In 2015, Samuel Delany won the Nicolás Guillén Lifetime Achievement Award for Philosophical Fiction. These are some of the books, fiction and nonfiction, as well as the books on the three pages below, that prompted this honor from the Caribbean Philosophical Association.
Atlantis: Model 1924 says wise things about life, and sexuality, and race, and says them with understatement and with gentleness, and with a supreme and delicate craft. A stunning book, and one I am already looking forward to rereading.
Phallos is a philosophical adventure tale starring Conan the Barbarian as penned by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s the kind of story James Joyce would have solicited if he’d been helming Weird Tales, circa 1929. If Publishers Weekly announced tomorrow that Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell were collaborating on a blockbuster fantasy trilogy, you might expect Phallos to be Volume One . . . Phallos vintage 1969 embod[ies] Delany’s trademark gorgeous prose.
20th Anniversary Edition Out!
Reading this book reminds me, as few others in a lifetime of reading have done, just why it is that we so love our cities, what we value in them, and why the great ones become so. [Delany is] one of our finest social critics and one of our great writers.
This small volume offers two delectable ruminations (plus an interview) by Delany (Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders) on the nature of God and the insidiousness of racism. In the title novella, the 17th-century mathematician Leibniz travels in secret from Amsterdam to the Hague to visit the philosopher Spinoza, wishing to hear his ideas of an immanent “God or (in other words) Nature” that led to accusations of atheism. But Leibniz finds this is “like hunting for a man hiding in the attic of a building that has none.” Though Delany does not spell it out, Leibniz historically took the more traditional, Christian view of the divine, so it is significant that he comes away from this fictional meeting full of optimism that “this Jew and I would come so close to the same conclusions.” The essay that follows [is] “Racism and Science Fiction,” originally published in 1998.
New and Old Books:
Delany has written over 35 books and has had a profound impact on multiple genres.
Sometimes it's hard for a Delany beginner to know where to start:
Delany has a unique place in late 20th century letters. A lifelong inhabitant of the margins both social and literary, he has used his marginalized status as a lens to focus his astute observations of American literature and society. From these interviews, his voice emerges provocative, precise, and engaging.
To this unusual cluster of five long essays . . . comparative literature professor Delany brings a rare personal frankness and stunning erudition . . . recommended for readers who enjoyed the challenge of being led into the remote regions of a gifted mind.
This important collection demonstrates [Delany's] passion and intelligence, and his dedication to pursuing difficult questions about writing, theory, teaching, and sexuality.
(As yet uncollected
The two volumes of Occasional Views, [Volume One: "More About Writing" and Other Essays, and Volume Two: "The Gamble" and Other Essays] between them will contain 51 essays, short and long, including: "The Gestation of Genres: Literature, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, and Fantasy," "Eden, Eden, Eden: A Note on Genesis 2 & 3," "Some Notes on Robert Hayden's 'Middle Passage,'" "A Note on Hölderlin," "A Lost Lady and Modernism," "Samuel R. Delany by K. Leslie Steiner," "Note on William Gaddis," "Note on Melville," "Ikky, Kong, Frèdèric, Kurtz," and "Notes on the City of Green Fire."
In an environment increasingly hostile to intellectual probing, the vitality and versatility to Delany's sustained production are all the more remarkable. One of the major elements in the [books'] considerable achievement is Delany's taking up discourses and genres ordinarily considered remote from the science fiction in which he's made his distinguished name: music in general, opera, poetry and poetics. In [these] wonderful polyglot volume[s], Delany interfaces his previous oeuvre to these cultural codes and to critical theory, for which he shows considerable acumen and achievement. A terrific book.
Three Books About Science Fiction
"Should go on the shortlist of required reading for every would-be writer."
with New Introductions by Matthew Cheney
Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch--"Angoulême"
"I read The Jewel-Hinged Jaw every year as a source of guidance, as a measure of what all criticism and literature should aspire to be, and as a challenge for those of us who want to write."
"After all the years since it was first published, Starboard Wine remains one of the three or four most important statements ever made about science fiction. No one with a serious interest in the field should be ignorant of it."
"The American Shore is an important offering in the history science fiction criticism, rich with Delany's poetic skills and insight as a formidable reader. It's a one of a kind book, really, and very clearly attempts a genre of its own."
Samuel Delany's most popular novel, having sold somewhat more than a million-and-a-half copies: The most controversial science fiction novel of its decade.
"The very best ever to come out of the science fiction field . . . A literary landmark."
--Theodore Sturgeon, Galaxy
"A great book . . . : Writers don’t usually publish their letters while still alive (the task is usually left to widows, ex-lovers, and assistants) but Delany has never been one to follow the rules. (Oddly enough the only other writer I can think of who was so similarly bold with publishing his correspondence was E.B. White, who has nothing else in common with Delany). 1984 provides a remarkably intimate picture of Delany’s life during a crucial moment in time. Like Whitman or Melville, Delany is a New York democrat comfortable with all walks of life, as likely to go to hustle for sex in a movie theatre as to a party hosted by a millionaire, equally at ease with Umberto Eco as with Stan Lee. 1983 and 1984 were the years that he (and many others) first became fully conscious of AIDS (the disease had only been named in 1982). The onset of this plague had a profound impact on Delany’s literary career: he became one of the first fiction writers to record the impact of AIDS. But aside from being a record of how the gay community in New York processed information about the new disease, Delany’s 1984 belongs to the small shelf of great literary letter writing, alongside Keats, Flaubert, Kafka, and D.H. Lawrence."
Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of Its Year.
Chosen by the Library of America for its 2019 anthology, Great Science Fiction Novels of the 1960's, edited by Gary Wolff.
"[Nova] reads like Moby Dick at a strobe-light show!"
--Roger Sale, Time
"The ridiculously brilliant Samuel R. Delany is one of our most important living writers. Delany is a critical and creative colossus and with Bread & Wine he has produced a miniature masterpiece. Profoundly moving and hilariously honest (rotting socks anybody?), Bread & Wine is the kind of love story that renews one's faith in the incandescent power of love. Don't believe love is possible? Read Bread & Wine. Just broke up? Read Bread & Wine. Met someone who spins this fallen world into beauty? Read Bread & Wine — together. What Delany's tender account of his unlikely relationship with the gentle cheerful (and homeless) Dennis underscores is the humanity that love requires but also the humanity that love in turn renders. Backed by Mia Wolff's arresting (and occasionally rapturous) inks Delany's tale of cross-cultural cross-racial cross-class intimacy is a gift of wonder."
"Samuel R. Delany is one of the finest living American writers. In this revealing autobiographical love story, told in collaboration with fine-artist Mia Wolff, Delany's brilliance shines. It's filthy and earthy and beautiful, like an orchid in a gutter, it tells you more than you wanted to know, and makes you glad it did."
Winner of the Stonewall Book Award.
A far-future look at an interstellar society that critics have said predicted the internet and contains a new way of looking at gender.
"There's so much in it, so much history and culture and scientific speculation and plot that it's hard to cover any of it at all and not just sit there burbling "brilliant, brilliant."
--Jo Walton, "Like Pop Rocks for the Brain: Samuel R. Delany"
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains
"A very moving, intensely fascinating literary biography from an extraordinary writer. Thoroughly admirable candor and luminous stylistic precision; the artist as a young man and a memorable picture of an age."
"Absolutely central to any consideration of black manhood. . . . Delany's vision of the necessity for total social and political transformation is revolutionary."
"The prose of The Motion of Light in Water often has the shimmering beauty of the title itself. . . . This book is invaluable gay history."
"In this unexpurgated edition of his award-winning autobiography, Samuel R. Delany beautifully, vividly, and insightfully calls up the 1960s era of exploration and adventure in the Lower East Side of New York City. He details his development as a black gay writer in an open marriage, with tertiary walk-ons by Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael, W. H. Auden, and James Baldwin. Winner of the 1989 Hugo Award for Non-fiction."
Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of Its Year.
Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus
Return to Nevèrÿon
*Return to Nevèrÿon is Samuel R. Delany's series of 11 short stories, novelettes, and novels, set in the land of Nevèrÿon, collected into the four volumes above, with a preface by K. Leslie Steiner and appendices by S. L. Kermit, Yale anthropologist Charles Hoequist, Jr., and a young mathematician Robert Wentworth.
"[Return to Nevèrÿon] is a major and unclassifiable achievement in contemporary American literature."
--Fredric R. Jameson
"Henry James would have loved these stories--once he got over the culture shock!"
--Robert S. Bravard, The Lockhaven Review
"Delany's most controlled, and therefore his most successful, experiment to date. . . . [Trouble on Triton] is a novel of manners, those of a rich and complex society in which the avowed highest good is the free expression of each individual's personality."
--Gerald Jonas, New York Times Book Review
"Delany continues to surprise and delight . . . [His] playfulness is the kind that involves you in the flow, forces you to see details in a larger context, yet never lets you forget that what you are reading is, after all, nothing but artifice, a series of signs."
--New York Times Book Review
"The tales [comprising the Return to Nevèrÿon series] are postmodern sword-and-sorcery . . . Delany subverts the formulaic elements of sword-and-sorcery and around their empty husks constructs self-conscious metafictions about social and sexual behavior, the play of language and power, and--above all--the possibilities and limitations of narrative. Immensely sophisticated as literature . . . eminently readable, and gorgeously entertaining."
--Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World
"A literary creation of considerable importance . . . at once a colorful adventure yarn and an insightful philosophical meditation on the nature and requisites of civilization."
--Jeff Riggenbach, San José Mercury News
"As much as any single writer, Samuel R. Delany is responsible for the new themes and techniques that have come to science fiction since the middle 60s. Delany's gift for creating believable, alternate societies and ways of seeing the world is here in full-flower. The underlying thread of all the stories is an intense examination of all things--language, customs, work patterns, children's lore--that tie together a society."
"Complex and carefully crafted . . . his language is lovely, often approaching the poetic."
"I consider Delany not only one of the most important SF writers of the present generation but a fascinating writer in general who has invented a new style."
"The Nevèrÿon series is one of the most sustained meditations we have on the complex intersections of sexuality, race, and subjectivity in contemporary culture."
Where It All Started . . .
"The Mad Man is the Book of Books! . . . For those who want it raunchy and wild . . . it is destined to become an underground classic."
"By any reasonable standard, [. . . Equinox is one of three] important (and courageous) books: three novels in three very different modes by Samuel R. Delany from three periods of his career."
"There's no question that Hogg by Samuel R. Delany is a serious book with literary merit."
*Volume II, Autumnal City: The Journals of Samuel R. Delany, 1970–'79, ed. by Kenneth R. James, is coming in 2019