Delany, Samuel R. (Vol. 14)
Delany, Samuel R. 1942–
An American science fiction novelist and short story writer, Delany is an experimental writer who calls his works "speculative" fictions. He has been awarded science fiction's Nebula Award four times. (See also CLC, Vol. 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)
Samuel Delany has been the cutting edge of the SF revolution for more than ten years. He works within the traditional SF iconography (i.e., spaceships and cyborgs), but his characters come straight from Desolation Row.
Triton is set in a sort of sexual utopia, where every form of sexual behavior is accepted, and sex-change operations (not to mention "refixations," to alter sexual preference) are common. But Bron, Delany's anti-hero (who becomes, for the last quarter of the novel, an anti-heroine) doesn't know what he wants. All he knows is that he's miserable. When his lover tells him, "Your confusion hurts people," Bron replies, "Then people like me should be exterminated."
Bron's downhill drift is underscored by carefully fragmented syntax, the withholding of crucial bits of information, and a series of deliciously self-conscious set-pieces. In one, Bron enters a booth on which a sign reads: "Know Your Place In Society." The booth is supposed to display taped sequences from an individual's life, but when Bron puts in his money the tape breaks, and he doesn't even get his dough back. In another sequence, as he's reading a brutal get-lost letter from the woman he's in love with, a full-scale interplanetary war breaks out around his ears, gravity fails, and only negativity pulls him through.
Triton is an alienated, ambiguous novel. Delany's running concern with characters on the fringe...
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George Edgar Slusser
The fiction of Samuel R. Delany seems a striking example of what Robert Scholes calls the "structuralist imagination."… Instead of reflecting some objective "reality," the fictional work is seen as primarily a word-construct, a self-contained system whose relation to our familiar world is homologous, but in no way necessary or determined by it. Both in theory and in practice, Delany's "speculative fiction" (SF) is structuralist. Delany is a rare combination of imaginative writer and articulate critic. Because both of these operations are informed by the same imagination, they are reflexive, mutually illuminating…. To Delany writing an SF novel is a verbal activity that is simultaneously visionary and analytical. In this sense, his claims (and his works) are far-reaching and revolutionary. Indeed, he turns the tables on the defenders of the "mainstream," for he sees his chosen (and much maligned) genre as the one, among all modern forms, most supremely suited to this structuralist task. (p. 3)
Delany makes a distinction between SF and what he calls, respectively, "naturalistic fiction" and "fantasy." This distinction is drawn in terms that are primarily linguistic (and structuralist), and repays close attention. What differentiates these two modes of fiction is not "truth to life"—which implies some absolute and determined relationship between external "reality" and words—but what Delany calls their "level of subjunctivity":...
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T. A. Shippey
Drawing themes out of Samuel Delany's story collection Driftglass is made much more difficult by the author's preoccupation … with texture, immediacy, being-not-meaning. Just occasionally this leads to a sort of sentimentality—the self-selecting singers who make spontaneous poetry for the masses and never go commercial, the nice adventurers who relate mysteriously to the natives wherever they go and never get taken for tourists. But these icons of dropout piety are superficial reader pleasers…. The stories make their impact through an immense zest for complication and an unrivalled ability to crystallize this in scenes, people, and objects.
T. A. Shippey, "Natural Alternatives," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3976, June 16, 1978, p. 662.∗
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The book in question is Delany's collection of critical essays and reviews called The Jewel-Hinged Jaw; Notes of the Language of Science Fiction…. [Grammatical,] stylistic and factual howlers [abound]…. But when one actually experiences the clotted precocity of his prose,… [with] its uneasy condescension and agglutinative gumminess, then the multitude of typos and other errors does seem more forgiveable, because translatorese is always hard to get a grip on; the Rube Goldberg unworkableness of much of the writing in this book, especially in the earlier and middle essays collected, does in fact make the task of winkling out paraphrasable content almost impossible…. Ultimately I failed…. I could not even patch together an adequate sense of what I had failed to understand; after all, as Delany does say in a clear moment, style and content are intersecting models of one another. I'm paraphrasing him. At the heart of this failure of mine—beyond the word-deaf gaucheries of the style, beyond the intrusive self-congratulatory garish foregrounding of the auctorial voice with all its morose cheeriness and duckpond aggro—lay a sense that when I did think I understood the terms and assumptions shaping a paragraph, by the dint of a lot of deconstruction work, what I was left with was a kind of shambles strewn with disqualified data and beheaded arguments, a spastic Guernica. (pp. 45-6)
Bits of the arguments...
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"Tales of Nevèrÿon" strikes me as superb science fiction, although it deals with an ancient civilization, vaguely Mediterranean in flavor and presumably antecedent to the Sumerians, Egyptians and so on. As in his earlier science-fiction novels …, Mr. Delany explores the ways in which politics and economics affect our sense of identity, as expressed in art, sex and other forms of play.
His principal characters … are memorable. But Mr. Delany never makes the mistake of treating them as autonomous. They exist, as all characters in science fiction and fantasy must, as reflections of the world they inhabit. And because that world itself is a creation of the author, we are never very far from the realization that this story, like all stories, is simply a string of words, whose relation to "reality" is always problematical. Mr. Delany confronts this issue directly in an appendix, which "explains" that the tales of [his fictive] Nevèrÿon are an expansion of a 900-word "narrative fragment" called the Culhar' Text, which may be the oldest written document ever discovered.
The reader will do well to question at least some of the "facts" cited in this appendix. In doing so, the reader may pause to wonder about the possibility of separating fact from fiction in any archeological recreation of the beginning of civilization. At this point, he may conclude that the "science" in science fiction is not always what it seems—a...
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