Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Einstein Intersection

Oh boy. This is exactly why I fall away from reading Delany. After reading the fairly accessible Jewels of Aptor, I decided to try my luck with his Hugo Award-winning novel The Einstein Intersection. I'm going to quote another reviewer here, because he perfectly explains why readers have such trouble with him.
I always get nervous right before I start to read something by Delany. Not that I'm afraid that it will be drek, but rather, I know almost with an unfailing certainty I will feel pretty stupid when I finish it. Stupid, as in "Damn, that Delany's operating on a plane so far above me I can feel my IQ points dribbling out my ears with each page I turn."
This is from RevolutionSF, written by Jayme Lynn Blaschke in 2002. Bearing this in mind, let's take a look at this novel.

Lo Lobey is a talented musician in his small village, who is in love with Friza. She dies under mysterious circumstances and Lobey takes his sword-flute and journals through the wild while being tormented by Billy The Kid, who is also Death. He joins a group of dragon-herders, and they eventually come to a city filled with millions of people, and he meets The Dove, a beautiful woman who reveals to him some information.

On the top level of this novel is a post-apocalyptic story of an important young man on a quest to find his love. On the next level is the archetypal Orpheus story. On the next level is a postmodern novel about archetypes. On the next level is a metafiction about the irresistible permanency of myths. This is not an easy novel. Or is it?

Spoilers begin.

Certainly The Einstein Intersection can be read fairly straightforward: humanity has been wiped out by nuclear war - aliens or something higher have come to Earth, picked up the human form, and can't help themselves from unconsciously acting out our greatest stories, no matter the consequences. Lobey, the protagonist, goes on an archetypal Hero's Journey, meets some strnage creatures, learn a meaningful secret about the nature of his reality, and then has a showdown.

What complicates things are the journal entries from the author himself, commenting on how he is actively writing the story. I'm willing to bet that the journal is as fabricated as the rest of the novel is. However, the author seems to be drawn into the story (emotionally, rather than as a character, like in typical metafiction), to the point where it feels like the story has achieved parthenogenesis.

And the point of all this post-modern claptrap? The primeval power of myths and symbols, and how we can never escape them. Not even aliens visiting our planet could ever hope to escape them. If this isn't a love letter to Carl Jung's theories, I don't know what is.

Luckily, Delany's absolutely astonishing power of prose makes this a wonderful, albeit confusing, ride.

Something I find fascinating about all this is how each novel Delany writes seems to build up to the next one. He wrote this one in 1967, and later in 1975, wrote Dhalgren (a novel of his I keep referring to for good reason). In Dhalgren, my theory is that the story they live in has been divorced from meaning, ie the symbols and mythology have been separated from the human collective memory. This is in opposed theme to The Einstein Intersection. Or is it? Perhaps, Dhalgren is the warning that this is what happens when you lose your rich history of story?

I haven't really even discussed the plot, or the characters or what have you of The Einstein Intersection. I'm more interested in this novel as a book of ideas, instead of a rip roaring adventure tale set in the far future. But, believe me when I say that it truly works as both.

The Einstein Intersection is a tremendously fascinating novel filled with complex ideas and is drawn from the deep well of our common stories. It's also a great time capsule of what the New Age of science fiction was in the Sixties. It's also a really fun story told by an absolute master of the English language. I strongly urge any fan of sci-fi to pick it up and give it a try.

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