(Photo: Alex Lozupone)
Samuel R. Delany has had a prolific career as a writer of speculative and science-fiction. Publishing his first novel at the age of 20, he has actively been writing pretty much to this day, whether that be novels, short stories, essays and critiques, or many more.
Delaney’s ability to condense information and opinions into concise and digestible articles is something I really appreciate. I love checking in on his non-fiction for this reason, and also because its content is often quite important to me. As a black writer, Delany often deals with questions of race in both the industry and the field of science-fiction. However, he is also an authoritative voice simply in the field too, and all his thoughts on science-fiction that don’t allude to race are well argued and well presented.
However, this is a blog about stories and fictions, and Delany has so many to choose from. The Einstein Intersection is a short, but engaging read. At only 132 pages, its content and themes span from love, loss, death, revenge, discovery, social and technological progression, and space travel. All of this is done through mythic parallels, and I’ve often thought this book an excellent example of the importance of what is not said as much as what is said. For this reason, I think everyone who reads The Einstein Intersection takes away a little something different. Read it, put it down, and read it again in a year or two. Learn about the present day, and the importance of our myths, through Lo Lobey’s adventures in a world abandoned by humans in the far future.
Another favourite is Babel-17. Rydra Wong’s mission to translate the Invaders’ language, dubbed Babel-17 by man, is as exciting as it is profound. As a former Linguistics student, I can confidently say that much of the terminology and jargon is used wonderfully. While the issue of whether thought is influenced by the language we speak (or vice-versa) has been put to rest with a relatively resounding ‘no’, that doesn’t detract from the story of Babel-17. Language is still something we are all fascinated by, something we are sure elevates humans to a higher level, something that was essential for the dominance we now have over all other species. For me, Babel-17 is an exploration of the threat that such an idea can have to us. The eponymous language is far more advanced and efficient than human languages in many ways, and it slowly feels like humanity, which has reached and colonised far-flung galaxies in the story, is losing its control and dominance. It’s an excellent read, and highlights the importance of communication, both explicit and implied.
I think Delany’s strengths lie in his ability to create a universe without focusing on the history, or the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of said universe too much. That’s not to say that he doesn’t put thought into it – quite the opposite, he seamlessly weaves history into the story with subtle remarks and sub-plots that guide you through his worlds. This probably requires a great deal more effort than simply laying down a history explicitly through character monologues or other traditional means. Delany masterfully introduces us to a new environment and makes us care about it. And he never lets us lose sight of why his worlds are important, and that is because they are always a reflection of our own.