Delany, Samuel R. Jr. 1942–
Samuel R. Delany, Jr. 1942–
Science fiction and short story writer
As an African American raised in Harlem and educated in some of the most prestigious schools in New York City, Samuel R. “Chip” Delany has to his credit more than 20 novels and numerous collections of short stories, memoirs, and critical essays on the writing of science fiction. Since the 1962 publication of The Jewels of Aptor when he was 20 years old, Delany has been increasingly recognized as one of the stylistic pioneers of science fiction writing; his short stories and novels have received many honors, including the distinguished Hugo and Nebula awards. Author Felice Picano, writing in Publishing Triangle, noted that it is “difficult to assess Delany’s influence upon science fiction writers and readers and equally difficult to assess how deeply and widely he has influenced all of literature’s openness to the world of gay men and to people of color.”
Delany was born in Harlem, New York, in 1942 to parents who were prominent in the Harlem community. Samuel R. Delany, Sr. owned Levy and Delany Funeral Associations; his wife, Margaret Carey Boyd Delany, was a licensed funeral director and worked as a clerk in the New York Public Library. The Delany family’s financial security provided for Samuel, Jr.’s education at the predominantly white Dalton Elementary School, where he was taken each morning in his father’s chauffeured black Cadillac.
Although young Delany suffered from dyslexia, it was not diagnosed properly until he was in high school; as a result, he was given remedial assignments at Dalton. Throughout his early schooling, Delany moved between two worlds. His friends in Harlem came from working-class backgrounds while his friends at Dalton were from some of the most prominent families in New York City. During his last year at Dalton, Delany was voted most popular in his class. He spent his childhood summers at private camps and at his family’s summer home in Hopewell Junction.
When Delany graduated from Dalton in 1956, he attended Bronx High School of Science (BHSS). There he began publishing his prize-winning short stories in the school magazine, Dynamo, and completed many unpublished novels. While at BHSS he concentrated on math and physics, but he was also interested in music and the arts, writing a complete violin concerto when he was 14; playing the guitar; and studying acting and ballet. At BHSS Delany met poet Marilyn Hacker, whom he would marry in 1961. They both won numerous high school literary awards and coedited Dynamo. He continued writing and in 1960, received a
Born April 1, 1942, in New York, NY; son of Samuel Ray (a funeral director) and Margaret Carey (a library clerk; maiden name, Boyd) Delany; married Marilyn (a poet) Hacker, August 24, 1961 (divorced, 1980); children: Iva Alyxander. Education: Attended City College (now City University of New York), 1960-63.
Writer; State University of New York at Buffalo, Butler professor of English, 1975; University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Center for Twentieth-Century Studies, senior fellow, 1977; Cornell University Society for the Humanities, senior fellow, 1987; University of Massachusetts—Amherst, professor of comparative literature, 1988—. Director and editor of short films Tiresias, 1970, and The Orchid, 1971.
Awards: Nebula Awards, Science Fiction Writers of America, for best novel, 1966, for Babel-17, and 1967, for The Einstein Intersection, for best short story, 1967, for ″Aye and Gomorrah,″ and for best novelette, 1969, for ″Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones″; Hugo Award for best short story, Science Fiction Convention, 1970, for ″Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones,″; Pilgrim Award, Science Fiction Research Association, 1985; Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in Gay Literature, 1993.
Addresses: Agent —Henry Morrison, Inc., Box 235, Bedford Hills, NY 10507.
fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont, where he met Robert Frost. Frost advised the young writer, “Do it your own way. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to do it.”
In August of 1961 Delany and Hacker travelled to and wed in Detroit to avoid New York’s age-of-consent law requiring parental permission for parties under a specified age and the miscegenation law prohibiting marriage between whites and other races. That fall Delany enrolled in the City College of New York but dropped out the following spring. Through Hacker’s encouragement and her position as a science fiction editor for Ace Books, The Jewels of Aptor, on which Delany had been working, was published in 1962. In this work, Delany begins his first experimentation with mythic form: the novel generally follows a quest structure patterned after the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts.
Delany’s exploration into the way myth functions to shape cultural perceptions would characterize much of his later fiction. Throughout the 1960s, Delany published eight more novels. Working at such a frenzy eventually took its toll, however; in the summer of 1964, Delany was hospitalized for general disorientation, hallucinations, and nervous exhaustion at Mount Sinai Hospital. Afterward, he began to work at a slower pace, breaking to play guitar and sing in Greenwich Village cafes. In fact, the as of yet undiscovered Bob Dylan, who went on to become one of the most respected figures in folk and rock—once opened for one of Delany’s performances.
In 1965 Delany travelled to Europe and Turkey, and in 1966, he spent a month in Texas working on shrimp boats. By the following year he had published two Nebula Award-winning novels: Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection. Commenting in Science Fiction Writers, Douglas Barbour found these first novels “colorful, exciting, entertaining, and intellectually provocative to a degree not found in most genre science fiction.” He listed how these works “begin the exploration of those literary obsessions that define [Delany’s] oeuvre: problems of communication and community; new kinds of sexual/love/family relationships; the artist as a social outsider …; cultural interactions and the exploration of human social possibilities these allow; archetypal and mythic structures in the imagination.”
In 1967, Delany moved into the Heavenly Breakfast commune and began writing music for the group’s rock band. Resuming his former prolificacy, he also wrote and directed two short films, “Tiresias” and “The Orchard”; authored movie, record, and film reviews; composed essays on other writers of science fiction; and started drafting a new novel. The result, 1968’s Nova, could, in many ways, be considered the “summation of [his] career up to that time,” according to Barbour, who called the novel “one of the grandest space operas ever written.” Jane Weedman showed in her biography, Samuel R. Delany, that the conflict among three groups competing for Illyrion, or fuel during a galactic fuel shortage exemplified Delany’s concern with “how technology changes the world and philosophies for world survival.” Nova earned Delany the titles “renaissance man” of science fiction, and even, according to some, “the best science fiction writer in the world.”
During 1970, Delany and Hacker coedited four issues of Quark, a new journal of “speculative fiction” containing poetry, art, literary criticism, and science fiction. He also began writing stories for Wonder Woman comics. In 1971, Driftwood, a collection of short stories, was published, and in 1973, Delany published his pornographic novel, The Tides of Lust. His personal life was equally eventful. In December of 1972, Delany joined Hacker in London, where their daughter, Iva Alyxander Hacker-Delany, was born in 1974. The following year, Hacker and Delany separated, but did not actually divorce until 1980.
In 1975 Delany became Butler Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Two years later, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction was published. The work was Delany’s decade-long accumulation of essays on science fiction writing. His experiences at the Heavenly Breakfast commune were published in 1979 as Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love. Those escapades also made formed the basis for his controversial novel Dhalgren.
Dhalgren, first published as a “Frederick Pohl” selection by Bantam Books in 1975, was written over a seven-year period marked by many interruptions. Writing for the Washington Post, Somtow Sucharitkul recalled that the book “was the most vehemently debated science fiction novel of the mid-1970s,” condemned by “traditionalists” for its “apparent lack of plot” and “self-indulgence.” Centering on the adventures of a nameless, amnesiac poet/criminal-protagonist in the nightmarish fictional city of Bellona, Dhalghren stirred an ongoing debate over whether the 800-page-plus mythological novel was properly labeled science fiction.
From the incomplete sentence that begins the book, Delany’s “dissolving landscape,” “ambiguous characters,” and “freakish events” are “presented as having a reality (of some kind) outside the author’s mind,” in the words of critic Gerald Jonas. That “reality” exists on an earth where the contemporary principles of science have been substituted for no rules—or rules that human beings cannot understand. As Jonas observed in the New York Times Book Review, “the premonitions of subatomic physics and cosmology are given flesh.” Jonas compared Dhalgren to novelist James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, both of which are fragmented, stream-of-consciousness works. While Jonas believed Delany’s echoing of Joyce “flagg[ed] his intent [and] proclaim[ed] the standards he wishes to be judged by,” he also chastised Delany, stating, “Dhalgren is precisely the kind of book that most people turn to science fiction to get away from.”
The Black American Literature Forum’s Sandra Y. Govan highlighted the novel’s autobiographical elements: “Most of the city [of Bellona] operates on a quasi-communal model, drawn from Delany’s intimate knowledge of commune and extended family life.” Govan also called attention to the similarities between the protagonist, dubbed the Kid, and Delany himself: “Kid, the psychologically wounded poet-protagonist, is a distorted reflection of Delany. Like Delany, he has been a wanderer, and he keeps a writer’s journal. Like Delany, he uses poetry to distill meanings … and like Delany, the Kid participates in various kinds of sexual activity, all sanctioned by the social mores of the city and by its communal structure.” Other autobiographical elements include mental breakdown and the division of society along racial lines.
In many of his novels, Delany depicts characters who are physically or psychologically damaged—creative artists existing on the periphery of society: the poet Rydra Wong in Babel-17, the novelist Katin in Nova, the musician Lo Lobey in The Einstein Intersection, and the Kid in Dhalgren. He also portrays black and mixed-blood characters, explaining that he wants to “write about worlds where being black mattered in different ways from the ways it matters now.” To Delany, the racial elements of his novels ae unavoidable. While Govan believed Delany’s black and mixed-blood characters provide him with a “method of grappling with his own position as a black American writer,” she also commented on the way his African American characters “punctuate his social criticism of our present” as well as “attest to black survival in the future.”
Govan opined that Delany’s black characters are not only “memorable,” but that his novels “affirm the diversity and vitality of black life.” In Dhalgren, for example, black characters range from Reverend Amy Taylor, a black evangelical minister who services her community by supplying physical and spiritual food through the Evening Aid Program for the hungry and her moralistic preaching, to George Harrison, an alleged rapist whose sexual prowess grows to mythic proportions in Bellona. Govan concluded that “other science-fiction writers may have tried to omit or obliterate black folk in their versions of the future, but in Samuel Delany’s speculative world a black consciousness is and black folk are an insistent presence.”
Similar to his examinations of racial identity, Delany’s The Tides of Lust began his serious exploration of sexuality and pornography. Proctor—a protagonist sometimes referred to as a Faustian, or spiritually distraught Delany—tells us that human beings have created three systems for “effecting the oblivion necessary for sanity”: religion/ ethics, the erotic, and work. The artist is the only one “free enough to indulge in all three—religious, erotic, and ergonic—simply to fulfill his calling.”
Triton, published in 1976, three years after The Tides of Lust, featured a sexual utopia that accepts a variety of sexual behaviors, including sex-change operations and “refixations” to alter sexual preference. Weedman offers that in this novel Delany criticizes “sexual persecution against women, ambisexuals, and homosexuals.” Beginning in 1979, Delany began publishing his Neveryon series, which presented homosexual themes. Delany called the novels “experimental,” telling author and critic Felice Picano that he was attempting to “subvert” the “sword and sorcery” fantasy genre while at the same time “making its covert homosexuality and sadomasochistic current more overt and conscientious.”
The publishing industry denounced his motives and Delany’s continued openness about homosexuality, especially the AIDS novella, “The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals” in 1985’s Flight From Neveryon, “made traditional readers of sword and sorcery pretty uncomfortable,” Delany admitted, “though it delighted others.” It also caused major book store chains to temporarily discontinue carrying Delany’s works and marked the end of his association with Bantam. After an extensive letter-writing campaign in the gay press, Delany’s books were “rescued” and republished by Wesleyan University Press in the United States and HarperCollins/Grafton Books in England.
In 1988, Delany published The Motion of Light in Water. Subtitled Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965, this autobiographical work focused on the author’s early sexual ambivalence and his ultimate acknowledgement and acceptance of his own homosexuality while living with Hacker in the early 1960s. Author Thomas M. Disch described the memoir in American Book Review, as “representative of its era” and suggested that in this work readers will find the source for Delany’s “fictive alter-egos.”
Delany has made his literary reputation by transgressing conventional boundaries in the world of contemporary literature and science fiction. Despite the controversy, even Dhalgren and Triton were later judged as innovative texts in Delany’s oeuvre. James Barbour, in an article for Foundation, assessed him as “not only a gifted writer … [but] one of the most articulate theorists of s[cience] f[iction] to have emerged from the ranks of its writers … open[ing] up critical discussions of sf as a genre, forcefully arguing its great potential as art.’
Delany described his belief in the power of the imagination, telling Picano that “gay, straight, black, white … all we can do is look closely, write carefully.” He added that “what we look at doesn’t have to be out there in the real world. … It can be an imaginary situation we choose to observe as easily as [a] real one. In that case the integrity of an observation becomes one with the imagination…. And we can pretty much forget about everything else.”
The Jewels of Aptor (abridged edition; bound with Second Ending by James White), Ace Books, 1962; with an introduction by Don Hausdorff, Gregg Press, 1976.
Captives of the Flame (first novel in trilogy: bound with The Psionic Menace by Keith Woodcott), Ace Books, 1963; revised edition published as Out of the Dead City, Sphere, 1968.
The Towers of Toron (second novel in trilogy; bound with The Lunar Eye by Robert Moore Williams), Ace Books, 1964; revised edition, Sphere, 1968.
City of a Thousand Suns (third novel in trilogy), Ace Books, 1965; revised edition, Sphere, 1969.
The Ballad of Beta-2 (bound with Alpha Yes, Terra No! by Emil Petaja), Ace Books 1965; with an introduction by David G. Hartwell, Gregg Press, 1977.
Empire Star (bound with The Three Lords of Imeten by Tom Purdom), Ace Books, 1966; with an introduction by Hartwell, Gregg Press, 1977.
Babel-17, Ace Books, 1966; published with an introduction by Robert Scholes, Gregg Press, 1976.
The Einstein Intersection, abridged edition, Ace Books, 1967.
Nova, Doubleday, 1968.
The Fall of the Towers (trilogy; contains Out of the Dead City, The Towers of Toron, and City of a Thousand Suns ), Ace Books, 1970; with an introduction by Joseph Milicia, Gregg Press, 1977.
Driftglass: Ten Tales of Speculative Fiction, Doubleday, 1971.
The Tides of Lust, Lancer Books, 1973.
Dhalgren, Bantam, 1975; with an introduction by Jean Mark Gawron, Gregg Press, 1978.
The Ballad of Beta-2 [and] Empire Star, Ace Books, 1975.
Triton, Bantam, 1976.
Empire: A Visual Novel, illustrations by Howard V. Chaykin, Berkley Books, 1978.
Distant Stars, Bantam, 1981.
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Bantam, 1984.
The Complete Nebula Award-Winning Fiction, Bantam, 1986.
The Star Pits (bound with Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo by John Varley), Tor Books, 1989.
The Fly at Ciron, Incunabula, 1992.
The Mad Man, Masquerade Books, 1994.
“Return to Neveryon” Series
Tales of Neveryon, Bantam, 1979.
Neveryona: or, The Tale of Signs and Cities, Bantam, 1983.
Flight From Neveryon, Bantam, 1985.
The Bridge of Lost Desire, Arbor House, 1987.
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, Dragon Press, 1977, revised edition, Berkley Publishing, 1978.
The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch— “Angouleme” (criticism), Dragon Press, 1978.
Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love (memoir), Bantam, 1979.
Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, Dragon Press, 1984.
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science-Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965, Arbor House, 1988.
Wagner/Artaud: A Play of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Critical Fictions, Ansatz Press, 1988.
Straits of Messina (essays), Serconia Press, 1989.
Also author of scripts for short films Tiresias, 1970, and The Orchid, 1971; author of scripts for Wonder Woman (television series), 1972, and for The Star Pit (radio play based on his short story of the same title); editor (with wife, Marilyn Hacker), Quark, 1970-71; contributor to numerous anthologies and periodicals.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 8: Twentieth-Century American Science-Fiction Writers, 1981, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, 1984.
Kostelanetz, Richard, editor, American Writing Today, Whitson, 1991.
McCaffery, Larry, and Linda Gregory, editors, Alice and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s, University of Illinois Press, 1987.
McEvoy, Seth, Samuel R. Delany, Ungar, 1984.
Platt, Charles, editor, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Books, 1980.
Slusser, George Edgar, The Delany Intersection: Samuel R. Delany Considered as a Writer of Semi-Precious Words, Borgo, 1977.
Weedman, Jane Branham, Samuel R. Delany, Starmont House, 1982.
American Book Review, January 1989.
Black American Literature Forum, summer 1984, pp. 43-8.
Extrapolation, May 1971, pp. 86-93; May 1978, pp. 132-37; fall 1982, pp. 221-34; summer 1983, pp. 116-29; winter 1989; fall 1989.
Foundation, March 1975, pp. 105-21.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1975; October 1977, pp. 6-33; January 1979, pp. 45-9; June 1980; May 1989.
New York Times Book Review, February 16, 1975; March 28, 1976; October 28, 1979, p. 16; February 10, 1985, p. 15.
Publisher’s Weekly, January 29, 1988; October 19, 1992.
Publishing Triangle, spring 1994.
Riverside Quarterly, July 1971, pp. 12-19; no. 5, 1972, pp. 12-18.
Science Fiction Studies, March 1977, pp. 25-34; November 1979, pp. 249-62; November 1981; July 1987; November 1990.
Voice Literary Supplement, October 1981, p. 8; February 1985.
Washington Post, August 30, 1981, p. 6.
Washington Post Book World, January 19, 1975; January 27, 1985, p. 11; August 25, 1991.
—Mary Katherine Wainwright
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Delany, Samuel R(ay)
DELANY, Samuel R(ay)
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1 April 1942. Education: The Dalton School and Bronx High School of Science, both New York; City College of New York (poetry editor, Promethean ), 1960, 1962-63. Family: Married the poet Marilyn Hacker in 1961 (divorced 1980); one daughter. Career: Butler Professor of English, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1975; Fellow, Center for Twentieth Century Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1977; since 1988 professor of comparative literature, University of Massachusetts. Awards: Nebula award, 1966, 1967 (twice), 1969; Hugo award, 1970. Address: Department of Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, South College Bldg., Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, U.S.A.
The Jewels of Aptor. New York, Ace, 1962; revised edition, NewYork, Ace, and London, Gollancz, 1968; London, Sphere, 1971; Boston, Gregg Press, 1977.
The Fall of the Towers (revised texts). New York, Ace, 1970; London, Sphere, 1971.
Captives of the Flame. New York, Ace, 1963; revised edition, asOut of the Dead City, London, Sphere, 1968; New York, Ace, 1977.
The Towers of Toron. New York, Ace, 1964; revised edition, London, Sphere, 1968.
City of a Thousand Suns. New York, Ace, 1965; revised edition, London, Sphere, 1969.
The Ballad of Beta-2. New York, Ace, 1965.
Babel-17. New York, Ace, 1966; London, Gollancz, 1967; revised edition, London, Sphere, 1969; Boston, Gregg Press, 1976.
Empire Star. New York, Ace, 1966.
The Einstein Intersection. New York, Ace, 1967; London, Gollancz, 1968.
Nova. New York, Doubleday, 1968; London, Gollancz, 1969.
The Tides of Lust. New York, Lancer, 1973; Manchester, Savoy, 1979.
Dhalgren. New York, Bantam, 1975; revised edition, Boston, GreggPress, 1977.
Triton. New York, Bantam, 1976; London, Corgi, 1977.
The Ballad of Beta-2, and Empire Star. London, Sphere, 1977.
Empire: A Visual Novel, illustrated by Howard V. Chaykin. NewYork, Berkley, 1978.
Nevèrÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities. New York, Bantam, 1983; London, Grafton, 1989.
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. New York, Bantam, 1984.
Flight from Nevèrÿon. New York, Bantam, 1985; London, Grafton, 1989.
The Bridge of Lost Desire. New York, Arbor House, 1987.
The Straits of Messina. Seattle, Serconia Press, 1989.
Return to Nevèrÿon. London, Grafton, 1989; Hanover, New Hampshire, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
They Fly at Ciron. Seattle, Incunabula, 1993.
The Mad Man. New York, Masquerade Books, 1994.
Hogg. Normal, Illinois, FC2, 1998.
Driftglass: 10 Tales of Speculative Fiction. New York, Doubleday, 1971; London, Gollancz, 1978.
Tales of Nevèrÿon. New York, Bantam, 1979; London, Grafton, 1988.
Distant Stars. New York, Bantam, 1981.
The Complete Nebula-Award Winning Fiction. New York, Bantam, 1986.
Atlantis: Three Tales. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press ofNew England, 1995.
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Elizabethtown, New York, Dragon Press, 1977.
The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch—"Angouleme." Elizabethtown, New York, Dragon Press, 1978.
Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love (memoir). NewYork, Bantam, 1979.
Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Pleasantville, New York, Dragon Press, 1984.
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957-1965. New York, Arbor House, 1988; with The Column at the Market's Edge, London, Paladin, 1990.
Wagner-Artaud: A Play of 19th and 20th Century Critical Fictions. New York, Ansatz Press, 1988.
Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics. Hanover, New Hampshire, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
Longer Views: Extended Essays. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1996.
Bread and Wine: an Erotic Tale of New York City: an Autobiographical Account, Illustrated by Mia Wolff with an introduction by Alan Moore. New York, Juno Books, 1998.
Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York, New YorkUniversity Press, 1999.
Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1999.
Editor, with Marilyn Hacker, Quark 1-4. New York, PaperbackLibrary, 4 vols., 1970-71.
Editor, Nebula Winners 13. New York, Harper, 1980.*
Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
The Delany Intersection: Samuel R. Delany Considered as a Writer of Semi-Precious Words by George Edgar Slusser, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1977; Worlds Out of Words: The SF Novels of Samuel R. Delany by Douglas Barbour, Frome, Somerset, Bran's Head, 1979; Samuel R. Delany by Jane Weedman, Mercer Island, Washington, Starmont House, 1982; Samuel R. Delany by Seth McEvoy, New York, Ungar, 1983; Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, edited by James Sallis. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1996.* * *
Although Samuel R. Delany began his literary career at the age of 20 with The Jewels of Aptor, quickly followed by the Fall of the Towers trilogy and The Ballad of Beta-2, it wasn't until the prolific 1966-69 period—Empire Star, the Nebula-winning novels Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection, the Nebula-winning story "Aye, and Gomorrah…", Nova, and the Hugo/Nebula-winning "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"—that Delany's literary power would reverberate throughout the science fiction (sf) community. It is in this early period that we can tease out the thematic threads Delany masterfully weaves throughout the corpus of his work. Specifically, Delany is interested in the interactions among mythology, anthropology, linguistic theory, cultural history, psychology, poststructuralism, sociology, philosophy, and the quest/adventure story.
Quite often, Delany guides the reader through his complex worlds using figures of the socially outcast artist and/or criminal who, by their marginalized nature, pull at the underlying fabric of what constitutes reality. For example, Babel-17, a novel of galactic warfare, tells the story of poet Rydra Wong and her attempt to decipher communications intercepted from the Invaders by the Alliance. Wong soon discovers an unknown language and, in the process of deciphering these communications, both Wong and the reader are enlightened about the nature of language and its ability to structure reality. Of particular interest is the web, a symbol of interconnectedness and isolation suggesting that language can both constrain and structure reality.
The Einstein Intersection follows a race of aliens who, attempting to understand the post-apocalyptic Earth, take on corporeal form and immerse themselves in human myths, traditions, and archetypes. Unable to create their own culture out of the remnant world they occupy, the aliens encounter salvation in the form of "difference," embodied in the Black musician Lobey. Playing music on his murderous machete, Lobey, who is both Orpheus and Theseus, cleaves through the old myths to create the order upon which the alien civilization can thrive. The novel is a treatise on difference and explores the patterns of interaction among myths, archetypes, imagination, and the conscious mind. The Einstein Intersection is further enhanced with Delany's own diaries providing part of the novel's text.
Nova is Delany's unique take on space opera, offering readers Prometheus and the Grail legend woven into a quest for the much-valued fuel illyrion, located in the heart of a nova star. The narrative follows the Mouse, a musician playing the sensory-syrnynx, and his role in the epic struggle between, on one side, Captain Lorq Von Ray and, on the other, Prince and Ruby Red. George Slusser notes in The Delany Intersection that Delany has inverted the traditional epic by offering us a narrative wherein men do not struggle against an inhuman system so much as within an unhuman one.
Following Nova, Delany released The Tides of Lust, a non-sf pornographic novel with traits of the fantastic. Peter Nicholls writes in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that the sadomasochism of the novel is reminiscent of a "Baudelairean ritual of passage." This text occupies an important place in Delany's work as it was in the mid-1970s that his homosexuality became generally known; consequently, his work following Tides of Lust adds the cultural interplay of eroticism and love to his already extensive thematic interests.
From 1969 to 1973—a period that also saw Delany publish short stories, develop essays that would later appear in such studies as The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, and edit four sf quarterlies—Delany put together his controversial 879-page opus Dhalgren. The narrative—which some critics do not consider sf proper—follows the anonymous Kid who embarks on a series of adventures in Bellona, an orderless city resting under the double-mooned sky of a familiar U.S. setting. The novel, according to Douglas Barbour's entry in Science Fiction Writers, is symbolized in the chain the Kid receives prior to entering Bellona; namely, "it wraps in upon itself, a long, looped chain of mirrors, prisms, and lenses." Indeed, Dhalgren, like the earlier Empire Star, is both self-conscious and self-reflexive, evidenced in the novel the Kid writes which may be Dhalgren itself and, in Joycean style, the first sentence bringing an open-ended closure to the unfinished final sentence. Variously, the novel is about the tension between reality and reality models, the trials and tribulations of a writer's craft, and the representation of human lives with all their comedic, psychological, sociological, erotic, and emotional baggage.
Delany's next novel, Triton, is very much science fiction in its offering of a futuristic setting with technological advances and distinctly alien modes of relating to reality. In this novel, subtitled An Ambiguous Heterotopia, Delany explores future societies structured along sexual lines. The novel is particularly unique as the female protagonist, the former man Bron Helstrom, is an alienated character with whom the reader is not supposed to identify. Bron struggles through the course of the novel as her outdated twentieth-century misogyny rubs up against the sexual egalitarianism of Neptune's moon, Triton. In the end, Bron remains locked into herself, alienated and trapped "in social and psychological stasis," as Barbour writes. One can't help but hear Delany speaking to the persecution of women, homosexuals, and multisexuals through Triton's narrative.
The 1980s saw Delany shift tactics, infusing his science fiction with the magical scenery of sword-and-sorcery fantasy. The Nevèrÿon Series—Tales of Nevèrÿon, Nevèrÿona, Flight from Nevèrÿon, and The Bridge of Lost Desire —continues to explore Delany's multiple interests, especially the issue of slavery as it appears in both economic and erotic economies. The Nevèrÿon Series demonstrates Delany's self-reflexivity—exemplified in the appendices wherein Delany re-flects on the creative process and, in the later books, makes direct references to the contemporary AIDS epidemic—as well as his profound understanding of how lives are affected by cultural shifts in reality.
For many critics, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand revealed an increasingly complex, richly textured, and smoother Samuel Delany. The narrative, involving interstellar politics set in a galactic civilization, seeks to explore large social ethical expectations, all the while offering the reader a love story, an exploration of the variety of human relationships, and the mysterious magnetism of sexual attraction. At the time of its publication, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand was intended to be a diptych, but the long-awaited sequel, The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities, although slated for a mid-1990s release, has not yet appeared.
From Harlem of the 1970s, which inspired the city wreckage of Dhalgren, through the sexual interactions in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, inspired by New York City's sexual variety, and culminating in the echoes of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in The Nevèrÿon Series, New York looms large in Delany's writings. In the 1990s, Delany's non-fiction focuses on weaving his sexuality into the fabric of New York (especially the former porn theatres of Eighth Avenue) and exploring the face of the homeless, embodied in his partner, Dennis Rickett, who spent six years living on the streets. Delany's autobiographical reflections on New York City are the lifeblood of Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York; Heavenly Breakfast, an Essay on the Winter of Love; Atlantis: Three Tales; The Motion of Light in Water; Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1960-1965 ; and Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (Sexual Cultures).
The 1990s also saw Delany return to the fictive terrain of The Tides of Lust with a trio of novels—Equinox (a reprint of The Tides of Lust ), The Mad Man and Hogg —that have been described as anti-pornographic. Through these texts, Delany engages both his own sexuality and depicts sexual escapades and violence in an unflinching manner, all the while calling for the valuation of sexual tolerance. As usual, Delany's theory and fiction intersect and intertwine into a complex exploration; specifically, Delany, as he notes in Silent Interviews, is interested in the relationship between eroticization and class relations and, consequently, in who benefits and loses in the act of eroticization.
Finally, the 1990s has seen a Delany renaissance, thanks in large part to Wesleyan University Press undertaking the task of reprinting Dhalgren, Trouble on Triton, and The Einstein Intersection as well as re-issuing The Nevèrÿon Series. With Delany's 1984 —a collection of 56 letters and documents—and Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary both slated for a 2000 release, Samuel Delany's impact bodes well for a new millennium of science fiction, literary criticism, pornography, historical fiction, and autobiography.
—Graham J. Murphy
"Delany, Samuel R(ay)." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/delany-samuel-ray
"Delany, Samuel R(ay)." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/delany-samuel-ray