BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of stories and essays in tribute to one of the finest and most influential writers in the field.
PROS: Some amazing pieces here, from insightful analysis to hyperkinetic prose.
CONS: Some stories read like fragments; end-notes would have made a nice addition.
BOTTOM LINE: A fitting tribute to an amazing figure.
Tribute anthologies are odd beasts. Where does homage stop and pastiche or parody begin? Editors Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell navigate those waters admirably, curating stories that honor the man of the hour in many of his facets without ever falling into kitsch or fawning. Speaking as a critic myself I especially appreciate their inclusion of non-fiction essays from Isiah Lavender, Walidah Imarisha, and L. Timmel Duchamp who engage with Delany’s insightful and influential criticism as well as the amazing and diverse cast of authors who contribute short stories.
The anthology opens with a playful piece from Eileen Gunn imagining Chip (formally Samuel R. Delany) and Michael Swanwick on a road trip. Chip appears in a number of pieces here, either as himself or thinly veiled. The stories here celebrate so many aspects of his fiction: his opening doors to gay sexuality (“An Idyll in Erewhyna,” Hal Duncan), his New Wave embrace of psychology (“Billy Tumult,” Nick Harkaway), his hyperkinetic imagination (“Empathy Evolving as a Quantum of Eight-Dimentional Perception,” Claude Lalumière), and sometimes simply his mind-f–king qualities (“Clones” Alex Smith).
It’s amazing to see what diversity of stories appear in a tribute to a single figure. We get fantasy from Ellen Kushner (“When Two Swordsmen Meet”), myths from around the world (of which “The Last Dying Man” from Geentajali Dighe may be the strongest), science fiction (“Capitalism in the 22nd Century, or A.I.r,” Geoff Ryman), a slice of life (“Nilda,” Junot Diaz), and flat-out f’ed up horror from Haralambi Markov (“Holding Hands with Monsters.”) Identity is often questioned, and more often disrupted. In Christopher Brown’s closing story “Festival” one character “tries to remember how she got here” and we realize that’s been a very common element in the stories.
In his essay of reminiscence, “On My First Reading of The Einstein Intersection,” Michael Swanwick puts his finger on two key qualities: “Endings to be useful must be inconclusive,” which seems to hold true for a number of stories here, and a “mixture of high and pop culture.” So we get Shakespeare set near an American Indian reservation in Kansas in Vincent Czyz’s “Hamlet’s Ghost Sighted in Frontenac, KS.” But really this is absolutely nailed in L. Timmel Duchamp’s central essay, “Real Mothers, a Faggot Uncle, and the Name of the Father: Samuel R. Delany’s Feminist Revisions of SF” which examines a broad swath of Delany’s non-fiction, from essays to interviews, and comes out with both a picture of the man as critic, and also a fairly radical call for a different approach to establishing genealogies of genre. Then there’s the collaborative story from Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl, “Jamaica Ginger,” which takes a steampunk setting and an anagrammed pseudonym and imagines a young black girl taking her love of literature and engineering (a combination too rare in fiction!) and overthrowing at least one system of appropriation of black bodies. That one’s going on my award ballot recommendations this year.
What can a reader expect to get from these pages? A fan of Delany’s writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, can expect a wonderful diversity of authors who love his work and want to show their ties and inspiration to the man. I am personally less familiar with Delany’s fiction–I’ve read some, but the reputation of books like Nova and Dhalgren as “difficult” had put me off so far. After reading these stories I’m especially motivated to tackle some of the “hard stuff”–I think perhaps I’m ready now.