June 16, 2003

1984 by Samuel R. Delany

1984.jpgI'm having a hard time putting words to screen about this book. When I read Delany, I always feel as if I am brushing the mere fringes of what is there in his writing. And yet he is such a skilled craftsman that his books can be read and enjoyed immensely without dipping into the murkier depths. But the depths are always there just under the surface crust of plot and character. I recount this impression of his work mostly as a contrast since 1984 has a completely different feel.

The book is a collection of letters Delany wrote to various of his friends between June of 1983 and January of 1985. At the time, he was living in New York City. He was operating under severe tax debts. He was finishing his novels Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, and Return to Nevčr˙on (The Bridge of Lost Desire). AIDS was moving into the public consciousness. He was writing on his brand new KayPro CP/M computer.

His letters discuss all of these topics as well as more personal and more academic ones. There are accounts of dinner parties and discourses on semiotics. His correspondents vary from science fiction writers to an imprisoned street hustler to English professors.

The overall effect is an intricate portrait of a year in a writer's life, and through that life, a portrait of the city and culture in which he lived. For me the book went very quickly. The casual style of his personal letters welcomes the quick read that I always feel guilty for giving his novels. The feel of the book is really very blog-like, and I think it's part of the reason I've done so little blogging since finishing it (this review is dated 6/16 when I finished the book, but I'm writing it over a week later on 6/25, all the other entries in this timespan were written after this one despite their publication dates) my brain was full.

I don't think I'd recommend this as an introduction to Delany, but for anyone who's read his other work, it provides illumination of the man and his books.

I bought the book directly from Voyant Publishing. The cover image at left links to their page about the book which includes excerpts, a bibliography, and a bunch of other ephemera.

I have to share an excerpt of my own because it's so funny:

Anyway, when Nevčr˙on (the series) is finally done (in a week? two weeks? three?), I refuse to take more than six months to write the second volume of Stars (Bodies/Cities)--at least the first draft.

The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities still hasn't been written nearly 20 years later.

Posted by jeffy at June 16, 2003 06:55 PM

You know Delany is coming to town? he's the last instructor this year for Clarion West. There's a public reading at the end of July (actually, all of these are good).

Posted by: Anita Rowland at June 26, 2003 08:29 AM

Yes! (and if I hadn't known, I would anyway cause I saw it on your blog just last night ;-)

I saw him read at Elliott Bay a few years ago and it was great. I'm looking forward to seeing him again.

Also hoping to make it to Patrick Nielsen Hayden's talk.

Posted by: Jeff Youngstrom at June 26, 2003 01:24 PM

If you come, do say hi to me!

Posted by: Anita Rowland at June 27, 2003 08:21 AM
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