Monday, August 23, 2010

The Jewels of Aptor

As aforementioned in the last post, I picked up another Samuel R Delany novel, specifically The Jewels of Aptor. I absolutely love Delany, but he can be difficult, and difficult to find. However, each time I finish a Delany novel, I'm exhilarated and desperate to start the next one, only to be thwarted by his far too alien worlds. The Jewels of Aptor is his first published novel, which I didn't know until I was looking for a picture of the cover (of my edition)

A strange representative of an ancient Goddess sends two sailors, one a poet, one a giant, and a very young four-armed thief on a mission to an island where the final third jewel of Aptor is being held, along with the woman's daughter. On the boat ride out, they are accosted by the first mate who accuses the thief of being a spy, but is he? Or is the first mate a spy? When they reached the monster-filled island, things are definitely not what they seem.

This novel, or novella depending on your definition, is only 160 odd pages, and every single one of them is chock full of the most complex and beautiful prose. Nobody, and I mean nobody, writes like Samuel R Delany. The closest I've ever read to Delany is D. H. Lawrence, except in subject matter and theme. Delany's voice is so absolutely strong and confident, and this is his first novel, published in his early twenties.

The plot is fairly complicated considered the novel's length. The concept of trinities is explored in depth, along with the nature of free will, the collective unconscious, humanity's inhumanity, and the consequences of an atomic age. Not only are all these weighty themes looked at, but there's also a giant blob monster that forms human shapes as soldiers and a nest of nun-vampires with wings. Tell me that doesn't sound awesome.

This isn't a novel without flaws, though. Most of the plot is expounded in exposition-heavy scenes. We're constantly having discussions on the thrust of the plot, and the motives of everybody else. Delany also has his not-quite crystallized theme concerning the power of storytelling, which develops quite fully in Dhalgren, among other novels. The fetal nature in which he handles this is quite clumsy considering his masterpieces published later, but you can't fault a writer for that.

The Jewels of Aptor is a crazy bizarre science fiction novel that seems to break as many rules as it follows. Readers of science fiction could hardly go wrong with Delany, with his amazing lyrical style, very strong dialogue, and the sheer complexity that comes with everything he writes, even this novel. I really enjoyed this, and I'm excited to read more Delany.

I picked up Larry Niven's Ringworld from the library and read about 30 pages so far. Certainly a drop in prose quality in comparison with Delany, but I really like the hard science subgenre. I gave up on Downbelow Station, Manifold: Time, and Lord of Light, all for the same reason - it just didn't grab me. Keep checking back for more inane prattle about books.

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