Friday, April 16, 2010

U've heard of Complex, how bout Multiplex?

Samuel R. Delany's 1966 short-novel EMPIRE STAR is 1 of the best, most Njoyable science-fiction "space operas" ever. It's as fast-moving, action-filled, involving & flashy as a good comic book (Xcuse me: Graphic Novel). At 114 large-type pgs, U can read it in a coupla hrs max.
Like all Delany's best stuff, it's also tricky & clever. There's a lot going on in it.
& it's FUNNY. The whole book reads like it was written 4 the sheer joy of it. I think it's Delany's best work ever, 1/2 a step up from his also-brilliant THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION. & way better than his later, hugely-wordy, Ndless postmodern novels like DHALGREN & TRITON.
A plot synopsis? A catlike boy named Comet Jo grows up on a beautiful but backward planet, & 1 day witnesses the crash of what might B a spaceship. 1 of the aliens inside the ship survives long enuf 2 tell Jo that Jo must take an important msg 2 Empire Star, which is sorta the capitol of the Known Universe. The msg Jo must carry is at 1st unclear.
With the help of a spacefield-tender named Charona, Jo gains passage on the 1st ship out, where he meets the mysterious San Severina. She is attempting 2 rebuild an Ntire Dstroyed society w/ the help of an equally mysterious slave-race called the Lll. NE contact w/ the Lll causes immense sadness in humans, & the sadness increases geometrically w/ each additional Lll U own.
San Severina tries 2 provide Jo w/ an education (including a discussion about the diffrences Btween "simplex," "complex" & "multiplex" people, societies & outlooks), but other things get in the way. At 1 point Jo is kidnapped by a giant spacefaring computer called The Lump & they drift thru space discussing science fiction (among other things) & the work of The Lump's fave SF writer, Muels Aranlyde (Samuel R. Delany).
Jo meets the mad poet Ny Ty Lee, is 4ced 2 join the Army of the evil Prince Nactor, meets The Princess of the Empire, & learns what the msg he must Dliver 2 Empire Star hasta B:
Some1 has come 2 free the Lll.
Things get a little hazy after that. But it Bcomes clear that Mbedded in this 114-pg story is a huge space-spanning epic, which Thank Ghod the young Delany didn't try 2 spell-out. As it is, the Nding, where Delany ties all the parts 2gether, is pretty breathtaking.
I'm not doing the story justice, of course. I CAN'T do justice 2 the jokes, some of which R really funny; or 2 the plot complications, which R as funny as they R essential 2 advancing the story. & I can't Dscribe how vivid & brite & Xuberant & ALIVE the storytelling is. Everything Delany chose NOT 2 do in DHALGREN he brings off here, & it's wonderful. It'd make a great cartoon. Or graphic novel.
Delany's novel after this, BABEL-17, won the Nebula Award 4 best SF novel of 1966. EMPIRE STAR shoulda won. Tho SF fans have likely read it by now, it's never quite Cmd 2 get the recognition it Dserves.
There have bn sevral editions of the book; recently its bn bound in a package w/ BABEL-17, which is how Delany wanted it 2 B published originally. It has also bn packaged as parta summa the later editions of Delany's short-story collection, DRIFTGLASS/STARSHARDS.
If U've never read NE of Delany's novels, this'd B a great place 2 start. It's fast & EZ & vivid & immensely Njoyable. I'm also a big fan of EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, which isn't quite as clear when it comes 2 motivations, but is still a wild, amusing trip as aliens take on the myths & legends of a dead Earth in an attempt 2 find...?
Some of Delany's other novels didn't quite work 4 me, tho they might 4 U. BABEL-17 Cmd awkward, tho perhaps I wasn't up 2 the questions of identity & multi-partner sexual relationships that R summa the focus of the novel. I think the book has 1 great scene, where heroine poetess Rydra Wong watches a space battle on a huge screen. Summa the writing just Cms clunky, which is kinda shocking 4 Delany.
His later novel NOVA is a better story, but I think needed more room 2 breathe. A story w/ some of the same epic sweep of EMPIRE STAR, but covered in just barely 2wice the space. There's a lot going on in this book as well, but at no point does Delany slow down 2 allow himself & the reader a chance 2 take a breath & get a handle on what's going on. It's like he rushed it.... (It's bn awhile since I re-read either NOVA or BABEL-17, & it's possible they might strike me diffrently now. & I may B talking myself in2 re-reading them just by writing this....)
Delany definitely didn't rush DHALGREN, nearly 900 pgs set in a ruined city sometime in America's future. I made it 200 pgs in -- 2wice -- B4 I gave up. There is actually 1 good, vivid, well-Xecuted dramatic scene near the Nd of those 1st 200 pgs. It does Xactly what Delany wanted it 2 do in terms of establishing the sanity (or lack of it) of his hero. But it doesn't go NEwhere....
I couldn't get in2 TRITON either & haven't read NE of Delany's later stuff Xcept 4 his autobiography, THE MOTION OF LIGHT IN WATER. It will probly tell U more about Delany's bisexual habits (& his marriage 2 National Book Award-winning poet Marilyn Hacker) than U really wanna know. But there's enuf about the circumstances surrounding the writing of Delany's 1st 6 novels 2 make it worth the trip....

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