love":
the winter of 1968.
At that time Delany was living in
a commune: a large group of
people living in an apartment
with just a kitchen, living
room and bathroom, all without
doors. They were all in a band
called "The Heavenly Breakfast",
though the bills were paid mostly
by drug dealing.
One scene: Delany sits at the
kitchen table, writing in a note
book. Two women get up to go into
the main room to have sex with each
other. A guy who had been hanging
around the commune off and on looks
at Delany and says something like
"Should I follow them?" Delany
shrugs and says that that's up to
him to decide. The guy goes into
the other room, but a little while
later comes back. He says
something about how they kept doing
things to each other even after he
joined them. Evidently his fantasy
was to have the two of them focused
on him? He leaves, and after that
isn't seen around very much.
The commune itself eventually
breaks up: Delany says this is
because their common purpose I'm not sure I believe this exactly...
disappeared with the it seems like an attempt to blame it
disappearance of the small music on outside pressures. Why not
studios in New York that their continue to live together if it worked
ambitions centered around. for them?
"Tides of Lust" is Delany's first Delany defends pornography,
(intentionally) pornographic novel. as an uncoventional,
repressed art form,
There's a scene where a young that lacks approval
woman enthusiastically from the intelligentsia.
enters an orgy room: no lights, He presents a list of
no windows, full of people of "good" pornographers in
various inclinations and no "The Jewell-Hinged Jaw":
inhibitions. She quickly I naively tried to look
freaks for some reason and them up in the Stanford
leaves immediately. The moral Library. You can find
is that there's often a big critical books *about*
difference between fantasies them, but not the books
and realities.... themselves.
And with Delany himself? Has he ever noticed the
differences between his fictional relationships,
and the reality? I presume so, but I've never seen
him discuss it...
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