Reviews: Delany, Samuel R.

Strange Language

Babel-17 — Samuel R. Delany

1966’s Babel-17 is an SF novel by Samuel R. Delany. Not his first (he had already published a number of Ace Doubles and one standalone), but the one that made his name. It shared the Nebula with Flowers for Algernon and was nominated for the Hugo as well, losing to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It shares some elements of its setting with an earlier Delany novel, Empire Star.

Victory over the Invaders may depend on understanding a series of indecipherable messages broadcast in an odd code? cipher? language? that the authorities label Babel-17. The Alliance turns to noted linguist Rydra Wong. “Tell us what this is and tell us what it means!”

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You’re My Obsession

Nova — Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany’s 1968 Nova is a standalone science fiction novel.

Draco, an Earth-led alliance, and its youthful rival, the Pleiades Federation, dominate the human portion of the galaxy. Both powers dabble in the affairs of the recently settled Outer Colonies. Those hostile young planets harbor traces of the ultra-heavy element illyrion, an element essential to tech as diverse as faster-than-light drives and terraforming.

Until the Outer Colonies were settled, no natural sources of illyrion were known. Illyrion could only be produced by an expensive transmutation process. Cheaper illyrion has shifted the balance of power.

Lorq Von Ray has a bold scheme to alter the galactic political landscape yet again. He will double the aggregate stores of Illyrion in one daring voyage! All he and his crew need do is race into the heart of a star. An exploding star.

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Dancing on the Edge of a Precipice

The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957–1965 — Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany’s 1988 The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957–1965 is a Hugo-winning autobiography. The narrative covers the period from the death of his father (when Delany was still a young man) to the point when his career was just starting to take off. He had not yet written the majority of the works for which he is best known.

One might ask why I, a humble middle-brow reviewer, was tapped to review this. I am wondering that myself.

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Unintentionally appropriate for Valentine’s Day

Triton — Samuel R. Delany

I admit I am cheating when I include Samuel R. Delany’s 1976 Triton1 in this series, because my Because My Tears are Delicious to You reviews are intended to cover books I read and reread as a teen. I didn’t so much read and reread Triton in the 1970s as much as I tried over and over to read it2. But now I have finished it. Finally.

It is a sad excuse for a book that does not have at least one unexpected positive quality. This is not a sad excuse for a book. But the nature of the redeeming quality will be revealed later in the review. Foreshadowing: the mark of quality literature!

The moon Triton3 is by some measures a utopia: certainly, what passes for government on Triton has done its best to provide a physical and social context in which people are free be happy. It stops well short of reshaping the people to suit the utopia, which for Bron Helstrom is just too bad.

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Two from Delany

The Ballad of Beta-2 and Empire Star — Samuel R. Delany

The Ballad of Beta-2 and Empire Star is a 1976 omnibus of Samuel R. Delany’s 1965 novel The Ballad of Beta-2 and his 1966 novel Empire Star . It’s not quite my first pick for a Delany review for my Because My Tears are Delicious to You series (more on that later), but it is as close as I can come with my current library.

These are both very early Delany novels. Expectations based on later works like Dhalgren, Triton, or Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders may well be misleading.

These two books are also very, very short. Almost novellas. Brevity does not mean simplicity.

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