No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, June 28, 2009

#44: Nova -- Samuel R. Delany

Colours sluiced the air with fugal patterns as a shape subsumed the breeze and fell, to form further on, a brighter emerald, a duller amethyst. Odours flushed the wind with vinegar, snow, ocean, ginger, poppies, rum. Autumn, ocean, ginger, ocean, autumn: ocean, ocean, the surge of ocean again, while light formed in the dimming blue that underlit the Mouse's face. Electric arpeggios of a neo-raga rilled. (p. 22)

An old favourite, reread: I love Delany's early novels, and I marvel anew at his prose style. Nova is the Grail Quest in a space-opera setting, with Captain Lorq von Ray (space pirate!) recruiting a motley crew of drifters to grab seven tons of the element Illyrion -- 'source of untold wealth and key to the shifting balance of Galactic power' -- from a star that's going nova.

Nova is rich in symbolism -- especially the Tarot Major Arcana -- and in prose: the characters are vivid, especially the Mouse (gypsy kid with a rare talent for the sensory-syrynx he stole at the age of ten) and Katin (intellectual, socially maladept, devoted to moons). On this reread I noticed how distinctively each of the crew is sketched -- and how each of them has a personal space, an object or skill or habit, that's invaded by the others. And, too, how each of them has lost something and is searching.

I like Delany's future, too: a thousand years from now (though with frequent references to life in the 20th century!) when the means of production have become immediate once more, and workers with cerebral sockets plug directly into all manner of machinery. There are three major factions -- Draco, the Outer Worlds and the Pleiades -- and plenty of double-dealing, piratical behaviour and violence: but there's also art and grace and beauty. Astonishingly detailed for such a short novel, and I realise how much this shiny future has influenced and inspired me.

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