Rydra Wong, supremely competent as a linguist, as a poet, as a polyglot, and as a spaceship captain, seems almost overburdened with talent. If she has a flaw as a character, it is that she never seems seriously threatened: In any situation, she will think of something. She must also be one of the most loved and respected characters in the genre: General Forester is in love with her, as is the Butcher; her mentor, Dr. Markus T’Mwarba, has a deep affection for her; even her poetry is universally admired.
The Butcher is much more interesting as a character because of his vulnerability. At some time in his past, he has been inhumanly treated and left with his strange defect. Rydra succeeds in giving the Butcher a sense of self in one of the most touching (and affectionate) scenes in science fiction.
The minor characters serve well to supply the novel with the sense of strangeness, of the exotic, that science fiction must have. These touches of the unusual are illustrated in realms ranging from unconventional sexual groupings (a common theme in Delany’s work) to the altering of the human form. In that future time, bodies may be surgically changed, both for practical purposes, such as the adding of extra limbs, and for the cosmetic whim of the patient—perhaps the addition of retractable claws and a mane.