The Motion of Light in Water Essay - Critical Essays

Samuel R. Delany


The Motion of Light in Water is an exploration of how one talented black man used the resources of his particular privileged experience of growing up to become a successful writer of science fiction, a literary genre that has few black voices. Beyond this, the work shows the process through which Delany becomes the sort of man that he is, displaying not only his talent as a writer but the internal markings that distinguish him as an individual. Moving through the shadows of memory, Delany constructs a text that is his life.

Throughout the work, Delany shows his doubts that he will succeed at writing. For example, when W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman have dinner with Delany and Hacker, Delany understands the judgment the men give him when he tells them that he wants to write science fiction. Science fiction was not then considered to be an expression of “high literature,” and yet Delany brings to the writing of science fiction a broad-based knowledge of all the great Western literary discourses. In his novels, he attempts to do what had not previously been done in the genre, to make it more than an expression of popular literature. His novels are richly textured with literary and historical allusions that reveal his vast knowledge.

Furthermore, Delany charts the doubts that creep into his goal of writing because he is a black man. It is true that he is a black man who has had most of the advantages of any white middle-class man or woman, but he knows that major publishers will not always be receptive to the idea of a black man writing science fiction, as publishers are always aware of their market. Although Delany brings these doubts and potential obstacles to the forefront of his narrative, he is rarely defeated by them. In fact, any defeats or real setbacks that he promotes in the...

(The entire section is 743 words.)