The Einstein Intersection expands upon the theme of cultural diversity Delany had first explored in Babel-17. The alien race inhabiting the earth thirty thousand years in the future attempts to develop its “humanity” by imitating the traditions of the extinct human race. In the end, one of the lessons that the aliens learn is that they must accept their own unique natures and develop traditions appropriate to themselves.
Frequent mutations cause differences to emerge among the aliens. The protagonist of the novel is one of those “different” beings—as is, ironically, the figure who has been destroying the mutants. Thus, failure to accept one’s own fundamental difference from others leads, in the novel, to hostility and ultimately to violence.
The narrator of the story, Lobey, is a musician. In the course of the novel, he sets out to regain his lost love, Friza, who is later taken from him again. Delany calls Lobey’s opponent in the novel Kid Death. All these elements have been inspired by the Greek legend of Orpheus, Eurydice, and Hades, but the myth of Orpheus is only one of the mythic allusions central to The Einstein Intersection.
Like many of Delany’s novels, the general structure of The Einstein Intersection is that of the quest. (Indeed, tying the plot of the story to his own artistic quest, Delany includes among the chapter epigraphs a number of passages taken from the journals that he kept during his travels throughout the Mediterranean in 1965.) Moreover, the novel’s frequent reference to mutations, both among the aliens themselves and in nature, was influenced by Ovid’s Metamorphoses (first century b.c.e.), a Roman epic in which the transformations of mythical characters was a unifying theme. The Metamorphoses, too, had retold the legend of Orpheus.
The Einstein Intersection explores those myths in much the same way that Babel-17 had explored language. The novel treats mythology as a phenomenon capable of determining the way in which reality is perceived. By the end of the novel, Lobey must free himself from the mythic patterns that he has inherited. He must permit his own “different” nature to emerge. This, Delany suggests, will prove to be the redemption of Lobey himself and of his entire culture.