Saturday, November 6, 2010

NOVA by Samuel R. Delany

Considered 'New Wave' when first published in 1968, Delany's Nova reads like an old classic today, a space opera that would be completely accessible to fans of Star Trek. (I speak of the one and only original Trek, of course.) Although the Tarot stuff is boring--to me, anyway--and the revenge plot entirely predictable, Delany's a good enough writer and his future worlds are well enough imagined to hold my interest for the duration. Delany's exportation of dialectical materialist history into outer space (Draco as aristocratic, Pleiades as bourgeois, Outer Colonies as proletarian), is but one of the nice touches that delighted me here. A Marxist reading would also note the vulgarly materialist method by which Lorq Von Ray upsets the universal economy (dumping tons of a rare and valuable material onto market); and no Marxist critic worth the name would miss the complex and ironic critique of the alienation of labor stated by Katin (the book's intellectual Spock-figure and internal literary critic) in his discussion of the development of cyborg sockets near the novel's end.

Much more than this book's political framework marks it as a product of 1968. If we focus too much on reading Nova as a precursor of 1980s and 90s cyberpunk (which it obviously is), we might miss the full significance of its psychedelic and countercultural aspects. Mouse is a Hendrix-like virtuoso who plays enthralling acid visions on his syrynx. Prince Red's party on the Ile St. Louis is straight out of a 60s Fellini film. The drug Bliss is an imaginative combination of weed, acid and cocaine. And like all good science fiction, Nova is an attempt to think critically and imaginatively about what technology can do to and for human beings, another major concern of the sixties New Left. SF writers have always been better informed than Heidegger on this subject, so perhaps we should listen to them. The real questions concerning technology are better posed and answered by Delany and Dick and Ballard and Gibson than by the former rektorfuhrer.

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