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 R. Delany (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.

Quotes[edit]

  • 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

The Jewels of Aptor (1962)[edit]

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)

The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965)[edit]

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.

Babel-17 (1966)[edit]

  • 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

The Star Pit (1967)[edit]

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 Einstein Intersection (1967)[edit]

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)

Nova (1968)[edit]

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)

Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones (1968)[edit]

Novelette which won both the Hugo and the Nebula award

Equinox (1973)[edit]

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)[edit]

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)[edit]

Who’s to say where life ceases and theater begins…
Later re-titled Trouble on Triton : An Ambiguous Heterotopia; ll 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)

Tales of Nevèrÿon (1979)[edit]

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 heartless...in 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)

The Mad Man (1994)[edit]

  • 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)[edit]

  • 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

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