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A collaborative blog by Locus editors, contributors, and other invited guests. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine or Locus Online.

 




 


Editor

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Contributors

Alan Beatts
Terry Bisson
Marie Brennan
Karen Burnham
Siobhan Carroll
John Clute
F. Brett Cox
Ellen Datlow
Paul Di Filippo
Michael Dirda
Gardner Dozois
Andy Duncan
Stefan Dziemianowicz
Brian Evenson
Jeffrey Ford
Karen Joy Fowler
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Theodora Goss
Elizabeth Hand
Cecelia Holland
Rich Horton
Guy Gavriel Kay
James Patrick Kelly
Mark R. Kelly
Ellen Klages
Russell Letson
Karen Lord
Brit Mandelo
Adrienne Martini
Tim Pratt
Cat Rambo
Paul Graham Raven
Graham Sleight
Maureen Kincaid Speller
Peter Straub
Rachel Swirsky
Paul Witcover
Gary K. Wolfe
E. Lily Yu

Daryl Gregory and James Morrow in Conversation

Daryl Gregory: We’re having this conversation by email, but I’m going to pretend we’re sitting in a bar. Even though we live in the same town, and not even a very big one — that’s State College, Pennsylvania, for you readers — I think we see each other more often in other cities, at cons. Is that sad, or just typically science fictional?

James Morrow: I think it’s both sad and science fictional. Writers live in their heads, don’t they?

D: My head has terrible table service. We did finally get together at our local brewpub a couple months ago to talk about free will and consciousness. That was a lot of fun, and was exactly the kind of conversation I used to imagine that science fiction writers had all the time, before I met some and realized we mostly talk about agents and publishers.

So when Alvaro said he’d give us space to talk on the Roundtable, I first thought that we could continue that conversation. But then I finished your new stand-alone novella, The Madonna and the Starship, that’s out now from Tachyon. My own novella, We Are All Completely Fine, is coming out in August. They’re really different books, but I thought we could talk about how both of them use pop culture as a main ingredient.

J: Good idea. But maybe we can sneak in some stuff about free will and its alleged sovereignty.

D: Oh, if only we had free will, then we could talk about whatever we want. But I guess we’re stuck with this topic for now. We’ve both based stories on pop culture—you most recently in your novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima—but I wanted to ask about Madonna first. What possessed you to write a philosophical comedy set in the early days of live TV and sci-fi serials? Read more »

Karen Haber Guest Post–”My First”

You always remember your first time.

My first short story — “Madre de Dios” — came about through what might be called an act of spousal self-defense, although he wasn’t quite my spouse at the time.

It was 1986. I had just moved to the SF Bay Area. After a decade of working as a journalist–a newspaper reporter and, later, senior editor at an art magazine–I had kissed my old life goodbye, quit my job, sold my house, got a divorce and was trying to find my balance in a new place, in a new relationship, and a new career. Challenging, to say the least.

I was surprised when Bob suggested that I write a short story. “You’ve read enough of mine,” he said, as though that were sufficient apprenticeship.

Intrigued, dubious, and sort of desperate, I reread some of my favorite short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Avram Davidson, Fritz Leiber, and Bob, watching the masters at work. Who was I kidding?

But, determined to give it a try, I sat down and scratched out a very loose outline, drawing upon time spent in Paraguay and Brazil in the early 1980s. Slowly I began to craft a tale that reflected the powerful grip of religion on South America, the dependence of the peasants on tourism, and the resulting culture clashes, with an sf-nal sting in its tail. Emboldened by ignorance and naivete, buoyed by Bob’s confidence, I blundered on, word by hard-won word. This fiction thing was grueling work.

My journalistic training served me well in the descriptive and expository areas but hindered me when it came to being expansive and, God help us, colorful. I’d been trained to write a concise, neutral sentence. Just the facts, please. Fiction, I realized, was a different animal. You made up the facts. The writer couldn’t lean on reality to provide the information. Fiction was therefore more demanding, and yet potentially much freer. The only limits were one’s own imagination and technical skill.

I wrote draft after draft, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Bob read each one, probably wondering something similar. He told me what I was doing wrong–ouch–but also what was right. You could say that I trained in a very tough school where I was the only student. Slowly the tale took shape. I was determined to at least finish the thing as best I could even if I never wrote another word of fiction again

Neither of us really expected that I would sell the very first story I wrote to The Magazine of F & SF, much less that I would go on over the next 27 years to write and sell 50+ stories to markets as diverse as Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Science Fiction Age, and anthologies edited by Neil Gaiman and Martin H. Greenberg. Nor that I would also write and publish 9 novels, 2 books of nonfiction, and edit a Hugo-nominated essay collection.

As I hold my first short story collection in my hands, I think: What I need is a  time machine–preferably the elaborate gilded model from the 1960 movie with Rod Taylor. I’d ride it back to 1986 where I could present this volume to that younger, more insecure me. Time-travel paradoxes aside, I can tell you how she would react: she simply wouldn’t believe it.

 

About the Author:

Karen Haber is the author of nine novels, including Star Trek Voyager: Bless the Beasts, and co-author of Science of the X-Men. She is a Hugo Award nominee, nominated for Meditations on Middle Earth, an essay collection celebrating J.R.R. Tolkien. Her newest book, The Sweet Taste of Regret, a collection of short fiction, was just published by ReAnimus Press.

Her recent publications include The Mutant Season series, the Woman Without A Shadow series, Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art, and Transitions: Todd Lockwood, a book-length retrospective of the artist’s work.

Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and many anthologies. New stories will be appearing in the upcoming Unidentified Funny Objects 3 edited by Alex Shvartsman and in The Madness of Cthulhu edited by S.T. Joshi. With Robert Silverberg, she co-edited Best Science Fiction of 2001, 2002, and the Best Fantasy of 2001 and 2002. Later she co-edited the series with Jonathan Strahan through 2004. She reviews art books for Locus Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, Robert Silverberg and three cats.

Visit her website at http://karenhaber.com/. 

Marissa Lingen Guest Post–”More Please: the Short Story Mosaic”

Last weekend at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention, a would-be short story writer cornered me with a question. His critique group keeps telling him that his short stories read more like chapters from a novel, he said; does this mean he is just not cut out to write short stories? I gave him a quick set of diagnostics for things that might actually be wrong (too much exposition, not a complete enough slice of story), but I also reassured him that short story writers hear this a lot even with their most successful stories. A lot. No, really, a lot.

One of the most effective ways our culture has to say, “I liked that,” is, “More, please.” For short stories, this comes out as, “Novel, please.” Novelists get this reaction, too, of course—even though I know that Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor is beautifully self-contained, when I finished it I immediately wanted more like that. There is a long history of short stories expanded into novels in our genres—Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain was the formative one for me, but the list is a long one. And yet expanding short stories into novels always requires a delicate touch. Their balance and pacing are so different that it’s hard to take a well-crafted short story and turn it into a well-crafted novel.

So what’s a short story writer to do when readers want more? The direct sequel story is always an option, of course, but that presents its own set of difficulties. Part of the appeal of a well-crafted short story is that it is its own self-contained nugget of story, something a reader can enjoy in a sitting without preparation or continuation. A sequel story takes away a bit of that.  There is the problem, too, that if the editor you’re working with likes number one and number two but not number three… what do you do about the idea you had for number four? Try to incorporate the material from number three? Scrap it? Sell number three to another magazine with somewhat different readership, if possible? Sell it as a stand-alone e-book or publish it for free on your own blog, and hope that numbers four and five will strike the editor better? Most of the famous “series” of short stories in the genre have been linked by characters, not by linear plot, so that these questions don’t have to be answered. And yet each story has to spend enough time and not too much time on who these people are and what they do, and they can acquire an episodic sameness, a sitcom reset button, that satisfies less with each iteration.

The remaining option I’ve seen for giving short story readers “more” while retaining their essential short story nature—the one I’m doing myself right now—is the mosaic of stories. Each story is written to work on its own, to be a little nugget of story goodness. However, a reader who steps back can find that the different stories illuminate different parts of the same world and related themes. In Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium, Crispin the mosaicist is faced with an old and crumbling masterwork mosaic. It stuns him with its beauty so that he can hardly speak at first, but even as he’s looking, a piece falls off. Mosaics don’t have to be intact to be appreciated. In fact, in that very scene, Crispin notes dryly to the proprietor of that mosaic that he feels sure that the god portrayed in it once had a left arm and a robe. With a mosaic series of short stories, no one editor has to commit to buying all of them for them to be worthwhile to read—or worth the risk of writing. No reader has to find them all to benefit from finding more than one.

I usually tell people that I’m the least visual writer in the world. The mosaic of stories I’ve been working on is a distinct exception to this: each story is inspired by a still image from a Miyazaki movie. “The Salt Path,” published by Apex in their June issue, was the cliffs above the sea, from PonyoApex also has purchased “The New Girl” for its November issue, and the image for that was the seaplanes on the cove, from Porco Rosso. Astute readers have already spotted thematic commonality and little pieces of worldbuilding that connect up between stories in this mosaic, but the thread of visual inspiration is as far as I know all internal. But it gives a consistency to the feel of what I’m working with, so that nobody has had any trouble spotting that these stories go together and not with my other stories, even without unifying characters.

One of the great things about using such a prolific master as Miyazaki for visual inspiration is that I have a huge list of images that strike me in his work, things that make me want to play more with these themes and this world. I’m already looking forward to doing the abandoned mine from Castle in the Sky and the poison forest from Nausicaa as touchstone images. They inform each other and refer back to the other things I’ve done in this world, without tying me down to linear plot with the same characters. The whole thing is a lot of fun for me, and so far I’ve been hearing that it’s fun for readers to spot the commonalities, too. The mosaic format gives me room to dart over and see what’s going on way over there, or to work intensely in a small area if that’s what’s interesting. It’s a very freeing way to answer the call for “more, please.”

 

About the Author:

Marissa Lingen is the author of more than one hundred short science fiction and fantasy stories. You can find her online at marissalingen.com or on twitter at @MarissaLingen. She lives in the Minneapolis suburbs with two large men and one small dog.

Greg van Eekhout Guest Post–”The Middle-Grade Question”

My career is just weird. I write books for adults, and I write books for middle-grade readers (generally defined as aged 9-13). From time to time I get asked by other writers what the difference is. Some are just curious about a field outside their own. Some want to try their hand at middle-grade because they have fond memories of the books they read when they were kids. Or they’ve heard the field can be lucrative (it’s not). Or they want to write short books in hopes of creating more product in a shorter amount of time. Some of them (the ones I like best) want to write for kids because they love kids books, or there’s some part of their brain they hope to express through kids books, or they have some other difficult-to-define but nonetheless burning desire to write kids books.

So, I thought it might be helpful to touch on how my approach differs between writing adult books and kids books. I can tell you right now that I’m probably not going to be terribly helpful.

For one thing, my adult books are full of violence and cusses, and if books were movies, those books would get R-ratings. My middle-grade books have much less nasty violence and no cusses, and they’d get PG or maybe PG-13 ratings. Is the difference in the violence and cusses, then? Well, only to an extent. No f-bombs in middle-grade, certainly. Usually no s-bombs, either. Seldom will you find harsh, graphically depicted violence. And little or no sex. But there are enough adult books that don’t feature such nasty stuff that we can’t reliably point to content restrictions to describe how adult and middle-grade books differ.

What about the ages of the characters? Certainly that’s got to be the absolute key difference between adult books and kids books. Er. Only sort of. Stephen King’s written a lot of books and stories with kids as point-of-view characters, but they are not kids books because they are told from an adult’s perspective. Even when there’s no Richard Dreyfus providing a framing device, there’s a quality of reminiscence, of expressing what childhood was like from an adult’s perspective. King does it brilliantly, often triumphantly, and his books featuring kids are among my favorites of his work. But middle grade doesn’t look upon childhood from a distant remove. It must concern itself with the immediate interests not of childhood, but of a character who is a child. It must express love, friendship, anger, hatred, hope, ambition, fear, courage, and all that other human-y stuff through the perspective of a fully realized, textured, complicated individual who happens to be somewhere from around 9 to 13 years old.

All fiction draws from the same periodic table: characters undergoing ordeals and experiencing change, interesting ideas, environments ranging from rooms to universes, and theme and metaphor and language. There is no trick, no checklist, no understanding of editorial restriction that will lead to a full understanding of the difference between adult and middle-grade fiction.

If you don’t believe me, try imagining the following scenario: You are a writer of science fiction. You write science fiction because you love science fiction, you’ve spent many years reading science fiction and practicing the writing of science fiction, and when you sit down to write, science fiction is what comes out of you. You’ve got a friend who is very much like you, except everywhere I said “science fiction,” sub in “fantasy.” They haven’t read much science fiction and have written even less of it. And now they’ve come to you and they want to write science fiction. Because… I don’t know. Because the books are shorter. Because reasons. What would you tell them? Could you tell them anything truly helpful? Could you tell them something that didn’t really come down to think different, write different, be different?

So, all that said, you still want to write middle grade? Do it. It’s an amazingly rewarding field, filled with beautiful work by inspiring writers, and the readers are simply amazing. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not for you. Certainly don’t let me tell you it’s not for you. Have fun. Respect your audience. Approach it with the same passion you would any other kind of writing. And write good books.

 

About the Author:

Greg van Eekhout’s novels include Norse Code (for adults), Kid vs. Squid (middle grade), The Boy at the End of the World (middle grade), and California Bones, the first volume in a new contemporary fantasy trilogy from Tor Books. It’s the kind that comes with cusses. For more information, visit his website at www.writingandsnacks.com or follow him on Twitter @gregvaneekhout.

Lydia Millet Guest Post–”The Statesman and the Mouse”

Once, waiting to go up to the office where I worked in Manhattan, I was reading a paperback when my boss stepped into the elevator. He was an elder statesman type in the environmental movement and I was junior fundraising staff, so he rarely spoke to me and didn’t need to know my name. Still, after a few seconds he broke the groggy morning silence by asking, aghast, “Isn’t that a children’s book?”

As a reader of legal briefs and current events, mostly, he may have been unaware that the world of supposedly adult readers had been taken over by the Hogwarts franchise years before.

I recall being so surprised by the question that I actually turned my book over to look at its cover—maybe to see what he was seeing, maybe to answer his question about the book’s category (as though only the cover would remind me). It happened to be one of the Narnia tales, which I was pleased to be rereading after an absence of twenty years.

“Yes,” I said. “I read them all the time.”

“But they’re for children,” he repeated, and then stared at me agape, apparently awestruck by my infantilism. He didn’t mean to be rude, I think; he was just genuinely puzzled by the spectacle of a thirtyish, childless woman publicly reading a book with a sword-wielding mouse on the cover.

The doors opened before I could answer, and the elder statesman got off ahead of me and into his overscheduled day, braced to make friendly calls to politicians and shake hands with celebrity spokespersons.

Even at the time I smiled, rather than frowned, at the elder statesman’s bemusement. Of course it was I, not he, who was with the Zeitgeist in that moment; the pop cultural world, which dwarfs the rest of the cultural world much as Godzilla might dwarf a Kafka bug, features a superabundance of games, movies, books and other media made of alternate worlds, magic and multiverses, opulent period epics with mystical overtones and mythic orchestration. In all of this high-earning pageantry the line between juvenile and mature fare is blurred to the point of smearing; only a person sealed off from popular culture would assume otherwise.

In fact, it’s often the case that so-called “YA” novels—I don’t love the name but don’t have a better one either—are far more politically and morally oriented, and certainly more existential, than their counterparts in the marketplace of “adult” reading and especially general, rather than genre, adult reading. While it’s true that a majority of YA novels are concerned with relationships, much like adult novels, many of the most striking and memorable of them are also allegorical, high-concept, science fiction, fantasy or several of the above combined.

And if the time for simple magic like C.S. Lewis’s or Edward Eager’s has passed, or at least been passed down to the realm of younger children and out of the adolescent sphere, it’s not because magic itself has fallen out of favor: it clearly hasn’t, since vampires, demigods, fairy tales, and wizards continue to dominate. No, it’s likely because the social dynamics in many such older classics are too simple and agreeable for today’s YA readers, who have been raised on rapid scene changes and so demand nonstop action and conflict.

I wrote my first YA novel Pills and Starships—a story about a 16-year-old girl spending a very strange week in a Hawaiian resort in a world transformed by global warming—because I couldn’t help but imagine the nightmarish future it depicts. And I wanted to put myself in the shoes of a cheerful, resilient, and innocent person forced to live in that world. Won’t some version of this world, after all, be the one my granddaughter grows up in, should I ever have one?

It’s a world whose coastlines have been submerged by rising sea levels, cities have been ravaged by destructive storms and disease is rampant because insect-borne sicknesses have colonized new areas. The small part of the population that’s not indigent and looking for safe places to live is managed through mood pills by big, diversified corporations, whose “pharma” products are part of a much larger and ominous portfolio. Government is a flimsy puppet of these powerful corporations; voting online for figureheads whose looks you admire has replaced democracy.

I don’t think any of this is particularly fantastic — speculative yes, but so’s Wall Street, and a lot of people seem to believe that’s real. The only “shocking” conceit in the book has to do with death contracts: the family’s in Hawaii to celebrate their last week together before the parents commit managed suicide, led by the pharma company that also owns the high-end resort they’re staying at. Pills and Starships is the seven-day journal Nat, the daughter, keeps while she, her brother Sam, and their parents are having their moods, and the parents’ deaths, smoothly finessed by Management.

Dystopias are popular in the YA realm because they’re both lavishly exotic and highly structured: there are reasons for the ruination of their landscapes, and those ruined landscapes have an exciting and often beautiful geometry. Characters and conflicts and loves are spot-lit by the drama and beauty of these charismatically designed alternate societies-prisons-mazes, and of course they give us a touchstone of normalcy and a plot of personal intrigue. The real dystopias of the physical world we live in—needless to say our societies are largely made up of dystopias, not utopias—pale by comparison to fictional ones, whose architecture is charmingly deliberate, whose colors are rich and deep, whose ugliness can be perceived safely with the mind instead of being suffered by both the mind and the body.

I’d argue, as others have before, that the domestic fiction many American middle-class adults favors is far more “escapist” in the pejorative sense than spec fiction, science fiction or often even fantasy—YA or otherwise. Much of current so-called literary fiction is plodding middlebrow fiction marketed loftily by an industry that’s flailing to class up the joint. And it’s middlebrow partly because it has a profound dysfunction when it comes to depicting or even acknowledging the sociopolitical landscape its characters inhabit. Many of these books actively deny that such a landscape even exists, adhering to a false “realism” that’s really little more than craven personalism. Of interest is only the emotional self and its arcs of sex and friendship, behind which questions of the urgent crises of human history, to say nothing of the vastness of the galaxy and the towering immensity of time, fade into apparent insignificance.

So when an older demographic that prides itself on its “adultness”—its “seriousness,” say—dismisses as juvenile any fiction that contains mythic elements like talking mice or holy lions or ghosts or Martians, such dismissal has to be taken with a shaker of salt. Teenagers seem to be better equipped to read about a diversity of possible worlds, and about extreme and disastrous global scenarios, than their parents. Maybe this is because their minds are more open, their imaginations more active. Or maybe it’s because they don’t kid themselves that stories about infidelity and suburban ennui are more important than stories about courage and injustice and the abuse of power.

 

About the Author:

Lydia Millet is the author of 11 books of fiction, including the apocalyptic YA novel Pills and Starships, set in Hawaii and out this week from Akashic Books. Previous novels include Magnificence (2012), the last in a trilogy about extinction, which was shortlisted for the National Book Critics’ Circle and Los Angeles Times book awards, and Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (2005), about the physicists who invented the atomic bomb, shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Prize. Her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and a new satire, Mermaids in Paradise, will be published by W.W. Norton in fall.

Christopher L. Bennett Guest Post–”The Problem with Sherlock in a Post-Elementary World”

The recent return of the BBC’s Sherlock from its long hiatus gave television audiences our first chance to see new episodes of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s modernization of Sherlock Holmes airing alongside new episodes of its American counterpart, Robert Doherty’s Elementary. The two-year gap between Sherlock‘s second and third seasons may have acted in Elementary‘s favor, because it allowed the CBS series a season and a half to establish its own voice and identity without being in direct competition with Sherlock. But that also means that the landscape of Holmesian screen adaptations has changed during Sherlock‘s long absence, and it’s illuminating to examine it in that new context.

When Elementary was first announced, many fans of Sherlock were skeptical, expecting a cheap copy. For myself, however, I was glad to see more than one modernized Holmes; if anything, I find it puzzling that it hasn’t been done more often. Holmes was originally a very modernistic character, a scientific investigator on the cutting edge of forensic techniques that real-life police hadn’t even adopted yet—and in some cases, techniques that would not even be invented for decades, making the Holmes stories essentially science fiction in their own time (despite being set years before their publication dates). The Sherlock Holmes of the screen was originally a modern figure as well; nearly every film adaptation produced in the first half of the 20th century employed a present-day setting, with the exception of the first two Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce films in 1939. Yet for some reason, as though a switch had been flipped, the cinematic Holmes became almost exclusively a period figure from the 1950s onward. True, two unrelated (but easily confused) TV movies, 1987′s The Return of Sherlock Holmes and 1993′s Sherlock Holmes Returns, had him cryogenically preserved, awoken in the present, and partnered with a female Watson-surrogate; and two unrelated (but easily confused) animated versions, the 1988 BraveStarr episode “Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century” and the 2000 series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, transported Holmes into the future (via time warp in the former case and through the reanimation of his honey-preserved corpse in the latter). But those were all the Victorian Holmes taken out of his own time. The premise of Holmes and Watson as contemporaries of their audience, which was the norm for five decades, somehow went unexplored for the following six decades. Which is why I was so interested in Sherlock when it came along—and so pleased to see Elementary offering yet another take on the premise. Having two modern Holmes series at once struck me as compensation for the long stretch in which we had none.

My initial reaction to Sherlock, back when it was the only game in town, was that it was very much like Moffat’s Doctor Who and Jekyll: stylistically bold and brash, larger-than-life, and wildly creative, while also intensely fanboyish and metatextual. It was fun to watch, and I was intrigued by the stylistic innovations like the way phone texts were displayed on the screen; but in some ways it was overly broad and too clever for its own good. In the debut episode, “A Study in Pink”, Sherlock’s antagonist seemed too genre-savvy, talking not like a person who’d studied his detective opponent, but like a Holmes buff from our reality, speaking about Holmes as if he were writing an essay on a fictional character. The leads themselves tend to be caricatured, their personalities and relationships exaggerated to a very melodramatic level, and a rather slashy one where Holmes and Watson are concerned. And the stories rely heavily on references to, and reworkings of, elements and story beats from the Doyle canon. In essence, it feels like one big, superbly produced and acted work of fan fiction. (With some exceptions in the acting department. Andrew Scott’s Moriarty is absolutely ghastly, with a  high-pitched voice and childish, sing-song delivery that are just obnoxious.)

By the end of the second season, I’d come to realize that what bothers me most about Sherlock is that the stories aren’t really proper mysteries—just big, convoluted, over-the-top Moffaty melodramas. For instance, the central “mystery” in “A Scandal in Belgravia” was what Irene Adler’s phone password was, and the answer was just a bit of shrewd Moffatian wordplay; any other mystery elements were incidental to the character drama. Sherlock isn’t a mystery series so much as a comedy-drama about the lives and relationships of people who happen to solve mysteries. True, Doyle’s stories often stressed the characters over the mysteries as well, but not to this extent. Thus, while Sherlock was often fascinating to watch, I found it unfulfilling on some levels.

By the time Elementary came along, though, it had been a few months since Sherlock‘s second season had ended, so I was able to make a clean break and consider the new series on its own merits. At first I was lukewarm, finding Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes a little too tame and ordinary and Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson a little bland. But the show grew on me over time, developing into a solid detective procedural with richly drawn characters and often clever mysteries. While it conforms to the familiar format of American murder-mystery procedurals, it’s an excellent and intelligent example of the genre, laced with often subtle but quite clever allusions to the Holmes canon. (I was quite thrilled when I realized that a crucial clue in one episode was the fact that a guard dog did nothing in the night-time. There was no self-conscious dialogue nod to “the curious incident,” as there probably would have been in a Sherlock episode, but the inspiration was undeniable.) Simply by virtue of having more episodes, Elementary has enough room to be about both the characters and the mysteries, and to develop both with more depth and subtlety.

Thus, when Sherlock‘s third season finally did air in the US in January 2014, I discovered that its non-mystery approach stood out even more sharply by contrast, and was even more unsatisfying. When I read or watch a Holmes story, I want to see Holmes actually reasoning to a conclusion and explaining his process, not just glancing at someone and seeing a bunch of words floating in air. That was a clever technique on Sherlock‘s part several years ago, an innovative presentation of the standard routine—though always a bit redundant, just reinforcing what Holmes went on to explain in dialogue. But by now it’s become just an offhand trope with no accompanying explanation, because Moffat and Gatiss apparently aren’t interested in Holmes’s deductive process as much as they are in his so-called sociopathy, his flamboyant eccentricities, his gay subtext with Watson, and so on. They write Holmes the same way Moffat writes the Doctor, and his “methods” are just the sonic screwdriver, a plot device that can offhandedly do whatever the script requires without the need for explanation or justification. Sherlock is bold and flashy and energetic and wildly creative, but often has more style than substance. It’s on much the same level as the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, all big frenetic action and broad character beats and talented actors showing off with big bravura performances.

And yet in some ways, Sherlock’s updating of Holmes is more conventional than Elementary’s—particularly where Irene Adler and Moriarty are concerned. I’ve never been a fan of treating Irene as a love interest for Holmes; Watson’s narration in “A Scandal in Bohemia” scuttles that notion definitively. So it bothered me when Elementary established Irene as Holmes’s great lost love. But the way it’s played out has been quite clever and even touching, and it fits this show’s version of Sherlock as well as the era he inhabits. Doyle’s Holmes was a confirmed chauvinist who could not comprehend how a woman could be as logical and intelligent as himself, so Irene was a paradox he couldn’t solve. But such attitudes don’t fly for a modern Holmes, and thus Miller’s Sherlock was able to recognize Irene as his true intellectual equal and thus could love her like no other. Sherlock‘s version of the relationship plays out similarly in that respect, but I don’t think it serves Irene as well, since that version is more defined by her sexuality and her not-quite-requited love for the male lead, placing her in a more subordinate role. Elementary‘s innovation (spoiler alert) of having Irene actually be Moriarty—making both of Holmes’s intellectual equals and unbeatable rivals the same person, which is really somewhat natural in a way—allows her to be a far more empowered and equal figure, and makes the Holmes-Moriarty conflict more personal and poignant, certainly far more compelling than the cartoon villainy of Sherlock’s Jim Carrey-esque Moriarty. Sherlock modernizes Holmes mainly through technology, storytelling methods, and edgy attitude, but Elementary‘s approach to making Holmes part of our world is grounded more in the modernization of values and cultural mores, as represented by the greater gender and ethnic diversity of its cast.

But the key difference between the shows is in their portrayal of Holmes himself. Sherlock has tended to play up the “sociopath” angle more than I care for, making Holmes a caricature to whom human feeling and relationships were incomprehensible distractions. Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes is more human and relatable—still as intellectual, imperious, and eccentric as one expects Holmes to be, but not pathologically devoid of empathy, and capable of self-reflection and growth and possessing nuance that his counterpart lacks. At first, in the third-season premiere “The Empty Hearse”, there were encouraging signs that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock had evolved in a similar way, becoming more engaged with human emotion and more able to express it and understand it in others. And in “The Sign of Three”, there was some solid work with the core of the Holmes-Watson friendship, some terrific and poignant writing in Sherlock’s best-man speech. But the first half of that episode also indulged in the caricature of Holmes as completely stupid about anything pertaining to human beings or relationships, undermining the credibility of the character. He’s a keen observer, so he should be able to reason out such things at least to an extent. And the finale “His Last Vow” took the caricature to even greater extremes, portraying Holmes as such a totally unfeeling and ruthless individual that the extreme act he committed at the climax was, while not something I predicted in advance, nonetheless completely unsurprising when it happened, merely another eye-rolling indulgence in excess. What was surprising was how cavalierly the finale negated the consequences of Sherlock’s extreme act by immediately bringing Moriarty back from the dead (and no, Jim, I did not miss you) in order to give Sherlock a handy reset button. If Moffat and Gatiss didn’t want Sherlock’s climactic act to have repercussions that lasted more than three minutes, why have him do it in the first place? It felt like a case of shock value trumping substance.

What’s interesting to me is that both “His Last Vow” and the Elementary episode that aired in the same week in the US, “Corpse de Ballet”, drew on a plot point from Doyle’s “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” in which Holmes cultivated a romance and engagement with the antagonist’s housemaid merely in order to gain access to his home. The former stays fairly close to the story, having Cumberbatch’s Sherlock cultivate a weeks-long romance and use a false proposal to convince his mark to let him into a highly secure building. In the original prose tale, Holmes felt he had no choice given the high stakes of defeating Milverton, and took comfort in the fact that the housemaid had a rival suitor who could take his place; but Sherlock in “His Last Vow” shows no such trace of remorse, and the deception feels like merely another one of his routine transgressive acts. By contrast, “Corpse de Ballet” simply has Miller’s Sherlock spend the night with a suspect as a ploy to gather information—a less elaborate but much less hurtful gambit, since he made no pretense of seeking a relationship and didn’t string the woman along for weeks. This pretty much sums up the difference between the two shows: Sherlock takes everything to exaggerated extremes and makes Holmes’s behavior as outrageous as possible, whereas Elementary has shown Holmes gradually developing more humanity and empathy while still retaining his familiar eccentricities and arrogance.

And it occurred to me: From an in-story standpoint, one could chalk up the difference in the two Sherlocks at least partly to the difference between their Watsons. Watson has always been Holmes’s anchor and his filter, his interface with the rest of humanity, as it were. So change Watson and you change Holmes accordingly, or at least change how others perceive and relate to him. Elementary‘s Joan Watson came into her Sherlock’s life as a sober companion, a guide toward rehabilitation and functional behavior; thus, she’s become his conscience, a gadfly who cuts through his excuses for bad behavior and convinces him that it’s logical to show more regard for other people. But Sherlock‘s John Hamish Watson is an adrenaline junkie who thrives on danger and chaos and thus is essentially an enabler to Holmes—even as Holmes is an enabler to him. He makes a show of being outraged by Sherlock’s excesses, but does little to actually influence or change his behavior, because ultimately he doesn’t want to. So they’re Watsons of opposite polarity: John Hamish feeds his Sherlock’s excesses and addictions, while Joan tempers them in hers. Thus, Sherlock is an exercise in self-indulgence, while Elementary is a story about redemption and recovery.

Two years ago, people were expecting Elementary to be a hollow imitation of Sherlock. But Elementary has handled a modernized Holmes so well that it makes Sherlock seem rather superficial and self-conscious by comparison—loaded with style but not big on substance. To be fair, I do wish that Elementary could adopt some of Sherlock‘s flexibility and not be so locked into the American formula of making every case a murder mystery. But on the whole, at least to me, Sherlock now feels like a rough draft and Elementary the more sophisticated second try. To put it a bit more harshly, Sherlock is like a kid jumping up and down and saying “Hey, look what I can do!”, while Elementary is like an adult who’s figured oneself out and is comfortable in one’s own skin. The former can be more fun to watch in some ways, but it can also be irritating and a lot less reliable. Looking at Sherlock now, I find myself wishing it would grow up.

Really, though, the fact that the two modernized-Holmes shows are so completely different is a powerful argument against the preconception that revisiting a character or concept must be imitative or pointless. It proves that you can do a variety of distinct and worthwhile things with the same basic characters and premises, that good stories are worth retelling and reinventing. I prefer Elementary’s approach, but there are many who prefer Sherlock’s, and that’s the value of remaking and transforming a franchise to develop different facets of its potential. Holmes has been portrayed in many ways over the decades, and that adaptability is part of the reason he’s the most frequently portrayed character in screen history. We now have three distinct, coexisting screen versions of Holmes, counting the Downey movies; and while many may consider three simultaneous Sherlocks excessive, personally I’m not sure it’s nearly enough.

 

About the Author:

Christopher L. Bennett is a science fiction novelist from Cincinnati, Ohio and the author of multiple critically acclaimed Star Trek novels from Pocket Books, including the Star Trek: Enterprise—Rise of the Federation series, whose second installment, Tower of Babel, was released in March 2014. His original novel Only Superhuman, perhaps the first hard science fiction superhero novel, was voted Library Journal’s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012.

Two Mini-Roundtables: Award Jinxes and “The Future of the Mind”

1) Award Jinxes

The 2014 Academy Awards made me think of various “curses” that have become associated with the Oscars over the years—the “F. Murray Abraham syndrome,” for example, named after the actor, on failing to develop a high-profile career after winning the award, or the “Oscar love curse,” a superstition regarding the Best Actress categories that foretells an imminent divorce after receiving the statuette. Are there any such jinxes associated with sf/f/h accolades? Are writers’ or artists’ creativity impaired after winning a Hugo or Nebula? Any negative effects of awards in sf at all? 

John Clute

Except for a couple of lifetime awards, and the SFWA’s “Emeritus” award—the word “emeritus” does not mean “worthy”; it means “past it”—awards are so obviously double-edged it need not be said: but hey. 1) They instill mystificatory numen into something written or done, so that what is given an award to is hinged with some small (or large-ish) magic, which sounds fine, but 2) can maggot into writers’s heads when they’re at the raw keyboard, because the magic of the awarded work was not intrinsic to the task of writing but extrinsic, bestowed, delphic. So the writer is cursed by the god.
Gosh we suffer so much…

Elizabeth Hand

That’s a funny idea and worthy of a Connie Willis story. I can’t think of any particular awards jinxes, though for some years any magazine I wrote for seemed doomed to go under. Now of course ALL magazines are going under, so probably there was no causal relationship.

James Patrick Kelly

I wonder if the deafening silence on this question isn’t because we writers know that meditating on the whys and wherefores of awards is an invitation to madness. A couple of months ago, while casting around for a topic for my Asimov’s column, I decided to type 1700 words about the Nebulas. I can’t say that I am a better person—or writer—for it. There can be no question that Nebula Awards have gone to some fine and important work, but I think that it is all that can be reasonably said about them. Consider that Avram Davidson and Bruce Sterling are currently tied for the most nominations without a Nebula Award with ten, followed by Thomas M. Disch with nine and R. A. Lafferty and Maureen McHugh with seven. Or that Iain Banks, Elizabeth Bear, Jonathan Carroll, Kit Reed and Greg Egan have never been nominated. When the Nebula—or any award—purports to honor the best, might some not want to query the FCC with regards to a truth-in-advertising complaint?

I think the ever-insightful John Clute has it right about the real curse: awards awareness can easily become a maggot in a writer’s imagination. Making, or failing to make, a ballot is an arbitrary function of who published what excellent work, where and when in any given year. Nothing any of us can do about that. And winning can have its own pitfalls by creating an illusory standard for subsequent work. Fear the dreaded reviews: “Not the equal of his acclaimed.…” or “Best known for her 1994 award winning novella….” And of course there will be the self-proclaimed fan who sidles up to you at a con and asks, “When are you going to write another like… ?”

Of course, it is unseemly for those who have been showered by the pixie dust of a nomination—and especially a win—to whine about it. So I will stop.

Nancy Kress

What Jim said is exactly right, on every single count. You nailed it, Jim.

Russell Letson

Not about jinxes or the effects of awards on artists:

I’m a civilian in these matters, having never won so much as a raffle, but the whole awards game reminds me of the ten-best/must-read-list game: It’s an almost-inevitable human activity that nevertheless strikes me as somewhere between inadequate and irrelevant as a way of mapping or evaluating something as complex and various as the state of an art. This year’s acting Oscars were a pretty clear example of trying to choose a “best” from a field of excellent but not necessarily comparable performances. The stronger the field, the less sense it makes to single out just one—so in a way, a “recommended” list is a notch or two better as a way of recognizing quality. But the more interesting conversation is a conversation (my bias as a reviewer and critic is showing here) in which something more substantial than the toting-up of thumbs or stars or statuettes occurs.

 

2) “The Future of the Mind”

I’ve been reading Michio Kaku’s latest popular science book, The Future of the Mind, and in the first section, which focuses on the way the human brain works, he presents a working definition of human consciousness and relates it back to the way we use our prefrontal cortex.

What have famous SF works had to say about the nature of human consciousness, if anything? What visionary or mundane extrapolations about our minds and awareness has SF graced us with? Is the nature of the human mind a core SF preoccupation, a fringe one, or perhaps something in which SF isn’t interested at all? Are there specific subgenres that deal with it more than others?

Siobhan Carroll

To some extent an interest in human consciousness underlies much of SF. For example, if we follow Brian Aldiss’s lead and identify Frankenstein as the first sci-fi novel, we can see this issue explored in its descriptions of the Creature’s awakening (which were informed by the psychological theories of Shelley’s day).

In granting the Creature consciousness, Shelley is also interrogating the relationship between consciousness and identity. Is character the product of biological accident combined with experience, or does something invisible, like a soul, play an essential role? If you can prove a being has consciousness, should it be accorded the same rights and status as a human being? Fear of the “Singularity” arguably gets its first airing in Frankenstein‘s tale of the creation and possible propagation of an artificial being.

Lately I think we’ve seen texts interested in exploring more fluid versions of consciousness and identity. Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, in which an embodied AI used to being a hive-mind struggles to navigate cultures as a singular “human” is a perfect example of this kind of play. Read more »

Elizabeth Bear Guest Post–”The Worm in the Apple”

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I have… opinions.

That probably won’t come as a shock to anybody who has ever met me, or seen me on a panel, or read my blog. Or read one of my books.

Those opinions are the reason I write those books.

Specifically, I write books in order to have arguments with myself, or with other books, or with the world at large. While there’s certainly a place in the world for didactic literature (from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, books with an agenda are not going away) they will never be what I write.

Because I’ve never been interested, thematically, in writing about questions that I think I know the answers to.

But while the argument is where I come in–it’s my motivation, as the actor playing me in the movie of my life would say–all arguments aside, a story isn’t much good if it doesn’t, you know, tell a story. (Well, not entirely true. I do have some tolerance for meandering plotless fiction, though it’s generally not what I write.)

So: the book needs to be about the book first, and the argument has to exist in that space as naturally as a worm in an apple core.

I’m not interested in churching my readers, and never have been. Partly because I really have never believed there are one-size-fits-all answers to any problem, and the world in general rewards the imposition of moral absolutes with the creation of absolute horror.

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At a Boskone some years ago, Alexander Jablokov said: “Others write comedies of manners; New Englanders write comedies of ethics.”

Which ties in usefully to the first thing–the one about not being interested in writing books where I already know the answers.I am, guilty as charged, a New Englander. And I must admit that this is exactly what I do. I put a bunch of different people in completely morally untenable situations, and then I heat their feet until they have to jump one way or the other.

Which brings us to the Eternal Sky books: Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and the one that’s published today, Steles of the Sky.

These books came about in part because I love epic fantasy, and also because I wanted to argue with it. (The worst fights are always with the people we love.)

I wanted to argue with its often static empires, its sometimes uncritical (or enthusiastic) monarchism, its Eurocentrism, its moral certitudes. I wanted to talk about economics, and elitism, and the politics of marginalized groups, and all that good stuff. Read more »

Eileen Gunn Guest Post–”Quick! Act Without Thinking!”

Locus Online has very kindly asked me inaugurate their new series of guest blog-posts by talking about my just-released short-story collection, Questionable Practices.

The stories, of course, concern well-intentioned but highly questionable decisions on the part of people who act faster than they think. If they’d thought twice, or maybe three times, they would never have followed the sasquatch into a cave, or gone bowling with frozen turkeys, or set the time machine for the Middle Ages. You wouldn’t do any of these things, would you? If you would, these stories explain why you might want to reconsider.

When I chose the title for my collection, it occurred to me that it served as a description of my writing process as well. My practices are few, and too irregular to be called a system: they are highly questionable. And I have to admit, they slow me down.

I used to think I had writer’s block, but I think it’s more accurate to say that sometimes it just takes me a while to figure out what I’m doing. I’ve learned to deal with this by ignoring it: I just keep writing through the part where I don’t know what’s going on, instead of stopping to think about it.

Deadlines are useful here, as are timed writing bursts: they focus my attention on getting words on paper, not so much on what I’m saying. Once I have words on paper, I have something to edit, and I feel more in control of the story. Read more »

Roundtable on Samuel R. Delany, Grand Master

In December 2013, Samuel R. Delany was named Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master by SFWA. Delany has influenced science-fiction and fantasy, and literature in general, in different ways—as fiction writer, critic, theorist, memoirist, editor, teacher. How has Delany influenced your own work or views on writing and literature? For readers who haven’t read much by Delany, is there such a thing as a Delany “gateway” story, novel or essay?

Rachel Swirsky

As someone who got to support Steven Gould in his choice of Delany, I’d like to start off by saying, “Yay!”

Marie Brennan

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read much of his fiction—some of the Neveryon stuff, and a few short stories, but little else so far. I did, however, use About Writing and The Jewel-Hinged Jaw as textbooks for a course I taught this past summer, on speculative fiction creative writing. My students were all twelve, which most people would say is too young for Delany… but it was part of Duke’s TIP program for gifted students, and we were told to design our syllabi like entry-level college courses, crammed into three weeks. So I thought, if I’m going to melt my students’ brains into goo, I might as well melt them with the best!

Fabio Fernandes

Delany has been a great influencer of my worldview and of my work since I started, writing in Portuguese in the late eighties, and now more than ever (I had the supreme honor and pleasure of having him as my instructor last July at Clarion West in Seattle, for crying out loud–it doesn’t get much better than this). He inspired me to write in a non-linear way (but never forgetting to tell a story, or stories) and to write in different POVs, genderwise. My gateway drug to Delany was Aye, and Gomorrah in my late twenties, and then Babel-17. Speaking of non-fiction, I’d strongly recommend About Writing, but recently I read Conversations with Samuel R. Delany, edited by Carl Freedman, and it was the most delightful reading I had in a while.

Cat Rambo

Delany’s The Fall of the Towers was the first adult SF I ever read. My father brought it back from an airport PB rack and I must have read it five or six times in my teens.

His book About Writing has been tremendously useful to me and when stuck I sometimes do what he calls “writing to discover,” focusing on transcribing the moment in the story and letting the act of transcribing tell me what comes next.

As far as gateway—I love Nova, Babel-17, and The Fall of the Towers. I consider his Neveryon books important to fantasy–perhaps even paving the way for the “grittier” generations to come, but they’re something to be sampled separately from the SF.

Delany is amazing. Moments in his writing blow me away, make me stop and marvel how he’s constructed them. He awes me with his virtuosity and courage in writing.

As a sidenote, I got to read with him in New York a few years back. That was one of the top ten occasions of my life. Thrilling!

Fabio Fernandes

Chip is an amazing person. He reads beautifully, and he’s charming and funny. I should add that he can also deconstruct most completely your story while being warm, witty, and encouraging. With that formidable white beard of his, he should also be named Zeus of the Grand Masters’ Pantheon!

Paul Witcover

Nowadays I frequently teach “Aye, and Gomorrah…”, and use Dhalgren as well for teaching purposes. There is no novel more central to my experience of science fiction or of writing. I can’t really put it any better than I did back in 1999 (!), reviewing a reissue of The Einstein Intersection for The New York Review of Science Fiction:

“When I was a teenager growing up in the geographic and temporal suburb of the 70s, a voracious reader of all things science fictional, with aspirations of breaking into the field myself one day, no writer loomed larger in my private pantheon of SF gods than Samuel R. Delany. I knew next to nothing about him. It was enough that he—and his books—existed. My friends and I invoked his surname with the kind of reverential awe kids our age normally reserved for rock stars. And in fact Delany was a rock star to us, right up there with other one-named wonders like Hendrix and Bowie. Not just because he was young and hip and wrote about sex and drugs in ways guaranteed to piss off our parents. There was a supremely musical quality to his prose such as I had never before encountered or even imagined possible. His style was incisive, poetic, complex, allusive and elusive, alive with swirling, clashing melodies woven layer upon layer. It was beautiful, disturbing, hallucinatory. It was also, and somehow most of all, a miracle of translucence able to communicate, as if effortlessly, truths beyond the everyday capacity of language to convey or of reason to comprehend. At least my language, my reason. It rocked.”

Ellen Datlow

I love Delany’s short stories, especially “Aye, and Gomorrah…”, which as story and as part of Dangerous Visions has had an enormous influence on me becoming an editor. It showed me that sexuality and gender could be fruitfully explored in a field that at the time was not doing so.

I also love Dhalgren, which entranced me when I read it in my early 20s.

Jack Skillingstead

My intro to Delany was The Einstein Intersection. It wasn’t so much what he was writing about as how he was writing about it. What he could do with words was like some kind of magic. At the time I was reading a lot of Nabokov, which had been perfect preparation for my early Delany encounters. Right away I picked up the Signet short story collection, Driftglass. Just stunningly good. Then it was on to Nova and others. Delany became a major influence on my own writing method. His essay on process, which first appeared in Those Who Can (writers who were also teachers) provided validation for what I considered my own angsty, self-doubting approach. Delany was all for doubt. It made you better. And the way he talked about finding the exactly right arrangement of words and how that sharpened the writer’s interior vision—this was great stuff.

Andy Duncan

I keep returning to where I started with Delany, the stories in his collection Driftglass. I was only 7 years old when that volume came out in 1971, so I read it much later, in my 20s. I remember scanning the table of contents, slowing down quickly as I began to read the titles aloud: “Aye, and Gomorrah…”, “Time Considered as a Helix of Semiprecious Stones”, “We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line”.

Then I turned to the story openings, my favorite of which is still the unforgettable “High Weir” (“Boiled potatoes! My God, boiled potatoes!”), with “Time Considered as a Helix” right behind. It begins: “Lay ordinate and abscissa on the century. Now cut me a quadrant. Third quadrant if you please. I was born in ’fifty. Here it is ’seventy-five.”

That collection still reads like the state of the art, and its range, wit, priorities, and cadences still inspire me.

Just behind that collection, in terms of its personal impact, is Delany’s memoir The Motion of Light in Water, as beautiful and brave as the fiction. I want to put in a plug, too, for the Quark anthologies co-edited by Delany and Marilyn Hacker, which never have gotten their due. His non-fiction collection Silent Interviews is a trove of inspiration. Well, I could name all the books, of course. They’re all troves of inspiration.

When I was in graduate school at North Carolina State, Delany came to campus to do a reading, and John Kessel loomed over my cubicle wall that morning and said, “You want to go to lunch with me and Chip Delany?” Guess what my answer was. Just guess. I joined them, but I don’t remember saying anything, or eating anything. I just gaped at Delany, amazed that anyone could be so off-the-cuff brilliant and simultaneously relaxed, conversational, and charming. I still gape at him. Delany is an excellent illustration of Joe and Gay Haldeman’s rule of convention panels: Decide what to attend based not on the topic, but on the panelists. If “Uncle Chip,” as I think of him, is on the panel, then I go. He seems not only to have read everything, but to have thought about all of it, and to have seen how it’s all connected.

Delany’s novel Empire Star ends this way: “In this vast multiplex universe there are almost as many worlds called Rhys as there are places called Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a beginning. It’s an end. I leave to you the problem of ordering your perceptions and making the journey from one to the other.” To me, that passage encapsulates part of Delany’s necessity. He’s a happy, multiplex citizen of our multiplex universe, and he leaves us such glorious problems to work on!

Karen Joy Fowler

I also started with Driftglass. I loved those stories; they were some of the first science fiction I ever read and I thought that I hadn’t understood before how close to poetry science fiction was in its precision and its sweep. I never worked with Delany, but I took a class from Stan Robinson who had him as a Clarion instructor so I got a lot of great Chip advice channeled through the inestimable Robinson. I remember reading an interview with him in Science Fiction Eye after I’d begun to publish and finding the parts I understood to be awesome and the parts I didn’t understand to be awesome too in ways I didn’t understand. When I finally met him, he turned out not to be scary at all! He talked to me about some of the contemporary writers he particularly admired (hello, Nancy Kress) and it was wonderful to see how attentive and generous he was to other writers. Smart, well we all knew that, but also lively and funny and one hell of a mafia player.

Russell Letson

I remember reading Delany pretty much in order as the Ace novels appeared. I was a college undergrad and understood that he was only a couple years older than I was, but that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. A half-century later (and with several decades spent looking over my wife’s shoulder at undergraduate creative-writing work), I’m amazed. Musicians and mathematicians peak early, but I’ve come to expect very young writers to produce work lacking in both substance and chops. Delany came on like a Charlie Parker or Charlie Christian, with no (visible) fumbling apprenticeship period. He did wonderful, surprising things with familiar tropes. I followed the fiction right up to Dahlgren, which stopped me cold, twice. I did enjoy Triton, but the fiction that followed just didn’t do anything for me. I’m not sure what I would discover about either the books I enjoyed or the ones I bounced off were I to revisit them now. Various insights and observations from the essays have long since been field-stripped, sorted, and stowed in the toolbox with the serial numbers filed off. Seems very appropriate that his Grand Master title includes the name of another always-surprising and critically-inventive writer (whose analytical gadgets are also in that toolbox jumble).

Gardner Dozois

I picked up all of Delany’s Ace Books one by one as they appeared, most from a newsstand in a subway station in what used to be Scolley Square in Boston, from The Jewels of Aptor on, and became more impressed with every one. There was nothing else like them being done in the science fiction of the day. I remember staying up all night to finish The Fall of the Towers trilogy, and still think it’s a great work, and too-little read today, even by Delany fans. “Driftglass” remains one of my favorite SF stories ever. By the time Nova came out, I was in complete agreement with A.J. Budrys that Delany was the best science fiction writer in the world.

Michael Dirda

Given that Delany was so wonderful when a young writer, what happened? Why have his later books proven to be so problematic? Have we, as readers, simply not been able to keep up with him? Or did his prodigious intellectuality gradually inhibit anything resembling conventional storytelling? His career—prodigy, master, academic, grand old man—isn’t all that unusual, except that he and most of science fiction diverged and have never, it would seem, really come back together again. Chip is admired, envied and loved, but his later books don’t seem to be much read. Perhaps they’re simply too difficult or tendentious. I don’t really know. But it must be hard when people only to want to talk about the stuff you wrote when you were in your twenties and thirties.

Elizabeth Hand

Delany was the reason I decided to write SF. I read Dhalgren when it first came out in 1974 and realized that science fiction could be so much more than I’d imagined—I was a fan of SF movies and Judith Merrill’s anthologies, but hadn’t grown up on Heinlein juveniles or the like. Dhalgren blew my mind, as we said back in the day. I then went and read everything I could find by Delany, and kept up with each new novel as it was published, as well as with The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, one of the best non-fiction works ever written on the genre. As far as a gateway work, I’d go with the stories in Driftglass, though any ambitious reader can’t go wrong with Dhalgren or Trouble on Triton.

What Paul Witcover said. I’ll add to that the fact that I first met Paul in 1980, when we bonded over our shared love of Delany’s work. No better way to meet and begin a 34-year-long collaborative friendship.

Gardner Dozois

I think Dhalgren is the turning point. Those who were into his work before Dhalgren tended to react less well to it afterward; those who started with Dhalgren perhaps had less difficulty with and more appreciation for his later work. Like Russell, Dhalgren stopped me cold two or three times, and I never did finish it. There were things I liked about his later SF novels, like Triton, but I can’t honestly say I appreciated them as much as I appreciated some of his earlier stuff, and if I’d hit Dhalgren or even Triton first, without having read the early stuff, I don’t know how much of a Delany fan I would have become. (I never got into the Neveryon books either.)

I think a clue to what changed can be seen in Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. The first half of that book is paced like a runaway freight-train, as headlong and exciting as anything Delany ever wrote, and I remember thinking “Wow, the old Delany is back!” The second half of the book slows way, way down, and tends to get bogged down in minutia. A lot of what a lot of us liked about early Delany is that he mated headlong adventure pacing and storytelling with more complex and sophisticated content. Later on, he pretty much gave up on that.

Brian Evenson

I’m probably the odd exception in this list in that I’m equally a fan of both ends of Chip’s SF work (both early and late—middle too if there is a middle) as well as his post-SF work, and feel that, despite the obvious and profound differences between the two, there are some real points of continuity as well (philosophically, in terms of interest in language, in terms of the approach to gender and sexuality, etc.). I tend to feel that each side of his work informs the other in a way that gives it more intensity and depth, and that the more widely you read in Delany’s body of work, the harder it is not to admire him.

The book I came to first was Babel-17, and I still remain fond of it, though I don’t think it’s the best of those early books. I do think that Gardner’s right and that Dhalgren is a turning point, and one’s response to it is probably a pretty good indicator of what one is likely to think of the work that follows. At the same time I’d like to think that there are more people like me out there, people who think of Delany’s work as representing a worthwhile continuity from beginning to end—even if moments of that continuity are challenging reads indeed.

I think the short stories now gathered in Aye, and Gomorrah are terrific, and I find myself going back to my favorites among them often (including, like Ellen, that title story). I’m teaching his “Some Notes for the Intermediate and Advanced Creative Writing Student” in my Form and Theory of Narrative class this semester, and teach it or other parts of About Writing often. I re-read and reviewed Hogg when it was reprinted a few years ago and still found it an incredibly tough book, but also think it’s the kind of book that is much harder on you if you get halfway through it and don’t finish it than if you work your way through to the end. It’s the kind of book that I admire despite still feeling its claw marks on me. I also am glad that Chip wrote it so that I didn’t feel that I had to do it myself. Very fond in a strange, prickly way of Phallos and The Mad Man as well, and see a kind of bridge between Dhalgren and The Mad Man in terms of connecting the SF and the non-SF work. But I’m just as happy reading The Ballad of Beta-2 or Empire Star or Nova. And like Andy, The Motion of Light in Water had a big impact on me. I was surprised by Dark Reflections, which strikes me as quite different from Delany’s other work, wonderfully ruminative. And I was very privileged both to be one of the dedicatees for Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders and to introduce Chip when he read from it at Saint Marks Bookstore.

For me personally, it’s been the range of the work that’s been important, and the idea that you don’t have to just keep writing in the way you begin. Delany’s had many shifts as a writer, gaining and losing portions of his audience along the way, but as I say, I think that if you spend enough time with the work it feels less and less like it should be corralled into different camps or periods and more like a continuity. He started as an SF writer and then took his concerns into other arenas; I saw that as encouragement to let me know I could do the reverse.

I’d go on to talk about how Chip is one of the kindest people I’ve met (which is in fact true), but then it starts to sound too much like a eulogy. I’m going to insist on a few more books from him before I get out the shovel. :)

Rachel Swirsky

I agree that “Aye, and Gomorrah…” is a great place to start.

I really have a lot of affection for Trouble on Triton which I think is very accessible, but I would warn readers who are considering picking it up for the first time to be prepared for poor treatment of trans issues; it plays off of the discredited idea of autogynephilia.

John Clute

It was an accident but culpable for anyone seriously interested in SF, but I am still waiting to read Chip properly, to go back to the beginning decade and immerse, and then climb onwards. Dhalgren blindsided me with information overload, perhaps through its agglutinations, and I was maybe too old for that city. The kid left behind in Hamelin by the Piper, my loss. Chip himself I’ve known for more than 40 years, in various turns of the kaleidoscope of his life, and cherish each of those times, and will see him again this side of.

Elizabeth Hand

Gardner’s is an interesting point. I started with Dhalgren and loved Triton, but when I worked backwards and read the early novels, I thought they were thin and found them far less appealing. I’m not sure I would have started with them and kept reading. I first read Dhalgren when I was seventeen and still in high school, so it was definitely aspirational reading (with a LOT of graphic sex). But there was genuine mystery there, too, and I loved trying to tease meaning from the story. Most of all, Delany’s fictional Bellona remains an urban landscape nearly as vivid to me as anything I’ve encountered in the real world. It’s an amazing achievement.

I loved Stars in My Pocket and was always sorry he never completed the sequence—although the hardcover copy I read was missing a signature (a bound-in section of pages, for those of you too young to remember carbon-based books), and it took me a while to figure out a whole chunk of the novel was missing. I thought the fractured storyline was a narrative experiment!

I could never get into the Neveryon books. I diligently read them, but found them deadly boring.

Paul Graham Raven

Apart from the canonical few anthologised shorts, I found Delany very late. In truth, my first extended encounter with him was About Writing, which Farah had put on the preliminary reading list of my Masters course; when it turned up, I originally planned to just dip into it, but ended up pretty much reading it end to end over the course of a week. All of the individual pieces are fine things in and of themselves, but collected together they form something that feels like a form of autobiography, and I think it was the sense of an incredibly fascinating, gentle and profound person slowly revealing themselves while seemingly talking about something else entirely that pulled me through the whole thing.

(I couldn’t write a word for weeks afterwards, ironically enough. No sugar coating on those pills.)

Since then I’ve read Triton, and made two assaults on Mount Dhalgren, neither to completion; it’s an odd book, you’ve got to be in the right sort of headspace to even be able to navigate the text (a headspace much like Bellona itself, in fact), and I have yet to return with sufficient time (and bottled oxygen) for the final ascent. But this thread’s a handy reminder that there’s a rich trove of Delany books that I have yet to read and will likely enjoy, whenever I next get a period in my life when I can read whatever the hell I want for its own sake….

*eyes PhD schedule* *whimpers slightly*

Guy Gavriel Kay

Dhalgren may be one of a very small category of books where you must read them young (I did) but you can’t read them young. The impact received by a teen is not the impact delivered, and later, too many other things intervene. I remember being blown away, but am not sure now how that took place and it didn’t leave footprints, only a lingering aura.

Paul Graham Raven

Yeah, I can see that; sorta like how each generation has its important albums, and you can appreciate the earlier ones when you discover them later (I didn’t really discover Pink Floyd until the late nineties, f’rex; my parents’ idea of music was Crystal Gayle and John Denver), but the ones of your own era are gonna be more in tune with your own generational sense of zeitgeist and angst.

While they’re very different in terms of style (not to mention size!), I can see Jeff Noon’s Vurt being something of a Dhalgren for us GenX/Y types; both of them crystallised something about being a reckless and confused adolescent in chaotic yet thrilling times, perhaps.

Kathleen Ann Goonan

My intro to Delany was not until 1988, when I attended Clarion West. Someone recommended Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. Stunning title! Stunning book. I loved it, and moved on to Dhalgren. I think I’ve read all of it, though not in a linear way. I’d read long stretches for the prose and the delicious sense of not knowing what in the world was going on and not really caring. I thought that eventually it would all resolve, but I don’t think it did, so it is glimpses of a world that has weight and sense but that I still do not completely understand—just like life.

I enjoyed all of his literary theory books, and About Writing is the one book I have my writing students buy. It is not full of rules, but has information that a writer can relate to, in different ways, no matter what her progress along the path may be.

As to his humor, I told him a few years ago at Readercon that I found it very useful in my classes. He said, “I do too,” and grinned.

Andy Duncan

Michael Dirda is brave to point out the elephant in the room. Here’s one way to look at it.

Within the rank-and-file sf community, sex is still a touchy subject, far more touchy than, say, violence or politics—though, if you involve sex in either of those topics, so that you’re focusing on sexual violence or sexual politics, the community becomes hyper-prickly; for a single recent example among dozens, witness the opposition, in some circles, to instituting even the most common-sense harassment policies at conventions.

So in writing about sex from virtually the beginning of his career, and being increasingly open about his own sex life in all its complexity, Delany has put himself on an increasingly confrontational position with the SF community he clearly loves—and that clearly loves him.

Granted, one needn’t be a prude to recoil at the pedophilia or coprophagy or rape that Delany writes about, but I’m thinking, instead, of his wonderful memoir, The Motion of Light in Water. While the subtitle, accurately, is “Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village”, the sexual content of that book, as I recall it from having last read it years ago, involves homosexuality, bisexuality, what used to be called “open relationships,” and casual sex with strangers in public places. While these are certainly minority pursuits, they shouldn’t shock us, either, and they shouldn’t be unpleasant simply to read about—certainly not by 1988, when the book was published.

I have praised that book for years, on panels and in private conversations, with scores of people in the sf community—and on multiple occasions, people have responded with discomfort, regret (“That was Too Much Information for me”), or outright disgust (“Ewwwww!”). Not everyone, mind you, and not most people, but enough.

Delany has lived with these responses for a long time, is fully aware of them, and has thought a lot about them. Of course they aren’t limited to the SF community, though they were commonplace enough within that community even in the 1960s for Frederik Pohl to unforgettably skewer them in his 1966 story “Day Million”: “Who the hell wants to read about a couple of queers?” (That may be a misquote, as my cat Hillary is asleep in my lap, and I don’t want to disturb her just to walk to my Pohl shelf, but I bet I’ve got it right; it’s that sort of sentence.) And so Delany keeps right on pushing those buttons, and adding new buttons and pushing them, harder and harder.

He’s telling us, insistently, something about ourselves, and—unsurprisingly—that doesn’t always go over very well. Much easier just to talk about the early work, that was published when Chip, and we, were young.

Ellen Datlow

But his early work was quite open and transgressive about sex (“Aye, and Gomorrah…” and Dhalgren).

Gardner Dozois

I think for the purposes of this conversation, “early work” is shaking down to “pre-Dhalgren.” Certainly Dhalgren contained much more explicit
sex than anything that Delany had written up to that point.

Ellen Datlow

I only came to Delany with Dhalgren and “Aye, and Gomorrah…” so, to me they’re his “earlier” work.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

If I may be so bold as to jump in for a second, I’m struck by how Jo Walton’s review of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders on <Tor.com> in 2012 lines up with what Andy is saying about button-pushing:

Valley of the Nest of Spiders is a very good book. I cried at the end, not just standing water in my eyes but real choking sobs. And it’s great science fictional speculation. But my goodness it’s a difficult book to read. It’s as if Delany tried as hard as he possibly could to make it hard for me to enjoy.”

Early work contains explicit and transgressive sex, but I think not the extensive engagement with coprophagia and snot-eating reported in Spiders. Though we focus on these elements perhaps at our peril.

Gardner Dozois

I knew a woman who doggedly made her way through Dhalgren over a period of several years, and she reported that “after page 300, it gets really interesting.”

Brian Evenson

Yes, I agree with Andy, and agree as well with Jo Walton’s review: much of Chip’s more recent work is marvelous, but also very difficult to read.  I think if you don’t read through to the end, you just end up with the difficulty, rather than feeling like you’ve “undergone” something and come out of it to something quite rewarding. But of course that asks for a lot for readers, and asks too for us to share interests and obsessions that we might not share in our day to day lives. But I don’t mind sharing them for the length of a book, even a very long book….

Paul Di Filippo

Ah, Gardner, you forget Tides of Lust (1973), which prompts my own Delany story.

I had been reading Chip’s SF religiously and with great excitement up to 1973. My reactions to those early books pretty much mirror everything already said here.

Then I walked into a somewhat sleazy convenience store one day and on the spinner rack of mass-markets saw a mauve/lavender Lancer paperback, its otherwise unadorned cover bearing the title Tides of Lust and the Delany byline. How could I resist?

Talk about mind-blowing new directions for an author we all thought we knew! Here was the first hint of Chip’s capacious and roving mind-body quest. That book is a perfect little gem of its kind. If Dhalgren equals Little, BigTides of Lust equals Engine Summer. I imprinted on that book so hard, that decades later I had to write my response, A Mouthful of Tongues. Then, guess what? Having become friends with Chip, I dared to ask him for a blurb, which he kindly supplied.

Circle closed.

And oh yeah: someday ask Chip about the two times he and I read aloud simultaneously from his Atlantis, the segment where the page has dual columns. Now, that was a HAPPENING!

Michael Dirda

Do you think that Chip lost interest in commercial publishing after he entered academia? I wonder if his passion for ideas—for thinking brilliantly about literature and culture—led him ever deeper to into the seductive glades of theory, to the detriment of storyteling, in part because he was living in an environment that valued and rewarded such writing. Who, after all, is his audience these days? Many of his later books remind me of the philosophical pornography one associates with such French intellectuals as Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Pierre Klossowski and others.

Brian Evenson

I think it happened before that, Michael, that Chip was already well on the way to moving in his own direction by the time he took an academic job. It might have been just a way to support continuing to do what he wanted to do….

Russell Letson

SF has (as just about every history of the field written since, oh, 1970 acknowledges) had speculative or transgressive or mildly uncomfortable/unconventional dealings with sexuality (and even the Acts Themselves) at least since Farmer’s The Lovers and various bits of Sturgeon (and perhaps, outside the pulp borderlands, since Stapledon). Paul Di Filippo’s post indicates that Delany’s interest in sexual matters was always there, and I suspect that his increasingly open and/or challenging treatment of them is at least partly a result of a post-Sixties public environment that allowed such expressions without fear of engaging the Porn Police. I also suspect that this is distinct from the other part of his trajectory, into increasingly “difficult” or esoteric literary modes. (Not unlike Joyce’s trajectory from Dubliners to the Wake. Does that make Dhalgren Ulysses?)

The thing about transgressive art is that it is meant to be transgressive—not just teasing or faux-shocking (Ooh! He said “pee-pee”!) for an easily épaté’d bourgeoisie, but actually discomforting (or frightening or disorienting or disgusting). When I read that a book could not have been published ten or twenty years earlier because it’s transgressive, I am unlikely to be attracted to it. At my age, with my reading and life experience, with my imagination (educated by contemplation of the lovely 20th century), I don’t know that I need all that much transgressing-at, and I certainly don’t look to second-hand transgression as a leisure activity. If I find a work neither dulce nor utile, I’ll pass. I have become squeamish in my old age. I will never re-read Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon or Phil Farmer’s Image of the Beast. (I stopped reading horror decades ago.) As for the appeal of the difficult or avante-garde or merely knotty, that’s a matter of taste, for which famously there’s no accounting.

Ellen Datlow

Certainly, but those examples are exceptions.

Gardner Dozois

It may be that Delany’s interest in expressing sexual matters in his work was always there, but that he couldn’t get away with publishing it, in an A-list trade book, much before Dhalgren, just as Heinlein’s interest in sex was clearly always there, but he couldn’t get away with putting much of it into his books before the publishing environment had changed (and perhaps until he’d become enough of a bestselling author that he could refuse to cut it from the text and get away with it). People don’t remember how prudish a field SF was, for the most part (with an occasional exception, like Farmer’s famously controversial “The Lovers”) until well into the late ’60s/early ’70s, when even mentioning that characters had had sex was frowned upon, and DESCRIBING it in any sort of detail was completely beyond the pale (as was using “dirty words”), but I started publishing in the mid-’60s, and had been submitting manuscripts for some years before that, and I remember it. Fred Pohl went through my first published story and careful changed every “damn” to “darn,” for instance. The “dirtiest” SF book I’d ever read up to about 1965 or so, the one with the most explicit sexual content, was Edgar Pangborn’s Davy—which carried an enthusiastic blurb from Heinlein.

F. Brett Cox

An interesting discussion; sorry I’m coming late to it. A few observations, mostly echoing what others have already said.

My initiation into SF was, like many, via Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke/Bradbury, but that all blew wide open when I read Dangerous Visions at an impressionable age. That book contained “Aye, and Gomorrah…”, which was my first encounter with Delany. After that, I devoured his work, along with that of the other “New Wave” writers, especially Delany’s own glimmer twin Roger Zelazny. I confess I’m not as well-read in his later work as I should be.

Those early, richly literate works pointed me in a direction I wanted to golike Karen, I was astonished that SF could Do That. Much, much later, encountering Delany’s criticism was an equally liberating experience. And ditto to Andy’s praise of The Motion of Light in Water, one of the best literary memoirs I’ve ever read.

As for sex, and pre/post-Dhalgren, and all that: I’ve taught “Aye, and Gomorrah…” more than once, and I continue to be astonished at its power to unsettle my students. Lord knows how they’d react to the later, more explicit work. But it seems to me that early vs. later Delany isn’t so much a matter of shorter vs. longer or less explicit vs. more explicit. It’s a matter of an artist at different stages of his career. The differences among, say, The Einstein Intersection and Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand and Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders isn’t that the second is a more fully developed work than the first or that the third may (I confess I haven’t read it yet) contain passages God would not touch wearing latex gloves. The difference is that the first was written by someone in his twenties, the second by someone in his forties, and the third by someone in his sixties. I would hope that three such different periods of life would produce three very different books.

Ditto also to those who have spoken of Delany’s staggering erudition, warmth, and good humor, which I’ve experienced on convention panels (as both audience and participant) and, happily, less formal conversation. How has Delany influenced us? Ask the well-established-in-his-own-right writer who, upon meeting Chip for the first time, automatically addressed him as “Mr. Delany” and shyly asked if he could take a selfie of the two of them. Ask my academic colleagues who respond with vague politeness when I mention my writing of, and about, SF, but zero in when I cite Samuel R. Delany. Get in a time machine and go back to the kid buying the Quark anthologies off a spinner rack in a small-town drugstore (oh, if They only knew…) and tell him that one day in the far future he’ll be asked to write about Chip Delany on a world-wide communications web, and check out the expression on his face.

Rich Horton

>Dhalgren may be one of a very small category of books where you must read them young (I did) but you can’t read them young. The impact received by a teen is not the impact delivered, and later, too many other things intervene. I remember being blown away, but am not sure now how that took place and it didn’t leave footprints, only a lingering aura.

I think I may agree…. I read Dhalgren at perhaps the right age…. I was 15 or 16 when it appeared and I read it right away, and I thought it very cool but I knew I didn’t really get it. And it’s never really grown in my memory.

I did read Triton with enjoyment, and I liked parts of the Neveryon books quite a lot. I confess I didn’t have the stomach to try some of the erotica… very likely my loss.

But the earlier work… it is simply beyond wonderful. For me perhaps the short stories in Driftglass… perhaps especially the somewhat neglected “The Star Pit”… are the peak. (Not to denigrate famouser stuff like “Aye, and Gomorrah…” and “Time Considered…”.)

And Nova is one of my favorite SF novels ever, a delight from beginning to not quite end.

I’ve never met Delany (having only come to conventions somewhat late, and even now only to Midwest conventions), but just reading him he seems like about the nicest person in the world.

I vow to read some of the later booksThe Motion of Light in Water sounds like something I really must read. If I do wish he would want
to write something more in the vein of Nova these days I also recognize that that’s unfairhe needs to write what he is ready to write, not what we want.

And, too, totally on a tangent, I’d have never read Marilyn Hacker’s poetry had I not recognized her name as Delany’s ex-wife… and that in itself was very rewarding.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Self-centeredly, I’d like to ask if anyone in the group has words on Delany’s Heavenly Breakfast. It happens to have been my first Delany; I discovered it by accident when I was fifteen or so. In retrospect, I’m glad things worked out that way, since the writing was accessible and it introduced me to Delany’s life and thought in a pretty straightforward, compact way. That helped inspire in me the sort of reading confidence that would come in handy when tackling some of the longer, tougher works.

Karen Joy Fowler

I have to confess I have never read it, Alvaro.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

I’ve not been contributing to this discussion, as I have not read Delany iner, uh40+ years. But I was compelled by all of the scintillating insights to dig out my (mass-market–remember them?) paperback of Driftglass, which now goes to the top of my “to be (re)read” pile. May those knights (and knightesses) outside of this Roundtable do the same. Time travel paradox notwithstanding, I cannot wait to see what my 56-year-old self makes of the stories that my 14-year-old self (14 to 17 seems to be the Golden Age for reading Delany in this group) thought were the next best thing to sliced-white Ellison.

First printing: November 1971. My paperback is the 4th printing. Clearly, Chip was reaching a bigger audience than just SF readers back then. Or else Signet was clueless about how to market genre writers, but was hopeful. (Very probable.)

Coverline on front panel: “A dazzling journey to the world BEYOND 2001.” Evidence that 40-something years ago, they had no idea how to market Chip except in terms of what was break-out popular at the time.

Brian Evenson

I think Heavenly Breakfast is a great place to start, Alvaro. It’s frank about Delany’s sexual life and his participation in alternative communities without being explicit. It gives you ways of understanding productively those communities when they appear in Dhalgren. It’s clear and very focused, and concise, and does a remarkable job introducing even the initiated to commune life in New York City over the course of a year. It’s a good stepping stone, too, to the excellent autobiography that Andy mentioned, The Motion of Light in Water. And you can read some of what’s said about community and music back into the earlier SF books. Plus, it gives you, too, an understanding of how Delany seems sexually open communities that redirects your sense of what’s going on in Hogg and other of the difficult literary books slightly. It’s definitely a great thing to start with.


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