Samuel R. Delany

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What I look for in a friend is someone who's different from me. The more different the person is, the more I'll learn from him. The more he'll come up with surprising takes on ideas and things and situations.

Samuel Ray Delany Jr. (born 1 April 1942) is an award-winning science fiction author. He has written works that have garnered substantial critical acclaim, including the novels Nova, The Einstein Intersection, Hogg, and Dhalgren. He is a professor of Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at Temple University, and is also known in the academic world as a literary critic.


  • I don't think I am revealing any profound secret by noting that sales has always been a rather distant emblem for quality.
  • I still feel that style is important for reading pleasure, and sex is important for pleasure in life. Each appeases a different type of desire. And while I find nothing shameful in taking direct erotic pleasure from reading or writing, I don’t think they entail a necessary relation. The processes you have me describing are contingent psychological processes. Neither marks one end nor the other of any necessary or even philosophical relationship…
  • Don’t romanticize science fiction. One of the questions I have been asked so many times I’ve forgotten what my stock answer to it is, “Since science fiction is a marginal form of writing, do you think it makes it easier to deal with marginal people?” To which the answer is, “No.” Why should it be any easier? Dealing with the marginal is always a matter of dealing with the marginal. If anything, science fiction as a marginal genre is more rigid, far more rigid than literature…
  • …There's often a literal side to SF [science fiction] language. There are many strings of words that can appear both in an SF text and in an ordinary text of naturalistic fiction. But when they appear in a naturalistic text we interpret them one way, and when they appear in an SF text we interpret them another. Let me illustrate this by some examples I've used many times before. The phrase "her world exploded" in a naturalistic text will be a metaphor for a female character's emotional state; but in an SF text, if you had the same words— "her world exploded"—you'd have to maintain the possibility that they meant: a planet belonging to a woman blew up…
  • To speak the unspeakable without the proper rhetorical flourish or introduction; to muff that flourish, either by accident, misjudgment, or simple ignorance; to choose the wrong flourish or not choose any (i.e., to choose the flourish called "the literal") is to perform the unspeakable.
  • At a certain point I came to the conclusion that one of the murderous aspects of the AIDS crisis was that people were used to not talking about sexual experiences in detail. Gay sex for instance does not cause AIDS. There are certain acts that transmit a virus and there are certain other acts that don’t transmit a virus. If you don’t talk about what goes on in sexuality, so that you know what particular acts you’re dealing with, then I think you're, possibly in an indirect way but never-the-less in a very real way, contributing to an atmosphere of ignorance which the result is people die.
    • Spoken Arts interview on WBFO 88.7, 20th April 2000.
  • One would almost think that they [straight white males] felt empowered to take anything the society produced, no matter how marginal, and utilize it for their own ends — dare we say "exploit it"? — certainly to take advantage of it as long as it's around. And could this possibly be an effect of discourse? Perhaps it might even be one we on the margins might reasonably appropriate to our profit... or perhaps some of us already have.
    • The Rhetoric of Sex, The Discourse of Desire
  • I'm not a big fan of censorship, to put it mildly.
All page numbers from the first restored Ace Books edition (G-706) published in 1968
  • I came no nearer sleep than I came to the moon.
    • Chapter III (p. 29)
  • “We’re not going to climb that in the dark, are we?” asked Iimmi.
    “Better than in the light,” said Urson. “This way you can’t see how far you have to fall.”
    • Chapter IX (p. 108)
  • Dictators during the entire history of this planet have used similar techniques. By not letting the people of their country know what conditions existed outside their boundaries, they could get the people to fight to stay in those conditions. It was the old adage: Convince a slave that he’s free, and he will fight to maintain his slavery.
    • Chapter X (p. 133)
  • A lesson which history should have taught us thousands of years ago was finally driven home. No man can wield absolute power over other men and still retain his own mind. For no matter how good his intentions are when he takes up the power, his alternate reason is that freedom, the freedom of other people and ultimately his own, terrifies him. Only a man afraid of freedom would want this power, who could conceive of wielding it. And that fear of freedom will turn him into a slave of this power.
    • Chapter X (p. 133)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback omnibus The Fall of the Towers published in 1970 by Ace Books (catalogue number 22642); 1976 printing
  • It means you don’t like where you’ve been, the place where you are is grim, and the only place you see yourself going is not an improvement on what’s gone before.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 48)
  • Perhaps coming from the royal family, I had easier emotional access to a sense of Toromon’s history. Even at its best, that’s all an aristocracy is good for.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 62)
  • About drafting all the scientific students into the war effort. Maybe the war is good, but, Tomar, I’m working on my own project. All at once, the thing I want most in the world is to be left alone to work on it. And I want you, and I want to have a picnic. I’m nearly at the solution, and to have to stop and work on bomb sightings and missile trajectories…Tomar, there’s a beauty in abstract mathematics that shouldn’t be dulled with that sort of thing.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 64)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback omnibus The Fall of the Towers published in 1970 by Ace Books (catalogue number 22642); 1976 printing
  • I must say it’s all very interesting. But I seriously don’t believe it’s anything more than a psychotic fantasy on your part.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 162)
  • They did not realize that reality must prove itself again and again to questioners, and that it is the fantasy which goes on without contradiction, without having to prove itself under logical rigour. The idea of asking questions was almost impossible; but only almost.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 275)
  • Simply turn them loose in the haze of their own injured psyches and they will create an enemy, greater and more malignant than any a psychologist could create for them, always hidden behind their own terror.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 275)
All page numbers from the mass market paperback omnibus The Fall of the Towers published in 1970 by Ace Books (catalogue number 22642); 1976 printing
All italics as in the book
  • He sat cross-legged in the crumpled, body-warmed bedding, now, and looked at her beside him until his eyes ached with keeping his lids up, looking not to miss the beauty of her breathing, the faint flare of her nostrils, the rise of her chest, the movement of her skin a millimetre back and forth across her collarbone as she breathed. His eyes, flooded with her gloriousness, filled with tears. He had to blink and look away.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 287)
  • They could all know now if they wanted, but they are too embarrassed. Rolth, for three thousand years everyone has tried to find a word to differentiate men from other animals; some of the ancients called him the laughing animal, some the moral animal. Well, I wonder if he isn’t the embarrassed animal.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 294)
  • Jon was surprised. “You don’t believe that military discipline can be a good experience?”
    “Experience is what you make it,” the officer said. “That’s real profound, huh? Boys into men? Look at the guys who like the army, or even do well there. Guys who hate the random inconsistency of their parents so much they are willing to give up love to get a father who hands out his orders by a book of rules you can run and check in the library, even if the rule is go out and die. You’ll do a lot better if you come to terms with the father you already have than by running off to the state substitute.”
    Despite drunkenness, the man was maintaining logic, so Jon went on, “but doesn’t the army give you a fairly rigorous microcosm to work out certain problems of…well, honour and morality, at least for yourself—”
    “Sure,” drawled the officer, “a microcosm totally safe, completely unreal, free of women and children, where God is the general and the Devil is death, and you’re playing for keeps—the excuse for conducting everything with high seriousness. It was all set up to make the most destructive and illogical human actions appear as controlled and non-random as possible.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 324)
  • That’s the army. But our job was to make the rest of you think it was safe and glorious and good, too. Boys into men? Discipline that isn’t self-discipline doesn’t mean thing to a boy.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 324)
  • The army is just too easy and too simple: fight to the death for the cause is just.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 326)
  • 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.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 327)
  • When what is is congruent to what is supposed the reaction is functional and the mental processes competent. When what is and what is supposed to have nothing to do with each other the choice of reactions is random. Something tears. Stay or run, laugh or frown: the decision is chance.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 347)
  • “The aristocracy,” she repeated. “At its worst, a sargasso of every conceivable neurosis society may have; by naming itself it has agreed to its own death. But at least it has had the dignity to applaud its own order of execution in the past if the document is eloquent.”
    • Chapter 8 (p. 365)
  • Our parents saw each of us marrying, settling down, but certainly not with one another.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 389)
  • You see, the poet is wounded into speech, and he examines these wounds, meticulously, to discover how to heal them. The bad poet harangues at the pain and yowls at the weapons that lacerate him; the great poet explores the inflamed lips of ruined flesh with ice-caked fingers, glittering and precise; but ultimately his poem is the echoing, dual voice reporting the damage.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 390)
  • “In this random, chaotic world, filled with apes and demigods and all in between, where mass murder and assassination is the past time of the hour, where any structure you cling to may topple in a moment, where a City of a Thousand Suns may be destroyed by a machine commanded by the psychosis of an empire and beauty doubts itself as insanity gorged on death—and I am free”—again he drew in his breath—“what am I free to do? You tell me what I am free to do!”
    • Chapter 11 (pp. 391-392)
Oh, for the rebirth of an educational system where understanding was an essential part of knowledge.
Novella which was nominated for the Nebula award
  • Books! Real books were Joneny’s delight. Heavy, cumbersome, difficult to store, they were the bane of most scholars. Joneny found them entrancing. He didn’t care what was in them. Any book today was so old that each word glittered to him like the facet of a lost gem. The whole conception of a book was so at odds with this compressed, crowded, breakneck era that he was put into ecstasy by the simple heft of the paper. His own collection, some seventy volumes, was considered a pretentious luxury by everyone at the University.
Numerous editions. Page numbers here are from the reprint in David G. Hartwell (ed.), The Space Opera Renaissance, ISBN 0-765-30618-2
  • You’re you, Jo. You’re you and everything that went into you, from the way you sit for hours and watch Di’k when you want to think, to the way you turn a tenth of a second faster in response to something blue than to something red. You’re all you ever thought, all you ever hoped, and all you ever hated, too. And all you've learned.
    • p. 180
  • Maybe that’s the most important thing there is, Lump. If there is an answer to that question, Lump, that’s what it is, to know you’re yourself and nobody else.
    • p. 180
  • “The only important elements in any society are the artistic and the criminal, because they alone, by questioning the society’s values, can force it to change.”
    “Is that true?”
    “I don’t know.”
    • p. 190
  • “As time progresses,” Lump stated, “people learn. That’s the only hope.”
    • p. 197

Babel-17 (1966)

  • Imagination should be used for something other than pondering murder, don’t you think?
    • Part 2, Chapter 4
  • I saw a bunch of the weirdest, oddest people I have ever met in my life, who thought different, and acted different, and even made love different. And they made me laugh, and get angry, and be happy, and be sad, and excited, and even fall in love a little....And they didn’t seem to be so weird or strange anymore.
    • Part 5, Chapter 1
Novella which was nominated for the Hugo award
  • "You have to grow all the time," I said. "Not necessarily get bigger. But inside your head you have to grow, kid-boy. For us human-type people, that’s what’s important. And that kind of growing never stops. At least, it shouldn’t. You can grow, kid-boy, or you can die. That’s the choice you've got, and it goes on all of your life."
  • "I want to talk about love. Loving someone...I mean really loving someone...means you are willing to admit that the person you love is not what you first fell in love with, not the image you first had; and you must be able to like them still for being as close to that image as they are, and avoid disliking them for being so far away."
The sections in the novel are not numbered. They are numbered here for ease of reference
  • “The beginning of the end, the beginning of the end,” muttered Lo Hawk. “We must preserve something.”
    “The end of the beginning,” sighed La Dire. “Everything must change.”
    • Section 1
  • Whoever heard of La-ing or Lo-ing somebody you’re herding goats with, or laughing with, or making love with.
    • Section 2
  • “What are you doing here?” I asked at last.
    “Probably the same thing you are.”
    “What’s that?”
    She looked serious. “Why don’t you tell me?”
    I went back to my knife. “Sharpening my machete.”
    “I'm sharpening my mind,” she said. “There is something to be done that will require an edge on both.”
    • Section 2
  • In myths things always turn into their opposites as one version supersedes the next.
    • Section 2
  • “All life is a rhythm,” she said as I sat up. “All death is rhythm suspended, a syncopation before life resumes.”
    • Section 2
  • If you're going to do something stupid—and we all do—it might as well be a brave and foolish thing.
    • Section 3
  • You're not looking for me, you know. I'm looking for you.
    • Section 5
  • It is not that love sometimes makes mistakes, but that it is, essentially, a mistake. We fall in love when our imagination projects nonexistent perfections on to another person. One day the phantasmagoria vanishes, and with it love dies.
    • Section 9 (quoted from Ortega y Gasset, “On Love”)
  • Difference is the foundation of those buildings, the pilings beneath the docks, tangled in the roots of the trees. Half the place was built on it. The other half couldn’t live without it. But to talk about it in public reveals you to be ill-mannered and vulgar.
    • Section 9
  • I must remember my own origins. Once I was as ignorant as you; I swear, though, I can’t remember when.
    • Section 9
  • Earth, the world, the fifth planet from the sun—the species that stands on two legs and roams this thin wet crust: it’s changing, Lobey. It’s not the same. Some people walk under the sun and accept that change, others close their eyes, clap their hands to their ears, and deny the world with their tongues.
    • Section 11 (in the far future of the novel, the sun has captured two more planets)
  • “You're living in the real world now,” Spider said sadly. “It’s come from something. It’s going to something. Myths always lie in the most difficult places to ignore.”
    • Section 11
  • Breathing is a fascinating thing to watch in a woman.
    • Section 12
  • As morning branded the sea, darkness fell away at the far side of the beach. I turned to follow it.
    • Section 13 (closing words)

Lines of Power (1968)

Novella which was nominated for the 1969 Hugo Award and the 1969 Nebula Award. Originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction (May 1968).
Page numbers from the reprint included in the mass market Tor Double #21 ISBN 0-812-50983-8, where it was retitled We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line
  • All right. I’m not opposed to reality imitating art if it doesn’t get in the way.
    • p. 26
  • Sincerity is my favorite form of belligerence.
    • p. 31
  • “Gods are nothing but low blood sugar,” I said. “St. Augustine, Peyote Indians…you know how it works—
    • p. 59

Nova (1968)

Nominated for the 1969 Hugo Award. All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Books
  • You can be bored with anything if you try hard enough.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 36)
  • Dull grown-ups and bright children form a particularly tolerant friendship.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 44)
  • Bear in mind that the novel—no matter how intimate, psychological, or subjective—is always a historical projection of its own time.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 116)
  • “What do you see, Captain?”
    “Two boys with hands locked for a fight. You see how one is light and the other is dark? I see love against death, light against darkness, chaos against order. I see the clash of all opposites under...the sun. I see Prince and myself.”
    “Which is which?”
    “I don’t know, Mouse.”
    • Chapter 4 (p. 119)
  • The captain is different too, Cyana. Before, the Roc flew under half a man, a man who’d only known victory. Now I’m a whole man. I know defeat as well.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 142)
  • You know, Mouse, I envy the captain. He’s got a mission. And his obsession precludes all that wondering about what other people think of him.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 158)
  • There are three types of actions: purposeful, habitual, and gratuitous. Characters, to be immediate and apprehensible, must be presented by all three.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 166)
  • The rich are always enamored of the ancient.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 169)
  • Don’t go chattering to the stars if you’re going to do it with your eyes closed.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 197)
  • The inevitable is that unprepared for.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 204)
Novelette which won both the Hugo and the Nebula award

Equinox (1973)

Originally published as The Tides of Lust
  • It is a magic book. Words mean things. When you put them together they speak. Yes, sometimes they flatten out and nothing they say is real, and that is one kind of magic. But sometimes a vision will rip up from them and shriek and clank wings clear as the sweat smudge on the paper under your thumb. And that is another kind. (p. 163)
  • We have done a tiny bit to free the darkies in this country. But the devil is still very much our slave. (p. 60)
  • Always remember the objects you are working with. When you make a bridge, remember you are putting steel on stone and dirt. … Some day you will write poems to a little girl: marks with ink on paper. … When you are making love, you are moving flesh against flesh. That is the basis of all magic. (p. 30)
  • Yeah, nigger, you better grin. Niggers can't smile in this book. (p. 87)

Dhalgren (1975)

All page numbers from the paperback corrected edition published by Vintage, 2001
  • to wound the autumnal city.
    So howled out for the world to give him a name.
    The in-dark answered with wind.
    • Part I, "Prism, Mirror, Lens" (p. 1)
  • "The parts I like, well..." He shook his head, with pursed lips. "They just don't have anything to do with me: somebody else wrote them, it seems, about things I may have thought about once. The parts I don't like--well, I can remember writing those, oh yeah, word by word by word."
    • Part IV, "In Time of Plague" (p. 357)
  • Perhaps it's good you're not going to write anymore: you'd have to start considering all those dull things like your relation to your audience, the relation between your personality and your poetry, the relation between your poetry and all the poetry before it.
    • Ernest Newboy in Part IV, "In Time of Plague" (p. 357)
  • I want to know but I can't see are you up there. I don't have a lot of strength now. The sky is stripped. I am too weak to write much. But I still hear them walking in the trees; not speaking. Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come to
    • Part VII, "The Anathēmata" (p. 801)

Triton (1976)

Who’s to say where life ceases and theater begins…
Later re-titled Trouble on Triton : An Ambiguous Heterotopia; all page numbers from the mass market paperback first edition published by Bantam Books
  • Everyone in a position of authority is hysterical, and everyone else is pretending to be asleep.
    • Chapter 3 “Avoiding Kangaroos” (p. 54)
  • The whole problem, I suppose, is that any time some piece of communication strikes poor Fred, or any of the remaining Beasts, for that matter, as possibly meaningful—or is it meaningless? It’s been explained to me a dozen times and I still can’t get it right—anyway, his religious convictions say he has to either stop it or—barring that—refuse to be a party to it.
    • Chapter 3 “Avoiding Kangaroos” (p. 113)
  • And who’s to say where life ceases and theater begins—
    • Chapter 3 “Avoiding Kangaroos” (p. 113)
  • “Ah ha!” the Spike said. “I think we have just gotten down to a gritty—or at least a nitty.”
    • Chapter 3 “Avoiding Kangaroos” (p. 123)
  • You seem to be using some sort of logical system where when you get near any explanation, you say: “By definition my problem is insoluble. Now that explanation over there would solve it. But since I’ve defined my problem as insoluble, then by definition that solution doesn’t apply.”
    • Chapter 3 “Avoiding Kangaroos” (p. 123)
  • Political commitment isn’t a perimeter, Sam; it’s a parameter. Don’t you ever wonder? Don’t you ever doubt?
    • Chapter 4 “La Geste d’Helstrom” (p. 140)
  • Let me tell you a secret. There is a difference between men and women, a little, tiny one that, I’m afraid, has probably made most of your adult life miserable and will probably continue to make it so till you die. The difference is simply that women have only really been treated, by that bizarre, Derkheimian abstraction, “society,” as human beings for the last—oh, say sixty-five years; and then, really, only on the moons; whereas men have had the luxury of such treatment for the last four thousand. The result of this historical anomaly is simply that, on a statistical basis, women are just a little less willing to put up with certain kinds of shit than men—simply because the concept of a certain kind of shit-free Universe is, in that equally bizarre Jungian abstraction, the female “collective unconscious,” too new and too precious.
    • Chapter 6 “Objective Knowledge” (pp. 252-253)
  • Topologically, men and women are identical. Some things are just larger and more developed in one than the other and positioned differently.
    • Chapter 6 “Objective Knowledge” (p. 266)
  • She simply has no concept of what’s real and what’s fantasy—did I say? She’s in the theater.
    • Chapter 7 “Tiresias Descending, or Trouble on Triton” (p. 322)
  • Finally I just had to get out. Because when that fantasy seeps into the reality, she just becomes an incredibly ugly person. She feels she can distort anything that occurs for whatever purpose she wants. Whatever she feels, that’s what is, as far as she’s concerned.
    • Chapter 7 “Tiresias Descending, or Trouble on Triton” (p. 322)
  • You should always tell the truth, she thought, not because one lie leads to another, but rather because one lie could so easily lead you to that terrifying position from which, with just the help of a random dream, you can see, both back and ahead, the morass where truth and falsity are simply, for you, indistinguishable.
    • Chapter 7 “Tiresias Descending, or Trouble on Triton” (p. 329)
  • The emblem of a philosophy is not that it contains a set of specific thoughts, but that it generates a way of thinking.
    • Appendix B (p. 363)
All page numbers from the first edition mass market paperback published by Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-12333-5
  • Gorgik began to learn that most valuable of lessons without which no social progress is possible: If you are to stay in the good graces of the powerful, you had best, however unobtrusively, please the servants of the powerful.
    • Chapter 1, “The Tale of Gorgik” Section 2 (p. 15)
  • He was learning that power—the great power that shattered lives and twisted the course of nations—was like a fog over a meadow at evening. From any distance, it seemed to have a shape, a substance, a color, an edge, yet as you approached it, it seemed to recede before you. Finally, when common sense said you were at its very center, it still seemed just as far away, only by this time it was on all sides, obscuring any vision of the world beyond it.
    • Section 2 (p. 37)
  • One cannot truly trace the course of a life in a thousand pages. Let us have the reticence here not to attempt it in a thousand words.
    • Section 2 (p. 46)
  • All you are seeing is your own nostalgia for your girlhood trips up here into the hills, which were no doubt colored with the pleasantries of youth and idealism, which is—won’t you admit it?—finally just a form of ignorance.
    • Chapter 2, “The Tale of Old Venn” Section 1 (p. 76)
  • What I’ve observed—the pattern behind what I’ve observed—explains why what happens happens the way it does. It makes the whole process easier to see. Your idea is a possible explanation not of the observations but of a set of speculations, which, if you accepted them along with the explanation, would then only make you start seeing things and half-things where no things are.
    • Section 1 (p. 86)
  • And of course that is the problem with all truly powerful ideas. And what we have been talking of is certainly that. What it produces is illuminated by it. But applied where it does not pertain, it produces distortions as terrifying as the idea was powerful.
    • Section 1 (p. 87)
  • While any situation could be used as an image of any other, no thing could be an image of another—especially two things as complicated as two people. And to use them as such was to abuse them and delude oneself—that it was the coherence and ability of things (especially people) to be their unique and individual selves that allowed the malleability and richness of images to occur at all.
    • Section 2 (pp. 102-103)
  • She recalled her absurd attempt to construct an example—an image that, because it was constructed of things it simply did not fit, reversed the idea into an idea silly by itself, ridiculous in application—a ridiculousness that could easily, she saw, have strayed into the pernicious, the odious, or the destructive, depending on how widely one had insisted on applying it.
    • Section 2 (p. 104)
  • Childhood is that time in which we never question the fact that every adult act is not only an autonomous occurrence in the universe, but that it is also filled, packed, overflowing with meaning, whether that meaning works for ill or good, whether the ill or good is or is not comprehended.
    Adulthood is that time in which we see that all human actions follow forms, whether well or badly, and it is the perseverance of the forms that is, whether for better or worse, their meaning.
    Various cultures make the transition at various ages, which transition period lasts for varying lengths of time, one accomplishing it in a week with careful dances, ancient prayers, and isolate and specified rituals; another, letting it take its own course, offering no help for it, and allowing it to run on frequently for years. But at the center of the changeover there is a period—whether it be a moment’s vision or a year-long suspicion—where the maturing youth sees all adult behavior as merely formal and totally meaningless.
    • Section 3 (p. 114)
  • Her mother’s humpf mixed contempt with frustration. “You just don’t understand anything, do you? We try to bring up our children so that they are protected from the world’s evils, only to find we’ve raised a pack of innocents who seem to be about to stumble into them at every turn just from sheer stupidity!”
    • Section 3 (p. 115)
  • The mark of the truly civilized is their (truly baffling to the likes of you and me) patience with what truly baffles.
    • Chapter 3, “The Tale of Small Sarg” Section 3 (p. 140)
  • Nevertheless, I still wonder. Each of us, with money, gets further and further away from those moments where the hand pulls the beet root from the soil, shakes the fish from the net into the basket—not to mention the way it separates us from one another, so that when enough money comes between people, they lie apart like parts of a chicken hacked up for stewing.
    • Chapter 4, “The Tale of Potters and Dragons” Section 1 (p. 161)
  • But then, our way is the natural way ordained by god herself, whereas I have no idea whose set of social accidents and economic anomalies have contoured the ways of your odd and awkward land.
    • Section 2 (p. 177)
  • Bayle turned to watch the drifting mists along the shore and thought: In three days we have eaten with this Captain four times, talked with him about navigation, his three families, his collection of miniature clay idols, and have all decided he is a deep and impressive, if somewhat absentminded man. Yes, save I take this same ship returning, I may never see him again. Strange are the ways of travel.
    • Section 3 (p. 179)
  • You mean I’ve come all this way to kill a man, and you tell me he’s gone?
    • Section 3 (p. 183)
  • Look, if he’s alive, there’s nothing we have to do about it. If he’s dead, there’s nothing we can do.
    • Section 4 (p. 192)
  • It is far easier to argue that something nobody believes in actually exists than it is to argue that something everybody believes in is unreal.
    • Section 4 (p. 196)
  • You were beautiful and some ways rather a bore. But you have grown up into another over-refined soul of the sort our aristocracy is so good at producing and which produces so little itself save ways to spend unconscionable amounts on castles, clothes, and complex towers to keep comfortable impossible beasts.
    • Chapter 5, “The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers” Section 1 (p. 214; ellipsis in the original)
  • “So,” said Raven, “once again tonight we are presented with a mysterious sign and no way to know whether it completes a pattern or destroys one.”
    • Section 3 (p. 245)
  • But almost as if presenting the image of some ironic answer, the wings flapped against a sudden, high, unfelt breeze, and the beast, here shorn of all fables, rose and rose—for a while—under the night.
    • Section 3 (p. 245; closing words)
All page numbers from the first mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-24177-X
  • And it is the notions of reality and unreality themselves which finally become suspect when either one is mirrored in art, much less when both are mirrored together.
    • Chapter 3, “Of Markets, Maps, Cellars, and Cisterns” (p. 61)
  • The doll? Who decided that the young should rehearse the physical care of infants, so that they know them as objects to be bounced, cuddled, or abandoned when boring before they know their own, real infants as living beings full of the responsiveness anterior to language that is the basis of all expressed reason?
    • Chapter 3, “Of Markets, Maps, Cellars, and Cisterns” (p. 62)
  • It’s a good idea, when people are curious, to give them something to sustain that curiosity—and direct it.
    • Chapter 3, “Of Markets, Maps, Cellars, and Cisterns” (p. 65)
  • To be a bandit is better than to be a slave!
    • Chapter 4, “Of Fate, Fortune, Mayhem, and Mystery” (p. 86)
  • “You are not traditionally beautiful; and you know it. We women do. But what most people mean by beauty is really a kind of aesthetic acceptability, not so much character as a lack of it, a set of features and lineaments that hide their history, that suggest history itself does not exist. But the template by which we recognize the features and forms in the human body that cause the heart to halt, threatening to spill us over into the silence of death—that is drawn on another part of the soul entirely...But all sing, chant, hymn the history of the body, if only because we all know how people regard bodies that deviate from the lauded and totally abnormal norm named beauty. Most of us would rather not recognize such desires in ourselves and thus avoid all contemplation of what the possession of such features means about the lives, the bodies, the histories of others, preferring instead to go on merely accepting the acceptable. But that is not who I am.”
    • Chapter 5, “Of Matrons, Mornings, Motives, and Machinations” (p. 103; ellipsis represents a minor elision of description)
  • The city is very different from the country, girl. It is a kind of shared consciousness that begins its work on you as soon as you enter it, if not well before, a consciousness that begins to separate you from the country possibly even before you decide to journey toward it. It encircles you with forces much greater than the walls and gates which imitate tinier villages or towns. People who come to it come seeking the future, not realizing all that will finally affect them in it is their own, only more or less aware, involvement with the past. The way we do things here—really, that’s all there is to be learned in our precincts. But in the paving of every wide, clear avenue, in the turnings of every dark, overhung alley, in the ornaments on every cornice, in the salt-stained stones of each neighborhood cistern, there are traces of the way things once were done—which is the key to why they are done as they are today.
    • Chapter 5, “Of Matrons, Mornings, Motives, and Machinations” (p. 104)
  • Slaves are men and women who labor for no pay. Over there are men who do no labor for no pay. The similarity is enough so that they might make the mistake themselves.
    • Chapter 7, “Of Commerce, Capital, Myths, and Missions” (p. 147)
  • As one grows older, one lives more and more off the little signs of whatever community one moves through day to day and less and less off the gifts that fall out of individual relationships. If one does not prepare for this change in youth, than age becomes a bitter time. This is not to disparage the beauty of one’s relationships with lover or friend. It is only to acknowledge what, for so many in the city, is a sad truth. Community can, however awkwardly, replace individual relationships. But individual relationships only grow poisonous and resentful if there is no community to support them.
    • Chapter 7, “Of Commerce, Capital, Myths, and Missions” (p. 147)
  • For better or for worse, she found herself putting aside fear in favor of curiosity.
    • Chapter 7, “Of Commerce, Capital, Myths, and Missions” (p. 163)
  • That’s the trouble with spies, you know. It’s not that they carry information. It’s that they carry fragmentary information, out of context, misconstrued, badly interpreted, incomplete, and misread.
    • Chapter 8, “Of Models, Moonlight, Mystery, and Authority” (p. 197)
  • With adolescence, Pryn had certainly taken on the sometimes troubling knowledge that almost anything with an outside and an inside supporting movement from one to the other could be sexually suggestive.
    • Chapter 8, “Of Models, Moonlight, Mystery, and Authority” (p. 199)
  • Play makes a human being! Work just means you don’t have to feel guilty about playing, which I don’t feel much anyway. Mainly work means I don’t have to suffer the taunts of my friends who wonder why I’m playing as hard as I do!
    • Chapter 9, “Of Night, Noon, Time, and Transition” (p. 238)
  • ‘To write for others,’ she thought, ‘it seems one must be a spy—or a teller of tales.’
    • Chapter 11, “Of Family Gatherings, Grammatology, More Models, and More Mysteries” (p. 313)
  • Pryn felt the reckless freedom of assertion.
    • Chapter 11, “Of Family Gatherings, Grammatology, More Models, and More Mysteries” (p. 330)
  • ‘The problem you have put me will remain a problem till the globe of the world and the globe of the sun meet in their common center and the one consumes the other. This answer I have proposed, however, humanity will know and forget, know and forget, know and forget again. And that knowing and forgetting will approximate the peaks and depths of civilization as closely as the quotient of your tosses approximates that number which, rationally, we know is not there.’
    • Chapter 12, “Of Models, Monsters, Night, and the Numinous” (p. 358)
  • “It’s a map of a non-existent coast under an imaginary constellation on an impossible sky in—” he grunted, twisting something—“the middle of a ring of meaningless numbers. That’s why it’s powerful. That’s why it’s magic.”
    • Chapter 12, “Of Models, Monsters, Night, and the Numinous” (p. 365)
  • Myself, I suspect it’s a kind of madness: the madness that makes one repeat whatever one is trained to repeat.
    • Chapter 12, “Of Models, Monsters, Night, and the Numinous” (p. 367)
  • What real power can buy, of course, is anonymity.
    • Chapter 12, “Of Models, Monsters, Night, and the Numinous” (p. 376)
  • What references she’d overheard were all oblique enough so that, without knowing what they referred to, she’d have no way to interpret them and so hadn’t really heard them at all.
    • Chapter 13, “Of Survival, Celebration, and Unlimited Semiosis” (p. 404)
  • Young writers take that most communal object, language, and perform on it that most individual act, creation.
    • Appendix B, “Acknowledgments” (p. 447)
All page numbers from the first edition mass market paperback published by Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-24856-1
All italics as in the book
  • Appearances are signs of possibilities, at least when one remembers that what appears may be a sign by masking as easily as by manifesting.
    • Chapter 1, “The Tale of Fog and Granite” Section 2 (p. 9)
  • Life, I sometimes think—like dreams, like stories, like plans, even like lies if you will—is to be pondered on, interpreted, interrogated: but you had best not try to change it too radically in the middle, or you risk never finding its secret.
    • Section 10 (p. 109)
  • I’m a public man, my princess. That means my only meaning is the web of signs I publicly inhabit.
    • Section 10 (p. 111)
  • Could it be, he wondered, he’d only thought he’d seen what he’d seen because of his own desires, researches, expectations?
    • Section 10 (pp. 117-118)
  • But that kind has not a true word in him. I wouldn’t be surprised if everything he said were a lie. Such as he lies as he breathes. Truth is something he’s never even learned to speak.
    • Section 11 (p. 123)
  • Life is hard for everyone, and we must not take credit ourselves for the little that others can do with theirs. Rather look instead to whom we can give credit, if not thanks, for what little we have been able to do with our own.
    • Chapter 2, “The Mummer’s Tale” Section 1 (p. 134)
  • What makes a boy interesting does not make a man interesting.
    • Section 1 (p. 136)
  • But whatever you say of them, finally I had to dismiss such notions as the ratiocinations desire can entangle about the most sensible of us.
    • Section 4 (p. 164)
  • To be morally upset about how other people take their sexual pleasure is surely the weirdest human quirk ever.
    • Chapter 3 “Appendix A: The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals” Section 7, (p. 215)
  • It is the rare society that does not abuse its artists.
    • Section 7.2 (p. 216)
  • Content, of course, must have some form. And form, of course, creates its content/commentary. This is why their chimeras have chased each other through moment after moment of history, the intense perception of one or the other producing the overwhelming effect: Art.
    • Section 8.21 (p. 232)
  • If all human production (aesthetic or otherwise) has its documentary aspect (i.e., it can be associated, by a knowledgeable reader, with a time and place), does this endanger its aesthetic aspects per se? It is the richness of the pattern that is aesthetically at stake. How many art histories does it take to make us understand that reference (a use context) and historicity are not the same?
    • Section 8.55 (p. 241)
  • You understand, Pryn, I don’t believe in any of it: magic, miracles, religion, the calling of the gods, named or unnamed.
    • Section 9.21 (p. 248)
  • I confess, the Amnewor is new to me. Yes, I’ve heard the name—as a minor fact in some other god’s story. Precisely what it did, though, I can’t remember. That, of course, makes it more intriguing. Death. It was associated with endless, mindless, pointless death. But which of them isn’t?
    • Section 9.81 (p. 273)
  • I believe art is a wholly formal enterprise, encompassing almost all the tenets that the nineteenth century spoke of as l’art pour l’art, tenets which have made twentieth century’s experimentation possible. (What postmodern doesn’t?)
    • Section 9.811 (p. 273)
  • But as soon as any of us dies, there is only the monster left. What I had been pursuing was not Belham but the monster called Belham. And what my whole journey had taught me was precisely what sort of monster it was: it was made, as all such monsters are, of contradiction, supposition, miscalculation, impossibility, and ignorance.
    • Section 9.82 (p. 302)
  • Yes, I learned about monsters on that trip. And I learned about them in these encounters afterward:
    First, monsters are real.
    Second, they are us.
    • Section 9.83 (p. 318)
  • The artist’s performance is always more or less aleatory.
    • Section 11.2 (p. 334)
  • The audience’s performance is always more or less stochastic.
    • Section 11.2 (p. 336)
  • We moved toward that precipice with a motion as inexorable as that with which time takes us toward our death.
    • Section 13 (p. 348)
  • In a sense, modern philosophy is a series of introductions to introductions to introductions, the movement between them controlled by the pro-tective/pro-textive play of forces about desire.
    • Appendix B, “Closures and Openings” Section 8 (p. 368; see note on Discussion page)
  • Origins are always constructs, always contouring ideological agendas.
    • Section 11 (p. 368)
  • I felt, and still feel, that it is important for fantasy to have a grasp of the complexity of fact, if not of factual content.
    • Section 12 (p. 372)
  • Men and women are less than a chromosome apart.
    • Section 14 (p. 374)
  • The deconstructionists have led off this set of new readings most energetically by asking of certain texts: “What do they have to say that specifically undermines and subverts their own ideological array?” As energetic as the deconstructionist foray has been, we must remember that there are still going to be many texts for which we can expect the answer: “Not much.”
    • Section 18 (p. 380)
All page numbers from the first edition mass market paperback published by Tor ISBN 0-812-54317-3, 1st printing, February 1996
  • Oh, I assure you—I’m only a little outlaw. Don’t fear me, friend. I never broke any big laws. I just forget and do what I want sometimes, and discover it wasn’t what someone else wanted me to do.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 96)
  • Half dead’s a lot worse than dead, when you know you’re gonna die in another three, six days no matter what anyone else does.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 166)
  • I’ve always thought thinking about how to live was more important than thinking about after we die. One likes to assume death will take care of itself. It’s just a bit disconcerting to see so many other people putting so much energy into taking care of it for you. Life has always been such a surprise, death, I expect—even if it’s nothing—will be one too.
    • Chapter 7 (pp. 199-200)
  • Oh, I cannot tell you how the notion of eternity bores me—not to mention all the silly stories we are always making up to render the idea palatable!
    • Chapter 7 (p. 202)
  • I have always tried to do what was right. But long ago I learned that being right was a brutal, cruel, and thankless position. Oh—I wish I could see you more clearly! If you pursue yourself in that manner, your friends will criticize you for it, call you a fool—as I have called you. But then, with only a few unhappy moments, I’ve always considered myself your friend. The things that made you hate me, I only did to shock you, to wake you up, to make you become yourself…
    • Chapter 7 (p. 203)
  • Like contemporary poetry, philosophy is one of those things, especially at the beginning stages, most people would rather do than study — which is why most of what gets done is so impoverished.
    • p. 11
  • Honesty is the best policy; a policy is, after all, a strategy for living in the polis — in the city …
    • p. 67; ellipses in the original
  • What I look for in a friend is someone who's different from me. The more different the person is, the more I'll learn from him. The more he'll come up with surprising takes on ideas and things and situations.
    • p. 239
  • But it's always intriguing to discover the ways in which desire fuels the systems of the world.
    • p. 257
  • Suppose I was researching, not the life of some genius philosopher with his books and articles and a wake of articulate friends and acquaintances, but rather, a homeless kid in and out of mental hospitals for chronic masturbation and indecent exposure?...How would I even start?
    • p. 279

Hogg (1995)

  • Men hate bitches the way white men hate niggers. … Long as they do like we say they're suppose to do, everything always looks fine. But let one of them get even a little, teeny, weeny bit out of line, then you watch what happens — we wanna kill. We may not kill, but we wanna kill. Well, if I was a bitch and knew what I know 'cause I ain't one, I'd get out there and start killin' first.
    • p. 82
  • "I think I ain't never met a normal, I mean normal, man who wasn't crazy! Loon crazy, take 'em off and put 'em away crazy, which is what they would do if there wasn't so many of them. Every normal man — I mean sexually normal, now — man I ever met figures the whole thing runs between two points: What he wants, and what he thinks should be. Every thought in his head is directed to fixing a rule-straight line between them, and he calls that line: What Is. … On the other hand, every faggot or panty-sucker, or whip jockey, or SM freak, or baby-fucker, or even a motherfucker like me, we know —" and his hands came down like he was pushing something away: "We know, man, that there is what we want, there is what should be, and there is what is: and don't none of them got anything to do with each other unless —" The bartender was shaking his head." — unless we make it," Hogg went on anyway.
    • p. 121

Quotes about Samuel R. Delany

  • there is Samuel R. Delany who was one of my teachers and who's kind of the grand master.
  • Sam Delaney said about science fiction that it was a rich symbiotic environment that talks about what you desire. Someone was asking him about sexuality in his work and whether he thought the genre of science fiction allowed him to play, and he said that there was something, not just about science fiction books, but about science fiction culture, about going to cons, and about that being a unique place in allowing people to articulate what they desire and what they fantasize about, whether or not it was something they would actually do, that this freed them up in a way.
  • Delany: All hail the King.
    • 2012 interview included in Conversations with Nalo Hopkinson edited by Isiah Lavender III
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