Music and Mythology
The Einstein Intersection
Delany, Samuel R.
Sometimes, I wonder if it’s a good thing for a book to have a comment about the author on the cover. For some of them (and I’m thinking of you, Stephen “The greatest popular novelist of our day” King) I can’t help but think that it’s either a backhanded compliment, or perhaps it’s been taken out of context. In any case, it’s almost certainly a publishers decision, and not something that’s come from the writer (…maybe a vain writer). The copy of The Einstein Intersection that I have sitting in front of me as I write this has a quote from Galaxy magazine (which would go out of business ten years after this sphere edition was published, but at the time was a pretty good recommendation) stating that Delany is the “…best science fiction writer in the world.” Kind of a big claim, right? If this book is anything to go on, I’d say that they were right.
Okay, okay, my penchant is for ‘social’ science fiction, rather than ‘technological’ science fiction. Give me Ray Bradbury over Isaac Asimov (though I like Asimov fine too). Delany seems to err more into the ‘social’ side of things – the world that he creates in The Einstein Intersection is low-tech, a sort of distopian society full of myth and the remenants of an old, more technologically advanced society which the present inhabitants are having to face the consequences of. It’s got a weird reminiscence of the films of Sam Peckinpah about it, a kind of feel of an old western, which is interesting too. I have been re-reading Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in parallel with this book, and I have to say that Delany’s book has dated much better. Maybe that’s the thing that curses technological science fiction; eventually the time that its set in ‘comes due’. I like Delany’s characters, I like their struggle. He cribs mercilessly from older mythology (the whole is pretty much the myth of Orpheus) but he doesn’t try to be subtle about it, which works in his favour. I have to admit to being a sucker for mythology – I love seeing how it reflects a culture and a value system as well as a time-and-place kind of thing. Wow, that was pretty shockingly bad writing just there, but hopefully you understand what I mean.
The Einstein Intersection is only 159 pages long, a nice lunchtime reader kind of length. It was first published (at least according to Wikipedia) in 1967, in between two biggies for Delany, Nova and Babel-17. During that three year span, 1966 – 1968, Delany was nominated for the Hugo award three times and won the Nebula award twice. If you’re looking for good SF or fantasy, either of those awards lists are pretty good recommendations (it’s my aim to read my way through all of them eventually… maybe a project for retirement, har-har… that’s a while away yet!). Oh Jeez, and he also wrote issues #202 and #203 of Wonder Woman… is there anything non-inspriational about this guy? *hero worships*
Okay… backing away from Wikipedia now…
The only thing that bothered me about this book is one of the things that I liked about it, which is the characters. Maybe Delany tried to do it as a reflection of the times that he was writing about, but none of them are very well drawn. Was this book meant to be part of a series? I’ve got to do some more investigation of others of his works, I think. Because I know Jeff Noon does that a bit – for instance his book Nymphomation is a sort of prequel to his first novel Vurt. Ahh, Jeff Noon… I’m such a child of the nineties, I love his writing. Maybe that’s a length thing as well; something always falls over in novellas, they’re super tricky to write; something always has to give because of the lack of space. I mean, a short story can be just a passing-the-window-glimpse of a character (or group of characters) and their life, and a novel can rabbit on for as long as it wants (or as long as the reader will put up with it). Difficult. Having said that, it’s a pretty minor complaint really. Hey, so that’s a question to mull over for the next post – what is the best novella you’ve read? Do you read novellas? They can be a pretty hard thing to define (nothing easy about these puppies!), but it’s something between the length of a short story and a novel… I know, it’s impossible to be more explicit than that. Think Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, John Steinbecks’ Of Mice and Men, Jack Kerouac’s The Subterranians, that kind of thing. They really are a great thing, ’cause in the days before the handy-dandy e-book reader, you could carry a novella in your backpocket or in your handbag and you’d have something to read right there with you. Neato!