I stumbled onto Samuel R. Delany last semester because I had to write a syllabus for my African American Literature. I wasn’t okay with writing a syllabus that would make students have to study the same things I read over and over; African Americans wrote slave literature and Harlem Renaissance literature. Great. BUT WHAT ELSE? I felt like I was denied a lot by only being told about those two aspects of African American literature. To fight this injustice, I started looking for writers over the last century in a variety of genres. Science fiction is my favorite, so naturally I couldn’t leave it out of my syllabus. I ended up finding Samuel R. Delany: an African American, gay (maybe bisexual), Harlem born and raised science fiction writer who wrote several popular sci-fi novels starting in the 1960s. I don’t think the deck could have been stacked any more in his favor for me to pick this guy. Plus, he has a pretty epic beard. Look at this man!
I read a little about his life, and I just kept getting more interested. Websites about him point out different places where he brings his real life and experiences into his science fiction (more interesting. I was about to explode at this point). Of course, I started hunting his books down. I have yet to buy the book I actually put on my syllabus (Babel-17, which apparently focuses on the power of language. Cue more geeking out from me), but I did find a couple other interesting ones in my favorite bookstore.
I decided to read City of a Thousand Suns first. I realized about halfway through that it was the final book in a trilogy (my punishment for not reading all of the backs of books). Wonderfully though, the book made perfect sense as a standalone story. He gave a sufficient amount of background/reminders of what happened before, which actually made me want to find the first two books even though I already know how it will end. I liked the plot; it wasn’t the greatest of sci-fi plots, but it was fun to read. What really floored me was Delany’s writing style. His use of language and description just…good golly. I don’t even have words. It was so simple! But elegant at the same time and perfectly described the situations and ideas he was presenting.
There were some wisdom nuggets and description nuggets that I loved. “I was thinking about what I said to you about customs and morals keeping people apart, making them different from one another. People are so much more alike than different. So much more” has stuck with me since I read it. Maybe it’s the current climate in the United States with voting happening tomorrow. Maybe it’s how much I’ve been thinking about how people consume information because of my classes. Maybe it’s because of the other fictional stories I just read. Personally, I think the idea is universal enough to apply to all of those ideas at the same time. Again, the idea itself and the simplicity with which it was stated hit me hard; I can actually envision and hear how someone would look and sound as they said these sentences in conversation. Isn’t that the entire point of reading?
Perhaps my favorite phrase from the book is “hysterically calm.” He used it while describing a mother who had lost her daughter. If that is not the right way to describe someone in grief, then I don’t know what is.
I will leave the quote sharing with this long passage about reading with another person. It’s just delightful.
I dig Delany’s style. I’ll be reading more about his life because he’s a fascinating man. I will definitely be obsessing over his books from here on out. I think you should too.