Friday, May 13, 2011

Delany. Thon. Together for the first time anywhere.

"Aye, and Gomorrah . . . " and "Cage of Brass," Samuel R. Delany (from Aye, and Gomorrah and Other Stories)
I've previously read a few stories from this collection (which I think I picked up at a library book sale). "Aye, and Gomorrah . . . " is one of those I've read before. It's a tale of spacers and the people who love them. Really. "Spacers" are astronauts; given the radiation and other rigors of space travel, they've all been neutered (and they have other oddities about them from birth which make them prime candidates); some people, "frelks," find themselves profoundly attracted to spacers. Rather than simply making the attraction like that someone might have for a eunuch, Delany concocts and wonderfully goofy psychiatric explanation having something to do with freefall. The story follows one spacer in a small group of them bouncing from planet to space and tasting the joys of Earth in their unique, alienated way. One particular encounter with a woman is described. It's a smart story that demonstrates one thing Delany did well even in that novel of his that I thought so dreadful (Nova): he articulates into being another world. "Cage of Brass" achieves this as well, though entirely through dialogue. Our "hero," Jason Cage (a comic-bookish name, unfortunately), has been dumped into a self-regulating prison ("Brass") on another world. In this prison, you stand in total darkness, largely submerged in a gel that tends to your body, leaving your tiny cell one hour a day to exercise in yet another dark space. But Cage is, fortuitously, able to talk to two nearby cells, and the men share their stories, the other two men briefly painting their worlds, Cage detailing the architectural wonders of Earth. It's a smart tale that relies on Cage's past to make sense of the present.

"Girls in the Grass," Melanie Rae Thon (from Girls in the Grass)
Sharply observed first-person tale of ninth-grade girls taking risks, playing Truth or Dare, experimenting with themselves and each other. Alcohol, sex and pills come one after the other in quick succession (each leading to the other, as the drinking grants them permission for sex and the next day's discomforts lead to the protagonist filching pills that do God-knows-what for her mother). It's one of those modern stories that doesn't have an ending that ties up dramatically; rather, it ties up rhetorically, which a biting final image. Still, it's satisfying and well told.


Anonymous said...

You didn't like "Nova"? Mind you, I read it almost 40 years ago, when I was discovering real SF, from Asimov to Zelazny. I might feel differently today.

William Preston said...

I wish the Asimov's forum were up and running, because John Rogers and I discussed the novel at length as we read it together maybe two years ago. (Other people joined us, I think.) I recall enjoying the early energy of the novel and the inventiveness Delany displayed when constructing wild new worlds. But the plot, oh man . . . Maybe he meant the thing to be a farce, but some aspects were impossible to take serious, increasingly ridiculous scenarios developed, and the conclusion seemed like something from the old Buck Rogers serials, with everyone emoting and shouting ridiculously. It felt like it lost direction. I know it was meant, in part, as a nod to Moby Dick, but that didn't help.