Delany, Samuel R. (Vol. 141)
Samuel R. Delany 1942-
(Full name Samuel Ray Delany, Jr.; has also written under pseudonym K. Leslie Steiner) American novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents an overview of Delany's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 8, 14, and 38.
Widely regarded as one of the most important science fiction writers of his generation, Delany was the first African American to earn acclaim in the genre. In works such as Babel-17 (1966), Dhalgren (1975), and his four-volume Nevèrÿon series, he established his reputation as a challenging author whose ambitious texts featured sophisticated commentary on gender, sexuality, and race. His protagonists are often artist-criminals who are able to view the world as marginalized outsiders, a perspective Delany has shared as a black, dyslexic homosexual. Both Delany's fiction and criticism reveal his preoccupation with semiotics and postmodern theory, including his belief that language constitutes, rather than reflects, reality. His theoretical approach to writing and his radical, often controversial and explicitly pornographic texts, have broadened the parameters of traditional science fiction.
Born in Harlem, New York, to a prosperous funeral home director, Delany enjoyed a relatively privileged childhood. He attended the Dalton School and the Bronx High School of Science, where he studied physics and mathematics. He began writing stories and essays at an early age and also showed talent as a musician, composing a violin concerto at age fourteen. Always a good student, Delany found English and spelling difficult; it was not until high school that his dyslexia was diagnosed. As a high school sophomore he won several awards for his writing and co-edited the school magazine with Marilyn Hacker, a poet and editor whom he married in 1961. In 1960 Delany received a fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in Vermont, where he met Robert Frost. He briefly attended the City College of New York, but never completed a college degree. Hacker was instrumental in the publication of his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor (1962), and by age twenty-two Delany had published four more novels. At the age of twenty-three, Delany, who had thoughts of suicide, was hospitalized and treated at a psychiatric facility. Delany subsequently lived in the Heavenly Breakfast commune and spent his time writing and performing music with a rock band of the same name. From 1970-71, Delany and Hacker co-edited the first four issues of Quark, an avant-garde literary journal. In 1972 Delaney joined his wife in London, where their daughter Iva was born in 1974. In 1973 he published The Tides of Lust, a pornographic novel that suggested the direction of his next several works. Though Delany had long engaged in sexual liaisons with partners of both sexes, he eventually came to accept his identity as a gay man. He and his wife divorced in 1975, though they remained close friends and colleagues and shared parental responsibilities for their daughter. In 1979, Delany published Tales of Nevèrÿon, an American Book Award nominee and the first of the four works that comprise his Nevèrÿon series. In 1977, Delaney produced The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, the first of his acclaimed works of criticism, followed by The American Shore (1978), Starboard Wine (1984), The Straits of Messina (1989), and Silent Interviews (1994), a volume of revised interviews. Many of his critical pieces have appeared in various publications, but remain uncollected. Delany won Nebula awards for Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection (1967), as well as for the short stories “Aye and Gomorrah” (1967) and “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” (1969), also the recipient of a Hugo award in 1970. Delany received the Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association in 1985 and the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in Gay Literature in 1993. He has also had a distinguished academic career, including appointments at the State University of New York, Buffalo (1975), the Center for Twentieth Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (1977), and at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University (1987). Since 1988 Delany has been professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Writing and thinking on the far edge of the margin, one of Delany's expressed objectives has been to use the power of language to diffuse the central role that convention plays in both literature and society. While his work is diverse and indicative of formidable intellect and originality, much of his fiction represents the progress of his thinking and its translation into art. Babel-17 is an unconventional space opera that features a female poet protagonist, a world-threatening weapon that is an enigmatic language, and a villain that is a concept—the inability to communicate—rather than a person. Through the action-packed adventures of Rydra Wong, the novel investigates the impact of language and linguistic difference on societal and individual behavior, and concurrently explores the linguistic potential of all science fiction literature. The Einstein Intersection is set on Earth far in the future, where a new breed of beings is struggling to impose order on their universe. Among them is protagonist Lo Lobey, a musician like the mythological Orpheus, but whose instrument can not only make music, but can kill. He stumbles through a maze of choices that only in retrospect are seen as mythic patterns that must be confronted and understood or conquered before he and his world can be free. The new society, ruled by Gödel's theorem, requires decision-making governed by irrational choice—as opposed to logic—and reliance on the mythic archetypes of the past. To a greater extent than in his previous works, sexual politics play a pivotal role in both Dhalgren and the novel that immediately followed it, Triton (1976). Dhalgren, noted for its difficulty and graphic sexual content, is set in the city of Bellona, which has been deserted in the wake of an unexplained disaster. The protagonist, an amnesiac and mental patient eventually known as Kid, undertakes a pilgrimage to attain salvation for Bellona and self-awareness for himself. By the end of the book Kid has developed a persona defined by his experiences. Typical of Delany's fiction, the novel ends in ambiguity, requiring that the reader determine the outcome from all the possibilities presented by the fragments related in the novel. In Triton Delany creates an unlikable protagonist, Bron Hellstrom, who inhabits a world of ambiguous sexuality where surgery for sexual preference, race, or gender is a common occurrence. Delany deconstructs the traditional notion of utopia in this work and, characteristically, refuses to provide closure, signifying that an ideal world in which sexual differences are not only accepted, but expected, cannot be fully rendered. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) is a love story set in a world where intelligent life forms are referred to by feminine pronouns, while masculine pronouns refer to beings that excite one sexually. The lovers are men who are literally from different worlds. They participate in a dragon hunt, the object of which is not to slay the dragon, but to become subsumed, if only for an instant, into the consciousness of an alien being, thus bringing about a modicum of understanding of this “other.” The novel contrasts extreme degradation and misery, including radical forms of slavery, with astonishing joy and grandeur, indicating that nothing in present experience can prepare individuals for grasping the possibilities inherent at either end of such a continuum. In Tales of Nevèrÿon and its three companion works, Neveryóna (1983), Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985), and The Bridge of Lost Desire (1987), Delany examines the intersection of language and power and explores behavior ranging from the sexual to the cultural. The series as a whole explores slavery in a context far beyond the North American experience, making clear that masters themselves can become slaves by the choices they make. Delany has written two memoirs, Heavenly Breakfast (1979) and The Motion of Light in Water (1988), which discusses his realization of his gay identity. During the later 1990s, Delany published Atlantis (1995), a collection of short stories, Longer Views (1996), a collection of essays, and Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999), a volume of essays on the sexual underworld of Times Square prior to its gentrification under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Delany is recognized as a leading voice in contemporary science fiction, and one who has pushed the limits of the genre with his complex works. Though his admirers regard him as a major American writer, he remains unknown to many readers outside of the science fiction community. It is Delany's provocative imagination, uninhibited eroticism, and deep concern with linguistics, mythology, and cultural theory that distinguishes his “paraliterary” writing from other practitioners of science fiction. His major works, notably Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, and the Nevèrÿon series, are regarded as science fiction classics, with Dhalgren standing as his most controversial work. While Delany's supporters commend the complexity and indeterminacy of his fiction, others have found his narrative and linguistic experiments confounding and overly ambiguous. Because he is primarily concerned with sociocultural mores rather than hard science, some critics consider his novels brilliant failures as science fiction, while others regard his work as “quantum fiction.” As many scholars observe, Delany's writing is largely informed by the thinking of French theorists Derrida, Lacan, Levi-Strauss, and Foucault. Even the most approachable of Delany's works challenge the reader's intellect and demand that one examine his or her social beliefs, particularly by recognizing the linguistic and cultural structures that inform and maintain such assumptions. Delany's application and interpretation of such difficult theoretical concerns has also won him admiration as a critic. Over the last four decades, Delany has earned respect for his continual artistic quest and his determination to challenge parochial thinking and to broaden acceptance of difference—whether sexual, racial, or gender-based.
The Jewels of Aptor (novel) 1962; revised 1968
*Captives of the Flame (novel) 1963; republished as Out of the Dead City, 1968
*The Towers of Toron (novel) 1964; revised 1968
The Ballad of Beta-2 (novel) 1965
*City of a Thousand Suns (novel) 1965; revised 1969
Babel-17 (novel) 1966; revised 1969
Empire Star (novel) 1966
The Einstein Intersection (novel) 1967
Nova (novel) 1968
The Fall of the Towers [contains Captives of the Flame, The Towers of Toron, and City of a Thousand Suns] (novels) 1970
Driftglass: Ten Tales of Speculative Fiction (short stories) 1971
The Tides of Lust (novel) 1973; also published as Equinox, 1993
Dhalgren (novel) 1975; revised 1977
Triton (novel) 1976; republished as Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, 1996
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (criticism) 1977
The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch—Angouleme (criticism) 1978
Empire: A Visual Novel [with illustrations by Howard V. Chaykin] (novel) 1978
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SOURCE: “Allegory in Delany's Einstein Intersection,” in Forms of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Third International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film, edited by Jan Hokenson and Howard Pearce, Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 87-90.
[In the following essay, Collins contends that The Einstein Intersection illustrates Delany's theme that American blacks, in the interest of establishing their own cultural identity, must “exorcize” and “discard” the inherited myths and religion of white Westerners.]
In an epigraph to one of the late chapters of The Einstein Intersection (they are not numbered), Samuel Delany quotes a bit of conversation recorded in his journal: “What’s a spade writer like you doing all caught up with the Great White Bitch?” Gregory Corso says to him, and then adds an afterthought, “I guess it’s pretty obvious.”1 Both the content and the tone of these epigraphs, mostly from his journal, suggest that the writing of The Einstein Intersection was for its author a sort of ritual exorcism of old demons. At the head of the next chapter, for instance, Delany remarks, “The images of youth plague me. … By the end of TEI I hope to have excised them. Billy the Kid is the last to go” (p. 118). Like those of all good writers, Delany’s narratives may be read on several levels. The various kinds of myth in the novel...
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SOURCE: “Samuel Delany's Sophisticated Fables of Identity,” in Washington Post Book World, January 31, 1988, p. 8.
[In the following excerpt, Morrison offers positive assessments of The Bridge of Lost Desire and The Motion of Light in Water.]
The central literary conceit of the cycle of linked tales that Samuel R. Delany calls “Return to Nevèryon” is explained by his alter-ego K. Leslie Steiner in a preface that appears at the end of the fourth and most recent book in the series, The Bridge of Lost Desire. According to Steiner, “Delany’s stories are, among other things, a set of elaborate and ingenuous deconstructions” of an Ur text called the Culhar, “that ancient, fragmented, and incomplete narrative, with its barbarians, dragons, sunken cities, reeds and memory marks, twin-bladed warrior women, child ruler, one-eyed dreamer and mysterious rubber balls.” That is, the tales of Nevèrÿon are postmodern sword-and-sorcery.
Sword-and-sorcery has lurked on the fringes of sf and fantasy since the 1930s, when Robert E. Howard fused historical adventure with supernatural horror in his tales of Conan the Barbarian. Most examples of this largely despised sub-genre are banal and artless, simplemindedly plotted and hamstrung with the most rigid set of conventions you’ll find outside of a Harlequin romance. Not so the tales of Nevèryon.
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SOURCE: “The (Science-Fiction) Reader and the Quantum Paradigm: The Problems in Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, July, 1990, pp. 325-40.
[In the following essay, Bartter interprets the complexity and indeterminacy of Delany's fiction in terms of quantum mechanics, which she argues is a more fitting paradigm for Delany's work than Newtonian physics or Einsteinian relativism. Drawing attention to the controlling metaphors and structural innovations of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Bartter contends that Delany's “quantum” worldview challenges accepted notions of reality and pushes the boundaries of science fiction writing.]
Newton knew. He saw the universe as the function of various forces acting upon a variety of objects. The Newtonian world-view reflects the mechanistic, “billiard-ball” concept of the universe held by scientists who were sure that, given just a little more time and better instrumentation, all knowledge would be available to them and all answers known.1 This world-view supported the Industrial Revolution; it also supported cause-effect plotting and omniscient narration. The novel reflected the “social and historical norms that applied to a particular environment, and so it established an immediate link with the empirical reality familiar to its readers” (Iser: xi). Though it has...
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SOURCE: “The Languages of Science Fiction: Samuel Delany's Babel-17,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 34, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 5-17.
[In the following essay, Malmgren examines the function of language in Babel-17, which he views as the novel's central theme and also the central vehicle by which Delany creates an alternative world. According to Malmgren, the protagonist's struggle to master Babel-17, the alien language, asserts Delany's postmodern view of language as a mode of constructing and inventing—rather than simply reflecting—reality.]
Science fiction is a literature of the Beyond, as well as a literature of the impact of change on Man. It deals with the Beyond in a historical sense: the Future, that is rapidly becoming the Present. It must also deal with the beyond of knowledge—without losing touch with a sense of the social basis of Man, whose knowledge this is. For, just as we are here making our world and our society, so in another sense we are engaged in the making of the universe through that which is at the root of our social being: our language.
—Ian Watson, “Toward an Alien Linguistics”
In his essay on “Fiction about the Future,” H. G. Wells claims that the most significant “futurist” fiction, and the most difficult to bring off, would be that sort which uses as its novum an estranged...
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SOURCE: A review of Silent Interviews, in Extrapolation, Vol. 36, No. 2, Summer, 1995, pp. 163-5.
[In the following review, MacLean offers a positive evaluation of Silent Interviews.]
Delany posits himself, black and gay and an SF writer, in the soundless space between views. This is a superb and important book for anyone interested in Delany, SF, or SF criticism (comics fans and opera buffs also will find an interview to suit them). This collection [Silent Interviews] of eleven written conversations is engaging, well put together, fun to read, and challenging. As usual, with anything written by Delany, the texts all operate at many levels: personal, historical, critical, theoretical, and metatheoretical.
The major critical focus is Delany’s continuing involvement with language and reading (genre) theory, though here augmented by Derrida and Lacan (deconstruction and psychoanalysis). The latter theoreticians are seemingly the genesis for Delany’s reflections on silence and marginality that infuse the content of the interviews, as well as the focus of the book as a whole. Not surprisingly, his shift in critical views parallels his latest fictional work, the Neveryòna series.
The book is divided into two main parts and an appendix. The largest, the first, part consists of seven professional interviews all connected in some fashion with journals....
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SOURCE: “Talking,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, July, 1995, pp. 204-11.
[In the following review, Samuelson provides an extended analysis of Delany's comments on literary theory, the politics of marginalization, and science fiction in Silent Interviews.Though noting repetition and contradiction in the volume, Samuelson finds Delany's poststructuralist perspective challenging.]
Samuel R. Delany both clings to and defies genrefication. Claiming to write “science fiction”—not speculative fiction, or sword and sorcery—because of a defining attitude he brings to it, he notes that spaceships appear first in his fifth sf novel, and argues for science fictional readings of Dhalgren and the four volumes of “Return to Nevèrÿon.” Sf’s “way of reading” he keys to a readerly and writerly focus on a malleable material world, in contrast to the malleable subject (perceiver-protagonist) of fantastic and realistic fiction. Yet his fiction, not all of which demands an sf reading, also has its malleable subjects, and his writing, not all of which demands to be called fiction, includes himself as a character. Frequently dissolving borders between fiction and nonfiction, he interweaves critical, theoretical, and autobiographical elements into both.
Besides a couple of dozen short stories and around eighteen novels, Delany has published eight volumes of...
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SOURCE: “Debased and Lascivious? Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand,” in Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, edited by James Sallis, University Press of Mississippi, 1996, pp. 26-42.
[In the following essay, Blackford examines Delany's presentation of gender and sexuality in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. Blackford contends that the novel, while often confusing and overly ambiguous, reveals Delany's innovative effort to subvert gender-coded language and popular stereotypes about physical beauty and sexual norms.]
Samuel R. Delany has been a prolific writer in recent years, having just completed the trilogy that began with Tales of Nevèrÿon, as well as working on a far-future diptych that begins with Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. The Nevèrÿon books deserve a separate extended discussion.
Stars in My Pocket has its own internal structural complexities: it is actually two stories, or perhaps three counting its Epilogue, as well as forming the first half of a diptych, the second half of which is still awaited. This is to be entitled The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities, a suggestive title when read against the subject matter of Stars in My Pocket.
The two stories which make up Stars in My Pocket are a virtually...
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SOURCE: “The Politics of Desire in Delany's Triton and Tides of Lust,” in Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, edited by James Sallis, University Press of Mississippi, 1996, pp. 43-61.
[In the following essay, Fox examines the significance of graphic, polymorphous sex in both The Tides of Lustand Triton. According to Fox, explicit sexual content in these novels provides the philosophical-aesthetic perspective from which Delany exposes the extreme contradictions of racial identity, social order, erotic desire, and individuality.]
In the breakdown of repression, the artists do their part by first dreaming the forbidden thoughts, assuming the forbidden stances, and struggling to make sense. They cannot do otherwise, for they bring the social conflicts in their souls to public expression.
“And I assure you, as one who is also a fair performer, desire is something else again.”
—The Spike, in Samuel R. Delany’s Triton2
Speculative sexuality may be the final frontier for science-fiction writers, and Samuel R. Delany, while not the only extrapolator to cross into this particular territory of the imagination, has probably gone as far as anybody in penetrating it. In his...
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SOURCE: “Jewels in Junk City: To Read Triton,” in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 3, Fall, 1996, pp. 142-7.
[In the following essay, Blackford examines various scientific and linguistic inconsistencies in Triton,which he identifies as symptomatic of Delany's fiction in general. According to Blackford, Delany's elaborate future worlds and linguistic constructs create “an overall effect,” rather than a seamless alternative reality.]
Samuel R. Delany’s Triton is an experiment in radical utopian narrative. It depicts a miraculously hi-tech society, in this case set on the Neptunian moon Triton over a century hence. On Triton there are few conventional or physical restraints on the achievement of individual human desires. The novel appears to be a rigorous examination of how such a society might operate and how individual human folly, conflict, and even tragedy might nonetheless be located within it. Delany is apparently continuing such a project in an even more extreme utopian diptych whose first volume has been published as Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. He is likely to have imitators: an impressive recent attempt at the same mode of writing by a more traditional science fiction writer is John Varley’s Steel Beach, one of the most ambitious science fiction novels of the 1990s so far.1
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SOURCE: “To See What Conditions Our Condition Is In: Trial by Language in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand,” in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 3, Fall, 1996, pp. 153-60.
[In the following essay, Bray examines Delany's subversion of language and social organization in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. Bray contends that the reader is drawn into a “textual webbing” that illustrates the relationship between the individual and society and brings into focus current social realities and alternative futures.]
One of the definitive characteristics of Samuel R. Delany’s fiction is its “consciousness-raising” function. The number of characters in his works who are marginal to their social contexts or outsiders to those contexts altogether calls attention to those social frameworks and what they offer or deny their inhabitants. Add to this awareness the dialogue between the givens of the present world and the givens created in an SF world which Delany suggests is evoked as part of the process of reading SF. To understand the social and artifactual givens created in an SF world, readers must conceive the changes from the present world which would be necessary for the fictional one to exist and, in so doing, become more aware of what exists or lacks in the present.1 In Delany’s fictions this heightened awareness of present reality typically comes...
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SOURCE: “‘This You-Shaped Hole of Insight and Fire’: Meditations on Dhalgren,” in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 3, Fall, 1996, pp. 129-35.
[In the following essay, Fox examines the etymology and function of language in Dhalgren, drawing attention to the novel's circular textual pattern, mythological associations, and embedded social commentary.]
Dhalgren can best be characterized by the words that Kid, the novel’s protagonist, uses to characterize his own book of poems: “a complicitous illusion in lingual catalysis, a crystalline and conscientious alkahest.”1 This is the sort of language one would expect to find in contemporary criticism, not in a work of fiction, except that, since the advent of the postmodern, the borders between these ostensibly different sorts of texts, the creative and the critical, have been jumbled, if not abolished. Moreover, the choice of terms is interesting: one drawn from alchemy (alkahest, the sought-after universal solvent); the other drawn from chemistry (catalysis, the action of a catalyst, a substance that modifies a chemical reaction). One suggests magic, the other science, but chemistry grew out of alchemy, so the two are not completely dichotomous. Moreover, alchemy should be understood as a spiritual process wherein the alchemist himself is the subject of transformation, from that which is...
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SOURCE: “Necessary Constraints: Samuel R. Delany on Science Fiction,” in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 3, Fall, 1996, pp. 165-9.
[In the following essay, Samuelson provides an overview of Delany's intellectual development, radical social consciousness, and theoretical perspective as a critic and writer of science fiction.]
Important not only as a science fiction writer, Samuel R. Delany is also a major critic and theorist of the genre. Beyond what is embedded in his fiction, he has published five volumes specifically devoted to SF criticism and theory. The core document for this purpose is The American Shore (1978), linking microcosmic and macrocosmic levels of analysis. This detailed discussion of a Thomas M. Disch short story, which on the surface is minimally science fictional, examines how reading it as SF shapes reader reactions differently from reading it as mundane or fantasy fiction, which Disch also writes. Dividing the story into 287 “lexias” for individual commentary, Delany elaborates many insights simplified in other writings, but the style is often crabbed, the analysis highly contextual, and the transfer of insights to other texts not always evident.
More accessible in expression are The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (1977) and Starboard Wine (1984), constructed from introductions, essays, open letters, addresses, workshop contributions, and...
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SOURCE: “Black, Gay, Pomo, Cyberpunk,” in The Nation, October 28, 1996, pp. 60-2.
[In the following review, McLemee provides an overview of Delany's life and literary career and offers a positive evaluation of Longer Views.]
Samuel Delany published his first novel in 1962, at the age of 20, which sounds like an early start, though not for a prodigy. As a teenager, Delany studied quantum physics at the Bronx High School of Science. He composed music, read omnivorously and wrote half a dozen novels. The manuscripts came back from editors with nice letters worrying that his prose was overly “literary” but assuring him he showed promise—the last thing any brilliant kid wants to hear. Then, at 19, Delany wrote a short science-fiction novel, and it was in print, and paid for, not long after his next birthday. So he wrote a second novel, then a third. And these, too, were published in short order.
His prose was exceptionally self-conscious—sometimes in a bad way (there were passages of deepest purple), and sometimes with brilliant effect. From Gide he borrowed as a rule of thumb the principle that characters ought to manifest three sorts of behavior: purposeful, habitual and gratuitous. Most S.F. novelists spent more time changing typewriter ribbons than worrying about craft; little wonder that Delany was soon, rather conspicuously, one of the most sophisticated figures in the...
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SOURCE: A review of Silent Interviews, in African American Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 164-8.
[In the following review, Govan provides an overview of Delany's literary career and offers a positive evaluation of Silent Interviews.]
Although he writes in a genre vigorously pursued by relatively few African American literary critics and scholars, it should no longer be a secret that one of the most productive African American authors is Samuel R. “Chip” Delany. Albeit the paraliterary form of science fiction is his chosen discipline, within this realm Delany reigns. For thirty-four years Delany has been on a roll, publishing more novels than Ishmael Reed, more collections than Alice Walker, more critical texts than Toni Morrison, and almost as many autobiographical accounts as Frederick Douglass or W. E. B. Du Bois (with time remaining for future life histories). Since the advent of his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor (1962), to the publication of his latest, The Mad Man (1994), Delany’s productivity has been unmatched. He has been a writer of science fiction first and foremost, winning both the Hugo and the Nebula award repeatedly; but he has also been an editor, educator, comic book writer, featured speaker, poet, and literary critic. Silent Interviews (1994) augments his position as a critical theorist.
In three-plus decades, Delany has...
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SOURCE: A review of Dhalgren, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 181-2.
[In the following review, Paddy offers praise for Dhalgren, reissued by Wesleyan University Press in 1996.]
Nothing would be easier than to declare Delany’s 1975 magnum opus a literary masterpiece that far excels the limitations of the science fiction genre. Nothing would be easier, but then nothing would be more denigrating to Delany’s work and his critical intentions. Delany has always stressed his love for the uniqueness of science fiction, and he has provided some of the most illuminating studies into how the genre requires an audience to read in a different manner. Yet, while Delany has defended the distinctiveness of science fiction, his own works have pushed the genre beyond its usual boundaries. This is especially true for Dhalgren.
Dhalgren is a novel of space exploration that investigates the inner space of time and memory. Like one of Italo Calvino’s invisible cities, Delany’s Bellona is a surreal metropolis where the lines between the imagination and the concrete have been erased. The protagonist wanders this postapocalyptic city and, having forgotten his name, becomes known only as the Kid. He is enmeshed in a realm where the space-time matrix has become unglued, where places move and time becomes random. The Kid is immersed in a...
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SOURCE: “‘Across Never’: Postmodern Theory and Narrative Praxis in Samuel R. Delany's Nevèrÿon Cycle,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, July, 1997, pp. 289-01.
[In the following essay, Kelso addresses aspects of postmodern literary theory in the Nevèrÿon cycle, notably the influence of Derrida and Foucault on Delany's notion of deconstruction and marginality. Kelso draws attention to the motifs of sexual deviancy and degradation in the Nevèrÿon narratives, through which Delany explores the limits of racial identity, feminism, and sexual politics.]
It is something of a truism that sf writers like to work at the cutting-edge—if not the wacky limits—of science. Although Samuel R. Delany favors the “softer” disciplines, his novels usually operate at, or ahead of, the speculative edge. There is, for example, the brilliant extrapolation from computer languages in Babel-17 (1966): what if people constructed reality using a language without concepts of “I” and “you”? Virtual reality is anticipated in the giant computer hoax of The Fall of the Towers (1966), and postmodernity foreshadowed by the discussion of a centerless culture in Nova (1968). Equally long-standing has been Delany’s insistence that form in sf is as important as content (“Letter”; “Zelazny” 10).
Delany also shared the cutting-edge of cultural movements like...
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SOURCE: A review of Longer Views, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XVII, No. 3, Fall, 1997, pp. 223-5.
[In the following review, Sallis offers praise for both Longer Views and Atlantis.]
We witness a strange period in which it seems that, at the same time the canon of approved, proper literature narrows, we have ever greater access (through translations, small-press publications, courageous university presses) to the fullest range of literary possibility: Delany, for instance.
Author of thirty or so books, a cornerstone of contemporary science fiction with novels such as Dhalgren and Triton, praised by the likes of Umberto Eco for the innovation and imaginative force of his fantasy quarte Return to Nevèrÿon, Delany is a national treasure unknown to the majority of readers. He is also, as earlier books such as Silent Interviews and The Straits of Messina suggest and as Longer Views affirms once and for all, a formidable, engaging critic.
Opening with a graceful introduction from Ken James, Longer Views goes on to reprise Delany’s brilliant, evocative investigation of modernity, “Wagner/Artaud”; a reading of Donna Haraway’s feminist “Manifesto for Cyborgs”; a self-interrogation into the nature of personal and social sexual experience (“Aversion/Perversion/Diversion”); the collagelike,...
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SOURCE: “Mickey & the Peep Show,” in The Nation, October 18, 1999, pp. 30-4.
[In the following review, Hoffman discusses the decline of the sex industry in Times Square and commends Delany's recollections and observations in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.]
In 1980, amid debates about “cleaning up” Times Square, New York City Mayor Ed Koch warned, “New York cannot and should not become Disneyland.”
Seventeen years later, in June 1997, Disney organized a thirty-float electrical parade through the heart of Times Square to promote its animated film Hercules. The parade ran down 42nd Street past the new Disney Store, just months after the block’s last porn shops were closed by the city as part of Disney’s conditions for moving in. The New York Times reported on the “Disneyfication” of the area in an editorial announcing “42nd Street Becomes Main Street USA.”
How did the X-rated setting of City of Night and Midnight Cowboy turn into a PG-rated theme park?
Through calculated campaigns by developers, moral crusades by politicians and resounding compliance from an electorate battered by epidemics of AIDS, drugs and crime, Times Square has been “revitalized” and sanitized for your protection. In addition to protracted campaigns against public “vice” that have largely taken sex and drugs off...
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Cooper, Rebecca. “A Samuel R. Delany Checklist.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 16, No. 3 (Fall 1996): 170-1.
A chronological listing of Delany's writings; divided into fiction, fiction series, and nonfiction.
Benderson, Bruce. Review of Hogg and Atlantis, by Samuel Delany. Lambda Book Report 4, No. 12 (September-October 1995): 20-1.
Discusses the extreme sexuality and depravity in Hogg and offers a positive assessment of the stories in Atlantis.
Broderick, Damien. “Allography and Allegory: Delany's SF.” Foundation 52, (Summer, 1991): 30-42.
Broderick discusses the aesthetic and theoretical underpinnings of The Einstein Intersection, which he contends may be interpreted as a manifesto on the writing and reading of science fiction. Broderick argues that Delany's subversive poetic discourse aims to deconstruct Western myth and reductive science, reflecting the theoretical claims of poststructuralism and Gödelian indeterminacy.
Cooper, Carol. “Erotic City.” Village Voice (13 July 1999): 122.
A review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue and Bread and Wine.
Fox, Robert Elliot. “Samuel R. Delany: Astro Black,” pp. 93-125. In his...
(The entire section is 516 words.)