© Samuel R. Delany.
My friend Tim has been putting together a small but choice collection of award-winning science fiction novels that he plans to read, and when he was here this summer he lent me a few that I hadn’t read myself. The fact that a certain favorite writer wrote the foreword to this book made me choose it first from the pile.
I know I read a few books by Delany in the 1960s-70s, but I’m no longer sure which ones. This one wasn’t among them. It has the feel of a heroic quest fantasy for the most part, but with clues throughout that lead one to gradually understand the setting, one of a post-apocalyptic Earth after our own civilization has been destroyed by nuclear holocaust, and the planet has reverted to a sparsely inhabited, radiation-damaged shell of its former self. People of a sort live there, one called Lobey is the viewpoint character, and most of them show signs of serious genetic mutation, with the most functional running things. Adding another level, though, we again gradually come to understand that these are not humans, but beings from somewhere else in the universe who have come to inhabit the damaged Earth, and in so doing have taken Earth’s history and mythology into their beings in a very unusual way, in some cases reenacting those myths and histories, but twisted by the radiation-stricken environment. Lobey has music among his talents, and as the book progresses, he seems to be following/resisting the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus. Opposing him is another being with great power called Kid Death, who seems to have the persona of outlaw Billy the Kid, and one of Lobey’s companions on his quest/journey plays another familiar role.
Despite all these layers, the story itself is full of action, with interesting characters and situations, as Lobey suffers through tragedy, takes to the road with new companions, battles his enemy, tries to help his friends, and finally struggles to understand himself, all against a backdrop of a familiar yet unsettlingly strange landscape. Only the ending let me down a bit, as it’s one without much of a resolution.
I enjoyed the book, and it makes me want to read more Delany. I also liked Neil’s foreword, though I kind of wish I’d read it afterward. Not that it spoils any plot points, really, but it did make me think about the character in ways I might have enjoyed more after the fact. In any case, this is a good read that entertains on many levels, and provides much to think about. Recommended.