Delany, Samuel R. 1942- (Richmond Arrley, Samuel Ray Delany, Jr., K. Leslie Steiner)
Delany, Samuel R. 1942- (Richmond Arrley, Samuel Ray Delany, Jr., K. Leslie Steiner)
Born April 1, 1942, in New York, NY; son of Samuel R. (a funeral director) and Margaret Carey (a library clerk) Delany; married Marilyn Hacker (a poet), August 24, 1961 (divorced, 1980); partner of Dennis Rickett; children: Iva Alyxander. Education: Attended City College (now City University of New York), 1960, 1962-63.
Home—New York, NY. Office—English Department, Temple University, Anderson Hall, 10th Fl. (022-29), 1114 W. Berks St., Philadelphia, PA 19122-6090; Fax: 215-204-9620. Agent—Henry Morrison, Inc., Box 235, Bedford Hills, NY 10507. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer and educator. Folk singer and guitarist in Greenwich Village, NY, 1960's; actor, teacher, and freelance writer, 1960-64; shrimp boat worker, 1965; musician with Heavenly Breakfast rock band, 1967; filmmaker and editor, 1970-71; State University of New York at Buffalo, Butler Professor of English, 1975; University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, senior fellow at the Center for Twentieth-Century Studies, 1977; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, senior fellow at the Society for the Humanities, 1987; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, professor of comparative literature, c. 1988-99; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, fellow at Institute for the Humanities, 1993; State University of New York at Buffalo, NY, English professor, c. 1999-2001; Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, professor of English and creative writing, 2001—.
Fellowship, Breadloaf Writers Conference, 1960; Nebula Awards, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1966, for best novel Babel-17, 1967, for best novel The Einstein Intersection, and for best short story "Aye and Gomorrah," and 1969, for best novelette "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"; Hugo Award for best short story, World Science Fiction Convention, 1970, for "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"; American Book Award nomination, 1980, for Tales of Nèverÿon; Pilgrim Award for Excellence, Science Fiction Research Association, 1985; Hugo Award for Best Nonfiction, World Science Fiction Society, 1989, for The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965; William Whitehead Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement for Gay and Lesbian Literature, 1993.
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
The Jewels of Aptor (abridged edition; bound with Second Ending by James White), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1962, new edition published with an introduction by Don Hausdorff, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1976.
Captives of the Flame (first novel in a trilogy; bound with The Psionic Menace by Keith Woodcott), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1963, revised edition published under author's original title Out of the Dead City (also see below), Sphere Books (London, England), 1968.
The Towers of Toron (second novel in a trilogy; also see below; bound with The Lunar Eye by Robert Moore Williams), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1964.
City of a Thousand Suns (third novel in a trilogy; also see below), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1965.
The Ballad of Beta-2 (also see below; bound with Alpha Yes, Terra No! by Emil Petaja), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1965, hardcover edition published with an introduction by David G. Hartwell, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1977.
Empire Star (also see below; bound with The Three Lords of Imeten by Tom Purdom), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1966, hardcover edition published with an introduction by David G. Hartwell, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1977.
Babel-17, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Einstein Intersection, slightly abridged edition, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1967, hardcover edition, Gollancz (London, England), 1968, complete edition, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Nova, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1968, reprinted, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Fall of the Towers (trilogy; contains Out of the Dead City, The Towers of Toron, and City of a Thousand Suns), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970, hardcover edition published with introduction by Joseph Milicia, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1977, paperback edition reprinted, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Driftglass: Ten Tales of Speculative Fiction, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971.
The Tides of Lust, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1973.
Dhalgren, Bantam (New York, NY), 1975, hardcover edition published with introduction by Jean Mark Gawron, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1978, published with foreword by William Gibson, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Ballad of Beta-2 [and] Empire Star, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1975.
Triton, Bantam (New York, NY), 1976, published as Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1996.
Empire: A Visual Novel, illustrations by Howard V. Chaykin, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1978.
Distant Stars, Bantam (New York, NY), 1981.
Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984, reprinted with foreword by Carl Freedman, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2004.
The Complete Nebula Award-Winning Fiction, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
The Star Pits (bound with Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo by John Varley), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1989.
They Fly at Ciron, Incunabula (Seattle, WA), 1992.
Equinox, Masquerade (New York, NY), 1994.
Aye, and Gomorrah: Stories, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Phallos, Bamberger Books (Flint, MI), 2004.
"RETURN TO NÈVERŸON" SERIES; FANTASY NOVELS
Tales of Nèverÿon, Bantam (New York, NY), 1979.
Nèverÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities, Bantam (New York, NY), 1983, published as Nèverÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities, Some Informal Remarks towards the Modular Calculus, Part Four, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1993.
Flight from Nèverÿon, Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
The Bridge of Lost Desire, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1987, published as Return to Nèverÿon, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1994.
The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, Dragon Press (Ithaca, NY), 1977, revised edition, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1978.
The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch—"Angouleme" (criticism), Dragon Press (Ithaca, NY), 1978.
Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love (memoir), Bantam (New York, NY), 1979.
(Editor) Nebula Awards Thirteen, 1980.
Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, Dragon Press (Ithaca, NY), 1984.
The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science-Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.
Wagner/Artaud: A Play of Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Critical Fictions, Ansatz Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Straits of Messina (essays; originally published in magazines under pseudonym K. Leslie Steiner), Serconia Press (Seattle, WA), 1989.
Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics; A Collection of Written Interviews, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1994.
The Mad Man (novel), Masquerade (New York, NY), 1994.
Atlantis: Three Tales, Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), 1995.
Longer Views: Extended Essays, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1996.
Bread and Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York City; An Autobiographical Account, Juno Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Hogg (novel), FC2 (Normal, IL), 1998.
Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1999.
1984: Selected Letters, Voyant (Rutherford, NJ), 2000.
About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2005.
Dark Reflections (novel), Carroll & Graf Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author of scripts and director and editor for two short films, Tiresias, 1970, and The Orchid, 1971; author of two scripts for the "Wonder Woman" comic series, 1972, and of the radio play The Star Pits, based on his short story of the same title. Editor, Quark,1970-71; member of editorial board, The Little Magazine, 1981-86; contributor to periodicals, including New York Review of Science Fiction.
"Samuel R. Delany is one of today's most innovative and imaginative writers of science-fiction," commented Jane Branham Weedman in her study of the author, Samuel R. Delany. Delany first appeared on the horizon in the early 1960s, and in the decade that followed he established himself as one of the stars of the genre. Like many of his contemporaries who entered science fiction in the 1960s, he is less concerned with the conventions of the genre and more interested in science fiction as literature, literature that offers a wide range of artistic opportunities. As a result, maintained Weedman: "Delany's works are excellent examples of modern science-fiction as it has developed from the earlier and more limited science-fiction tradition, especially because of his manipulation of cultural theories, his detailed futuristic or alternate settings, and his stylistic innovations."
"One is drawn into Delany's stories because they have a complexity," observed Sandra Y. Govan in Black American Literature Forum, "an acute consciousness of language, structure, and form; a dexterous ability to weave together mythology and anthropology, linguistic theory and cultural history, gestalt psychology and sociology as well as philosophy, structuralism, and the adventure story." At the center of the complex web of personal, cultural, artistic, and intellectual concerns that provides the framework for all of his work is Delany's examination of how language and myth influence reality. "According to [the author]," wrote a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor, "language identifies or negates the self. It is self-reflective; it shapes perceptions." By shaping perceptions, language in turn has the capacity to shape reality. Myths can exercise much the same power. In his science fiction, Delany "creates new myths, or inversions of old ones, by which his protagonists measure themselves and their societies against the traditional myths that Delany includes," Weedman observed. In this way, as a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor wrote, the author confronts "the question of the extent to which myths and archetypes create reality."
In societies in which language and myth are recognized as determinants of reality, the artist—one who works in language and myth—plays a crucial part. For this reason, the protagonist of a Delany novel is often an artist of some sort. "The role which Delany defines for the artist is to observe, record, transmit, and question paradigms in society," explained Weedman. Delany's artists, however, do more than chronicle and critique the societies of which they are a part. His artists are always on the margins of society; they are outcasts and often criminals. "The criminal and the artist both operate outside the normal standards of society," observed a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor, "according to their own self-centered value systems." The artist/criminal goes beyond observation and commentary. His actions at the margin push society's values to their limits and beyond, providing the experimentation necessary to prepare for eventual change.
Delany began his literary career in 1962 with the publication of his novel The Jewels of Aptor. Over the next six years, he published eight more novels, including Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, and Nova, his first printed originally in hardcover. A contributor writing in Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day described these early novels as "color- ful, exciting, entertaining, and intellectually provocative to a degree not found in most genre science fiction." The contributor added that although they do adhere to science fiction conventions, they "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 social outsider … cultural interactions and the exploration of human social possibilities these allow; archetypal and mythic structures in the imagination."
With the publication of Babel-17 in 1966, Delany began to gain recognition in the science-fiction world. The novel, which earned its author his first Nebula Award, is a story of galactic warfare between the forces of the Alliance, which includes the Earth, and the forces of the Invaders. The poet Rydra Wong is enlisted by Alliance intelligence to decipher communications intercepted from its enemy. When she discovers that these dispatches contain not a code but rather an unknown language, she embarks on a quest to learn this mysterious tongue labeled Babel-17. While leading an interstellar mission in search of clues, Rydra gains insights into the nature of language and, in the process, discovers the unique character of the enigmatic new language of the Invaders.
Babel-17 itself becomes an exploration of language and its ability to structure experience. A central image in the novel, as George Edgar Slusser pointed out in his study The Delany Intersection: Samuel R. Delany Considered as a Writer of Semi-precious Words, is that of "the web and its weaver or breaker." The web, continued Slusser, "stands, simultaneously, for unity and isolation, interconnectedness and entanglement." Weedman elaborated in her essay on the novel: "The language one learns necessarily constrains and structures what it is that one says." In its ability to connect and constrain is the power of the language/web. "Language … has a direct effect on how one thinks," explained Weedman, "since the structure of the language influences the processes by which one formulates ideas." At the center of the language as web "is one who joins and cuts—the artisthero," commented Slusser. And, in Babel-17, the poet Rydra Wong demonstrates that only she is able to master this new language weapon and turn it against its creators.
Delany followed Babel-17 with another Nebula winner, The Einstein Intersection. This novel represents a "move from a consideration of the relationship among language, thought, action and time to an analytic and imaginative investigation of the patterns of myths and archetypes and their interaction with the conscious mind," wrote a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor. Slusser saw this development in themes as part of a logical progression: "[Myths] too are seen essentially as language constructs: verbal scenarios for human action sanctioned by tradition or authority." Comparing this novel to Babel-17, he added: "Delany's sense of the language act, in this novel, has a broader social valence."
The Einstein Intersection relates the story of a strange race of beings that occupies a post-apocalyptic Earth. This race assumes the traditions—economic, political, and religious—of the extinct humans in an attempt to make sense of the remnant world in which they find themselves. "While they try to live by the myths of man," wrote Douglas Barbour in Foundation, "they cannot create a viable culture of their own…. Their more profound hope is to recognize that they do not have to live out the old myths at all, that the ‘difference’ they seek to hide or dissemble is the key to their cultural and racial salvation."
"Difference is a key word in this novel," Weedman explained, "for it designates the importance of the individual and his ability to make choices, on the basis of being different from others, which affect his life, thus enabling him to question the paradigms of his society." The artist is the embodiment of this difference; in The Einstein Intersection the artist is Lobey, a musician. The power of Lobey's music is its ability to create order, to destroy the old myths and usher in the new. At its core, then, "The Einstein Intersection is … a novel about experiments in culture," Weedman commented.
Delany's next novel, Nova, "stands as the summation of [his] career up to that time," wrote a contributor to Science-Fiction Writers. "Packing his story full of color and incident, violent action and tender introspective moments, he has created one of the grandest space operas ever written." In this novel, Delany presents a galaxy divided into three camps, all embroiled in a bitter conflict caused by a shortage of the fuel illyrion on which they all depend. In chronicling one group's quest for a new source of the fuel, the author examines, according to Weedman, "how technology changes the world and philosophies for world survival. Delany also explores conflicts between and within societies, as well as the problems created by people's different perceptions and different reality models."
"In developing this tale," noted Slusser, "Delany has inverted the traditional epic relationship, in which the human subject (the quest) dominates the ‘form.’ Here instead is a ‘subjunctive epic.’ Men do not struggle against an inhuman system so much as inside an unhuman one." The system inside which these societies struggle is economic; the goal of the quester, who is driven by selfishness, is a commodity.
After the publication of Nova, Delany turned his creative urges to forms other than the novel, writing a number of short stories, editing four quarterlies of speculative fiction, and dabbling in such diverse media as film and comic books. Also at this time, he engaged himself in conceiving, writing, and polishing what would become his longest, most complex, and most controversial novel, Dhalgren—a work that earned him national recognition. On its shifting surface, this novel represents the experience of a nameless amnesiac, an artist/criminal, during the period of time he spends in a temporally and spatially isolated city scarred by destruction and decay. As a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor noted, "it begins with the genesis of a protagonist, one so unformed that he has no name, no identity, the quest for which is the novel's central theme." The critic went on to explain that "at the end Kid has a name and a life, both of which are the novel itself; he is a persona whose experience in Dhalgren defines him."
Dhalgren's length and complexity provide a significant challenge to readers, but as Gerald Jonas observed in the New York Times Book Review, "the most important fact about Delany's novel … is that nothing in it is clear. Nothing is meant to be clear." He added, "An event may be described two or three times, and each recounting is slightly disconcertingly different from the one before." What is more, continued the reviewer, "the nameless narrator experiences time discontinuously; whole days seem to be excised from his memory." According to Weedman: "Delany creates disorientation in Dhalgren to explore the problems which occur when reality models differ from reality." In Jonas's estimation, "If the book can be said to be about anything, it is about nothing less than the nature of reality."
Commenting that "Dhalgren has drawn more widely divergent critical response than any other Delany novel," a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor wrote: "Some reviewers deny that it is science fiction, while others praise it for its daring and experimental form." For instance, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction contributor Algis Budrys contended that "this book is not science fiction, or science fantasy, but allegorical quasi-fantasy on the [James Gould] Cozzens model. Thus, although it demonstrates the breadth of Delany's education, and many of its passages are excellent prose, it presents no new literary inventions." In a Science-Fiction Writers essay, a contributor described the same novel as "the very stuff of science fiction but lacking the usual structural emblems of the genre." "One thing is certain," offered Jonas, "Dhalgren is not a conventional novel, whether considered in terms of S.F. or the mainstream."
Following the exhaustive involvement with Kid necessary to complete Dhalgren, Delany chose to write a novel in which he distanced himself from his protagonist, giving him a chance to look at the relationship between an individual and his society in a new light. "I wanted to do a psychological analysis of someone with whom you're just not in sympathy, someone whom you watch making all the wrong choices, even though his plight itself is sympathetic," Delany explained in an interview with Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory published in their book Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s. The novel is Triton; its main character is Bron. "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," observed Michael Goodwin in Mother Jones. In this world of freedom lives Bron, whom Govan described in Black American Literature Forum as "a narrow-minded, isolated man, so self-serving that he is incapable of reaching outside himself to love another or even understand another despite his best intentions." In an attempt to solve his problems, he undergoes a sexchange operation, but finds no happiness. "Bron is finally trapped in total social and psychological stasis, lost in isolation beyond any help her society can offer its citizens," commented a Science-Fiction Writers contributor. In Triton he casts a critical eye, as Weedman pointed out, on "sexual persecution against women, ambisexuals, and homosexuals." Weedman wrote that the work is "on the necessity of knowing one's self despite sexual identification, knowing one's sexual identity is not one's total identity."
In the 1980s Delany continued to experiment in his fiction writing. In his "Nèverÿon" series, which includes Tales of Nèverÿon, Nèverÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities, Flight from Nèverÿon, and The Bridge ofLost Desire, he chooses a different setting. "Instead of being set in some imagined future, [they] are set in some magical, distant past, just as civilization is being created," observed McCaffery in an interview with Delany. The books' focus, suggested Gregory in the same interview, is "power—all kinds of power: sexual, economic, even racial power via the issue of slavery."
Throughout these tales of a world of dragons, treasures, and fabulous cities Delany weaves the story of Gorgik, a slave who rises to power and abolishes slavery. In one story, the novel-length "Tale of Plagues and Carnivals," Delany shifts in time from his primitive world to present-day New York City and back to examine the devastating effects of a disease like acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). In the appendices that accompany each of these books, he reflects on the creative process itself. Of the four, it is Nèverÿona, the story of Pryn—a girl who flees her mountain home on a journey of discovery—that has received the most attention from reviewers. Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review contributor Michael R. Collings called it "a stirring fable of adventure and education, of heroic action and even more heroic normality in a world where survival itself is constantly threatened." Faren C. Miller found the book groundbreaking, writing in Locus that by "combining differing perspectives with extraordinary talent for the details of a world—its smells, its shadows, workaday furnishings, and playful frills—Delany has produced a sourcebook for a new generation of fantasy writers." The book also "presents a new manifestation of Delany's continuing concern for language and the magic of fiction, whereby words become symbols for other, larger things," Collings observed.
In Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand Delany returns to the future. The book is "a densely textured, intricately worked out novelistic structure which delights and astonishes even as it forces a confrontation with a wide range of thought-provoking issues," wrote McCaffery in Fantasy Review. Included are "an examination of interstellar politics among thousands of far flung worlds, a love story, a meandering essay on the variety of human relationships and the inexplicability of sexual attractiveness, and a hypnotic crash-course on a fascinating body of literature which does not yet exist," noted H.J. Kirchhoff in the Toronto Globe & Mail.
Beneath the surface features, as Jonas suggested in New York Times Book Review, the reader can discover the fullness of this Delany novel. "To unpack the layers of meaning in seemingly offhand remarks or exchanges of social pleasantries," noted Jonas, "the reader must be alert to small shifts in emphasis, repeated phrases or gestures that assume new significance in new contexts, patterns of behavior that only become apparent when the author supplies a crucial piece of information at just the proper moment." Here in the words and gestures of the characters and the subtle way in which the author fashions his work is the fundamental concern of the novel. "I take the most basic subject here to be the nature of information itself," McCaffery explained, "the way it is processed, stored and decoded symbolically, the way it is distorted by the present and the past, the way it has become a commodity … the way that the play of textualities defines our perception of the universe."
"This is an astonishing new Delany," according to Somtow Sucharitkul Sucharitkul in the Washington Post Book World, "more richly textured, smoother, more colorful than ever before." Commending the novel for the interaction it encourages with the reader, Jonas observed that, "sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, it invites the reader to collaborate in the process of creation, in a way that few novels do." He went on to note that "the reader who accepts this invitation has an extraordinarily satisfying experience in store for him/her." McCaffery concluded that "Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand … confirms that [Delany] is American SF's most consistently brilliant and inventive writer."
The novel They Fly at Ciron grew out of a short story that Delany wrote thirty years before, in 1962. Although a version of the story, produced in collaboration with James Sallis, was published in 1971, Delany was not satisfied with it and subsequently reworked it into a novel. The action takes place in a nameless world that consists of small, independent village-states living in isolated harmony. This harmony, however, is shattered when a fierce, technologically advanced people known as the Myetrans begin pillaging the land, overpowering and slaughtering the inhabitants of every village they encounter. It is left to a pair of men—Kire, a former member of the Myetrans, and Rahm to thwart the warring Myetrans. The two men eventually overcome their nemesis by joining forces with the Winged Ones, a species of intelligent, flying beings. New York Times Book Review contributor Gerald Jonas called the novel "a biting parable about the bloody roots of civilization" and praised the "spare beauty" of Delany's prose.
Critics often comment on how Delany, who is both gay and African American, uses fiction as a forum to call for greater acceptance of women's rights and gay rights; yet, as a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor maintained, "a recurring motif frequently overlooked in Delany's fiction is his subtle emphasis on race. Black and mixed-blood characters cross the spectrum of his speculative futures, both as a testimony to a future Delany believes will change to reflect human diversity honestly and as a commentary on the racial politics of the present."
In novels such as Babel-17, Delany demonstrates how language can be used to rob the black man of his identity. "White culture exerts a great influence because it can force stereotypic definitions on the black person," wrote Weedman. She added that "if the black person capitulates to the definition imposed on him by a force outside of his culture, then he is in danger of losing his identity." In his other novels, a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor pointed out, "Delany utilizes existing negative racial mythologies about blacks, but, in all his works, he twists the commonplace images and stereotypes to his own ends." In using his fiction to promote awareness of the race issue, he and black writers like him "have mastered the dominant culture's language and turned it against its formulators in protest," noted Weedman.
As Delany's fiction began to go out of print in the 1980s and 1990s, he focused more and more on writing criticism and essays, as well as teaching. Although he had been writing criticism for decades, Delany began to receive more recognition as a perspicuous analyst of literature. "Delany is not only a gifted writer," claimed Barbour in his Foundation article, "he is one of the most articulate theorists of sf to have emerged from the ranks of its writers." In such critical works as The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch—"Angouleme," and Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, "he has done much to open up critical discussion of sf as a genre, forcefully arguing its great potential as art," Barbour added. In his nonfiction, Delany offers a functional description of science fiction and contrasts it with other genres such as naturalistic fiction and fantasy. He also attempts to expand "the domain of his chosen genre by claiming it the modern mode of fiction par excellence," commented Slusser, "the one most suited to deal with the complexities of paradox and probability, chaos, irrationality, and the need for logic and order."
Delany's books Longer Views: Extended Essays and Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary have marked him as an astute critic not only of books but also of society. Longer Views is a collection that discusses such topics as Donna Haraway's "Manifesto for Cyborgs," gay identity (Delany notes that Hart Crane was gay and ponders how different criticism of Crane would have been had this been acknowledged), and Wagnerian opera. Shorter Views contains essays on critical theory and genres Delany labels "paraliterary," including comic books, graphic novels, and pornography. Reviewers have appreciated the fact that, as a self-educated intellectual, Delany can offer a fresh perspective on literature and other subjects outside of the academic world of which he is now a part. "One of the things I find most valuable about Delany," wrote African American Review contributor Robert Elliot Fox, "apart from his incredibly wideranging mind, his thoroughgoing grasp of so many different subjects, is his independence of thought, his terribly honest self-scrutiny." And although Charles Crawford cautioned in Library Journal that the author's erudition might be daunting for some readers, he added that Shorter Views "will strongly appeal to a select group of brave readers who have the patience to follow a daringly original mind at work." In a review of Longer Views for African American Review, Fox asserted that "increasingly … Delany is garnering serious attention as an original critical mind."
With the publication of The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science-Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965, Delany turned to writing about himself. This memoir of his early days as a writer in New York's East Village is "an extraordinary account of life experienced by a precocious black artist of the 1960s," as E. Guereschi described it in Choice. The book reveals much of Delany's sexual adventures with partners of both sexes at the time, his nervous breakdown, and the general sense of living on the edge during an exciting and innovative period. Moreover, the book tells of Delany's realization and eventual acceptance of his homosexuality. Thomas M. Disch, writing in American Book Review, found that Delany "can't help creating legends and elaborating myths. Indeed, it is his forté, the open secret of his success as an SF writer. [Delany's] SF heroes are variations of an archetype he calls The Kid." Disch continued, "In his memoir, the author himself [is] finally assuming the role in which his fictive alter-egos have enjoyed their success. That is the book's strength even more than its weakness." Guereschi believed that the memoir "defines an arduous search for identity," and Disch concluded that The Motion of Light in Water "has the potential of being as popular, as representative of its era, as On the Road."
The inner workings of Delany's mind are also revealed in such works as Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics; A Collection of Written Interviews and 1984: Selected Letters. The former contains ten written interviews with Delany as well as one interview by him (of composer Anthony Davis) and features Delany discussing topics such as the state of science fiction, race, sexuality, language, and literary criticism. Paul Miller, reviewing the work in Village Voice, remarked that "the most interesting parts of Silent Interviews are not when [Delany] talks about the obvious aspects of sexuality and race, but when he discusses the ways they are encoded into our lives." In what a Publishers Weekly contributor called "a wonderful complement to his autobiographical writings," 1984 includes letters in which Delany talks about his attempts to curb his sexual behavior as he learns about the spread of the disease AIDS. Ultimately, his efforts are as unsuccessful as most dieters' attempts to cut back on food. The letter collection, however, is about more than this; there are many more intellectual passages. Delany, noted Thom Nickels in Lambda Book Report, "never stays put on any one subject too long. The good thing about these letters is the author's ability to balance."
In addition to his fiction and criticism, Delany also became known for writing what many would label pornography, or, at least, gay erotica. This has been especially true with the novels The Mad Man and Hogg, which contain extreme scenes of sex and violence, including passages involving unsavory practices such as coprophilia, bestiality, and urolagnia. The Mad Man is about an African-American academic named John Marr who is studying the work of philosopher Timothy Hasler. Discovering that Hasler has been murdered, Marr becomes an amateur sleuth and begins to investigate his death. Fortunately for Marr, both he and Hasler are into unconventional sexual practices, and in the course of the many interludes in the story involving Marr's sexual dalliances with men, he uncovers clues that could lead to Hasler's murderer. "Although there are some themes and ideas in this book which relate to other work by Delany," noted Stan Leventhal in Lambda Book Report, "this new novel is quite a departure. All of the previous fiction which he has published has been firmly rooted in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and although his work has gotten more sexual in recent years, there is nothing else of his that can be classified as pornographic." Leventhal added, "Moreover, this text seems to embody a new genre that could be called antiporn …: sexually explicit material that is so intense and over the top it fails to seduce the reader."
Delany's Hogg contains such explicit sexual content that for nearly thirty years the author was unable to get it published. Finally released in 1998, Hogg is told from the point of view of an eleven-year-old boy who is the sexual slave of the title character, a man who makes a living by being paid to rape women. He is a thoroughly disgusting character who does not even bother to find a rest room to go to the bathroom and enjoys urinating on people. "Even though Hogg's brutality had to be constructed in the context of abject poverty among hillbillies and ‘nigger’ fishermen," commented Bruce Benderson in Lambda Book Report, "the novel is neither a sociological study of the disadvantaged nor a psychological portrait of a degenerate. Instead, Hogg is a truly experimental novel, shining like a rare pearl in the tepid muck of today's postmodernism. Hogg is a minimalist testing of a single hypothesis. It wants to know to what limits appetite can suffuse consciousness before that consciousness stops being considered human." In a less laudatory review of the book, a Publishers Weekly contributor complained that "in other works, Delany has examined the role of the criminal within society; with Hogg, he apparently was content merely to inhabit the criminal mind without exploring it."
In the nonfiction work Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, Delany writes lovingly of the porno scene in his native New York City, which in the 1990s was the target of a cleanup effort by the city's government in an effort to make areas that were once filled with porno theaters more attractive to tourists. Delany complains that the triple-X theater district was actually safer in many ways than other parts of New York City because they were so crowded that one was actually reasonably safe walking down its streets. Although a great deal of illicit sex occurred there, he also laments the departure of the social scene, which has now been replaced by sterile office buildings that look like any other part of the business district. As Delany put it in his book, "because there's not enough intertwined commercial and residential variety to create a vital and lively street life, the neighborhood becomes a glass and aluminum graveyard." However, Delany later said in an interview with Tasha Robinson in the online Onion A.V. Club that although the area is much more "homogenized" now, "it does draw people, and I think that's good. I wish there was a little more variety in what was offered, but that may change."
Sexuality and urban life are also major themes of Delany's work. "New York," explained Publishers Weekly contributor Michael Bronski, "shines through all of Delany's writing … even in such early intergalactic tales as the Nèverÿon novels and Dhalgren, which are infused with the intensity and momentum of New York, and reflections on AIDS and gay life." Delany's autobiographical graphic novel Bread and Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York; An Autobiographical Account, wrote Bronski, "uses illustrations by Mia Wolff to recount how he and [his partner] Dennis [Ricketts], a New Yorker from a working-class Irish background, met seven years ago, when the latter was homeless and selling old books from a shopping cart on 72nd Street and Broadway."
Beginning in the late 1990s, Delany's work saw a resurgence in popularity as many of his books that had gone out of print were reissued. Although Delany felt that the reissuing of his books was more a matter of publishers believing there was profit to be made rather than a renewed public awareness of his work, he was encouraged to see more acceptance of gay, women's, and African-American literature among both academics and the general reading public. "While publishers are convinced fiction readers are only interested in reading about what they've read about before," Delany told Jayme Lynn Blaschke on the online SF Site, "the reality is, I suspect, more sanguine: People want new stories and new materials to explore and interrogate and have adventures in. The world—particularly the academic world—has been changing with a rapidity that, while astonishing, is still just slow enough to escape the eye of, say, the university student who has only been in school for four years, or even the graduate student who stays for eight or ten."
Delany's popularity is evidenced not only by the fact that his older science fiction books continue to be reprinted, but by the fact he continues to write and publish new works as well. Indeed, Delany has been writing and publishing books for more than forty-five years. Aye, and Gomorrah: Stories features fifteen stories comprising most of the author's short fiction. Included in the volume are stories previously published in Driftglass: Ten Tales of Speculative Fiction and Distant Stars. Critics praised the collection and noted that Delany's famous traits were evident throughout. Writing in the Library Journal, Jackie Cassada noted that the book "encompasses both controversy and compassion." In addition, Booklist contributor Ray Olson wrote that Delany is considered a "titan" of the science-fiction genre and added that the volume's "ethically intriguing stories demonstrate why he has that reputation."
In About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews, the author discusses the art of fiction writing via "seven essays, four letters, and five interviews." The letters are addressed to fellow authors and explain the various factors that make for exceptional writing. Carl Hays, writing in Booklist, felt that this was an effective approach; he noted that the book "deserves a reading by aspiring wordsmiths in every genre." Noting that About Writing is "not another how-to book," Library Journal contributor Nedra Crowe-Evers commented that the volume is a "demonstration of how fiction fits into today's world."
In his long and varied career, Delany has branched far beyond the realms of science fiction in many of his writings, including his 2004 novella Phallos. "The story's fundamental conceit … is that a full-length anonymous gay porn novel called Phallos was published back in 1969," Delany told Stefen Styrsky in the Lambda Book Report. The author also told Styrsky: "A simple driver behind Phallos is the impulse to examine how pleasure integrates into one's ordinary life." Brandon Stosuy, writing in the Village Voice, called the novel "a lapidary, digital-age Pale Fire." Stosuy went on to state that the book is "emblematic of Delany's recent concerns, [and] the wee text offers a crib sheet for the writer's interests in the history of the novel and textual criticism."
Indeed, Delany is not an easily pigeonholed writer—a black man in a white society, a writer with dyslexia, an artist who is also a critic. His race, lifestyle, chosen profession, and chosen genre keep him far from the mainstream. In Weedman's estimation, "Few writers approach the lyricism, the command of language, the powerful combination of style and content that distinguishes Delany's works. More importantly," she wrote, "few writers, whether in science fiction or mundane fiction, so successfully create works which make us question ourselves, our actions, our beliefs, and our society as Delany has helped us do."
Delaney's 2007 novel, Dark Reflections, was called a "heartfelt, often funny book" by Washington Post contributor Andrew Holleran. Baz Dreisinger noted in the New York Times Book Review: "His devotees—and there are legions of them—will enjoy teasing out the autobiographical strands in Dark Reflections."
The novel features the poet Arnold Hawley who, like the author, is black and gay. The book follows Hawley's life and career in reverse, as the novel is broken up into three sections. Described as a type of triptych by Holleran, the reviewer went on to note: "On the first panel, a decrepit writer is dining with his young editor; on the second, a middle-aged groom searches for sex in a public restroom on his wedding night; in the third, a college boy falls in love."
In the novel, Hawley at one point is a promising young poet who wins the Alfred Proctor Prize for Poetry. However, he never receives wide critical acceptance, and his latest collection is largely ignored. As the novel switches back and forth in time, Hawley has a breakdown when his beloved Aunt Bea dies, and he marries a troubled young woman—a marriage that lasts all of twelve hours. In the final section of the book, readers see Hawley in college and trying to come to terms with his sexuality. Throughout the book, Hawley's fear of being discovered as a homosexual pervades the action, much of which takes place long before "coming out of the closet" was deemed acceptable by most of society. Noting the autobiographical elements of the book (Delany even started out to be a poet before turning to science fiction and novels), a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "these ‘dark reflections’ form a fascinatingly structured experiment in alternative autobiography." A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to novel as "dark reflections layered into a complex, refracted narrative."
Several other reviewers also had high praise for Dark Reflections. A contributor to the Hebdomeros Web site noted the contradictory nature of Hawley as "a black man who enjoys country music, and gay man who doesn't pursue sex, and a poet who explores themes beyond the normal bounds of what it means to black and gay." The reviewer added: "It makes Arnold more than a character; it makes him a human dreaming the dream to be what he can despite the obstacles thrown in front of him. It's this thread of the novel that ties it together, makes everything work, and brings what's probably Delany's most accessible novel in years." Yasmin Nair, writing on the Windy City Times Web site, called Dark Reflections a "richly comic and extraordinarily multilayered book." Nair also commented in the same review: "The ending is not a mere ending but a revelation that comes at the conclusion of this bloody brilliant book."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bleiler, E.F., editor, Science-Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day, Scribner (New York, NY), 1982.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 9, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 8, 1978, Volume 14, 1980, Volume 38, 1986.
Delany, Samuel R., Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 8: Twentieth-Century American Science Fiction Writers, 1981, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, 1984.
Gay and Lesbian Literature, Volume 2, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Kostelanetz, Richard, editor, American Writing Today, Whitston, 1991.
McCaffery, Larry, and Sinda Gregory, editors, Alive and Writing: Interviews with American Authors of the 1980s, University of Illinois Press, 1987.
McEvoy, Seth, Samuel R. Delany, Ungar, 1984.
Modern Black Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Peplow, Michael W., and Robert S. Bravard, Samuel R. Delany: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography, 1962-1979, G.K. Hall, 1980.
Platt, Charles, editor, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Books, 1980.
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Sallis, James, Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MI), 1996.
Slusser, George Edgar, The Delany Intersection: Samuel R. Delany Considered as a Writer of Semiprecious Words, Borgo (San Bernardino, CA), 1977.
Smith, Nicholas D., editor, Philosophers Look at Science Fiction, Nelson-Hall (Chicago, IL), 1982.
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African American Review, spring, 1997, Sandra Y. Govan, review of Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics; ACollection of Written Interviews, p. 164; spring, 1999, review of Longer Views: Extended Essays, p. 173; fall, 2001, Robert Elliot Fox, review of Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary, p. 491.
American Book Review, January, 1989, Thomas M. Disch, review of The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science-Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965.
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, April, 1985, Tom Easton, review of Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand, p. 77; June, 1995, review of They Fly at Ciron, p. 168.
Black American Literature Forum, summer, 1984, Sandra Y. Govan, "The Insistent Presence of Black Folk in the Novels of Samuel R. Delany," pp. 43-48.
Booklist, December 15, 1994, Carl Hays, review of They Fly at Ciron, p. 740; May 1, 1995, Carl Hays, review of Atlantis: Three Tales, p. 1551; May 1, 1996, Carl Hays, review of Longer Views, p. 1484; February 15, 2003, Ray Olson, review of Aye, and Gomorrah: Stories, p. 1043; December 15, 2005, Carl Hays, review of About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews, p. 13.
Book World, July 15, 2007, Andrew Holleran, "A Poet's Gaze," review of Dark Reflections, p. 14.
Choice, February, 1989, E. Guereschi, review of The Motion of Light in Water.
Chronicle, March, 2005, Don D'Ammassa, review of Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand, p. 20.
Extrapolation, summer, 1995, Heather MacLean, review of Silent Interviews, p. 163.
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Foundation, March, 1975, Douglas Barbour, review of The Einstein Intersection.
Georgia Review, fall, 2000, Joe Bonomo, review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 573.
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GLQ, March, 2001, Eric Rofes, review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 101.
Internet Bookwatch, April, 2006, review of About Writing.
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Lambda Book Report, July-August, 1994, Stan Leventhal, review of The Mad Man, p. 35; September-October, 1995, Bruce Benderson, reviews of Hogg and Atlantis, p. 20; September, 1997, Mike Varady, review of Longer Views, p. 17; October, 2000, Thom Nickels, "The Lost Art of Letters," p. 40; August-September, 2004, Stefen Styrsky, "Order out of Chaos: Samuel R. Delany on Codes, Science Fiction and Philosophy," p. 6.
Library BookWatch, April, 2005, review of Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand.
Library Journal, January, 1994, Michael Rogers, review of Nèverÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities, Tales of Nèverÿon, and The Motion of Light in Water, p. 172; May 1, 1995, Albert E. Wilheim, review of Atlantis, p. 134; June 15, 1996, Charles C. Nash, review of Longer Views, p. 65; December, 1998, Michael Rogers, review of The Einstein Intersection, p. 163; July, 1999, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 118; January, 2000, Charles Crawford, review of Shorter Views, p. 104; July, 2000, Robert L. Kelly, review of 1984: Selected Letters, p. 122; March 15, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of Aye, and Gomorrah, p. 121; December 1, 2005, Nedra Crowe-Evers, review of About Writing, p. 129.
Locus, summer, 1983, Faren C. Miller, review of Nèverÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November, 1975, Algis Budrys, review of Dhalgren; May, 1989, review of The Star Pits, p. 17; February, 2001, Elizabeth Hand, review of 1984, p. 36; February, 2002, Elizabeth Hand, review of Dhalgren, p. 40.
Mother Jones, August, 1976, Michael Goodwin, review of Triton.
Nation, October 28, 1996, Scott McLemee, review of Longer Views, p. 60.
New York Times Book Review, February 16, 1975, Gerald Jonas, review of Dhalgren, p. 27; February 10, 1985, Gerald Jonas, review of Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand, p. 15; January 1, 1995, Gerald Jonas, review of They Fly at Ciron, p. 22; October 29, 1995, Rose Kernochan, review of Atlantis, p. 42; December 29, 1996, Gerald Jonas, review of Longer Views, p. 15; September 9, 2007, Baz Dreisinger, "Poetic Licentiousness," review of Dark Reflections.
Parnassus, spring, 2000, Thomas M. Disch, review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 324.
Publishers Weekly, January 29, 1988, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The Motion of Light in Water, p. 424; October 19, 1992, review of They Fly at Ciron, p. 62; April 18, 1994, review of The Mad Man, p. 48; February 27, 1995, review of Hogg, p. 89; April 3, 1995, review of Atlantis, p. 47; May 31, 1999, review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 73; June 14, 1999, review of Bread and Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York; An Autobiographical Account, p. 62; July 12, 1999, Michael Bronski, "Samuel Delany: Ghosts of Times Square," p. 68; November 1, 1999, review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 49; November 15, 1999, review of Shorter Views, p. 46; May 22, 2000, review of 1984, p. 87; March 19, 2007, review of Dark Reflections, p. 39.
Reason, December, 2005, Bidisha Banerjee, "Dhalgren in New Orleans: A Classic Science Fiction Novel Comes to Life in the Big Easy," p. 68.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1995, Steven Moore, review of Atlantis, p. 175; spring, 1996, Steven Moore, review of The Mad Man, p. 162; fall, 1996, K. Leslie Steiner, "An Interview with Samuel R. Delany," p. 97; fall, 1996, Russell Blackford, "Jewels in Junk City: To Read ‘Triton,’" p. 142; spring, 1997, David Ian Paddy, review of Dhalgren, p. 181; fall, 1997, James Sallis, review of Longer Views, p. 223.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, July/August, 1983, Michael R. Collings, review of Nèverÿona; or, The Tale of Signs and Cities.
Science-Fiction Studies, November, 1990, Robert M. Philmus, Renee Lallier, and Robert Copp, "On ‘Triton’ and Other Matters: An Interview with Samuel R. Delany," p. 295; November, 1990, Martha A. Bartter, "The (Science-Fiction) Reader and the Quantum Paradigm: Problems in Delany's Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand," p. 325; July, 1995, David N. Samuelson, "Talking," p. 265; March, 1997, R.D. Mullen, review of Longer Views, p. 60; July, 2000, Carl Freedman, "Of Cities and Bodies," p. 356; November, 2000, Carl Freedman, review of 1984, p. 523.
Symploke, winter-spring, 2000, Elizabeth Renn Crowley, review of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 223.
Village Voice, January 24, 1995, Paul Miller, review of Silent Interviews, p. 78; November 9, 2004, Brandon Stosuy, review of Phallos.
Washington Post, July 15, 2007, Andrew Holleran, "A Poet's Gaze: A Novel of Life's Uneasy Stages," review of Dark Reflections, p. BW14.
Washington Post Book World, January 27, 1985, Somtow Sucharitkul, review of Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand.
Wilson Library Bulletin, April, 1995, Fred Lernier, review of They Fly at Ciron, p. 94.
Writer, June, 2006, Steve Weinberg, "A Serious Look at the Craft of Writing" (review of About Writing), p. 50.
Hebdomeros,http://hebdomeros.blogspot.com/ (November 6, 2007), review of Dark Reflections.
Onion A.V. Club,http://www.theavclub.com/ (March 3, 2006), Tasha Robinson, interview with Samuel R. Delany.
Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists,http://www.sfnovelists.com/ (September 23, 2007), Gregory Frost, "Plots and Process and Samuel R. Delany."
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (March 3, 2006), Jayme Lynn Blaschke, "A Conversation with Samuel R. Delany."
Temple University Web site,http://www.temple.edu/ (March 3, 2006), faculty profile of author.
Windy City Times,http://www.wctimes.com/ (August 29, 2007), Yasmin Nair, review of Dark Reflections.