Monday, August 24, 2009
Empire Star is now packaged in volume with Babel-17, both by the great Samuel R Delany, also the author of the incredible Dhalgren. Until I read the double feature book, the only Delany I had ever managed to finish was Dhalgren, which blew my mind. I had never read anything like it ever before, and I'm not sure if I ever will.
One can't discuss Empire Star without first discussing Babel-17. In the latter novel, one world is warring against another world, and it seems the enemy is employing a new weapon in the form of a new language. Inspired by the (now incorrect) Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, in which language shapes thought, the novel attempts to show the development of the protagonist through the development of his social and linguistic eduction.
Without ruining anything, Comet-Jo goes from some backwater satellite community to the eponymous Empire Star, the mysterious star at the centre of the Universe, the centre of the story. His knowledge, language, and wisdom increase with each encounter that he has with various people and things.
As the novel progresses, the reader and the protagonist get the eerie sense of deja-vu. It feels like all the characters have already seen Comet-Jo, or will see Comet-Jo, or are possibly Comet-Jo. It's weird, but nothing distracting.
Once Comet-Jo reaches Empire Star, with whatever message that he was supposed to bring that he'll what is when he reaches Empire Star, we realize that the novel loopos upon itself numerous times, like the anthropomorphic jewel that Comet-Jo carries around that narrates the story. It's a story refracted across time.
Even ignoring the exquisite prose that Delany is known for, the sheer inventiveness and artistry of the complex plot makes this novel amazing. Here is a book where the main character has a linear story, but everything else has a non-linear progression, and it all makes sense and is accomplished with flair.
Empire-Star is a novel that your savor and appreciate for the artifice, the skill involved in constructing something this intricate, but still short and sweet. Less is more, apparently. If you've read Dhalgren, or ever had an interest in science fiction, Empire Star is essential reading.