Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


Rate this book
These are [at least some of] the ways you can read NOVA: as a fast-action farflung interstellar adventure; as archetypal mystical/mythical allegory (in which the Tarot and the Grail both figure prominently); as modern myth told in the S-F idiom... the reader observes, recollects, or participates in a range of personal experience including violent pain and disfigurement, sensory deprivation and overload, man-machine communion, the drug experience, the creative experience - and inter-personal relationships which include incest and assassination, father-son, leader-follower, human-pet, and lots more!

The balance of galactic power in the 31st century revolves around Illyrion, the most precious energy source in the universe. The varied and exotic crew who sign up with Captain Lorq van Ray know their mission is dangerous, and they soon learn that they are involved in a deadly race with the charismatic but vicious leader of an opposing space federation. But they have no idea of Lorq's secret obsession: to gather Illyrion at the source by flying through the very heart of an imploding star.

241 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1968

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Samuel R. Delany

269 books1,922 followers
Samuel Ray Delany, also known as "Chip," is an award-winning American science fiction author. He was born to a prominent black family on April 1, 1942, and raised in Harlem. His mother, Margaret Carey Boyd Delany, was a library clerk in the New York Public Library system. His father, Samuel Ray Delany, Senior, ran a successful Harlem undertaking establishment, Levy & Delany Funeral Home, on 7th Avenue, between 1938 and his death in 1960. The family lived in the top two floors of the three-story private house between five- and six-story Harlem apartment buildings. Delany's aunts were Sadie and Bessie Delany; Delany used some of their adventures as the basis for the adventures of his characters Elsie and Corry in the opening novella Atlantis: Model 1924 in his book of largely autobiographical stories Atlantis: Three Tales.

Delany attended the Dalton School and the Bronx High School of Science, during which he was selected to attend Camp Rising Sun, the Louis August Jonas Foundation's international summer scholarship program. Delany and poet Marilyn Hacker met in high school, and were married in 1961. Their marriage lasted nineteen years. They had a daughter, Iva Hacker-Delany (b. 1974), who spent a decade working in theater in New York City.

Delany was a published science fiction author by the age of 20. He published nine well-regarded science fiction novels between 1962 and 1968, as well as several prize-winning short stories (collected in Driftglass [1971] and more recently in Aye, and Gomorrah, and other stories [2002]). His eleventh and most popular novel, Dhalgren, was published in 1975. His main literary project through the late 1970s and 1980s was the Return to Nevèrÿon series, the overall title of the four volumes and also the title of the fourth and final book.

Delany has published several autobiographical/semi-autobiographical accounts of his life as a black, gay, and highly dyslexic writer, including his Hugo award winning autobiography, The Motion of Light in Water.

Since 1988, Delany has been a professor at several universities. This includes eleven years as a professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a year and a half as an English professor at the University at Buffalo. He then moved to the English Department of Temple University in 2001, where he has been teaching since. He has had several visiting guest professorships before and during these same years. He has also published several books of criticism, interviews, and essays. In one of his non-fiction books, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999), he draws on personal experience to examine the relationship between the effort to redevelop Times Square and the public sex lives of working-class men, gay and straight, in New York City.

In 2007, Delany was the subject of a documentary film, The Polymath, or, The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman. The film debuted on April 25 at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,127 (26%)
4 stars
3,045 (38%)
3 stars
2,044 (25%)
2 stars
554 (6%)
1 star
175 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 599 reviews
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
February 7, 2016
flawed but heroic space captain, on a mission that is part vengeance and part noble quest, assembles a disparate crew to fly through a nova. this is Samuel R. Delany so that synopsis just barely scratches the surface.

I'm going to copy & paste a post regarding this book that I just made in a group I moderate. hopefully the pasted post will eventually turn out to be notes for an actual review, but who knows, I'm whimsical. and lazy!

Delany's prose reminds me of a couple musicians I like, John Cage and John Zorn. Cage because they both create strange, shimmering beauty out of disparate parts that I wouldn't expect to find beautiful. Zorn because I usually have no idea what is going to come next, what one part will turn into, and what that will turn into next. the music analogy occurred to me fairly early because the futuristic music that the highly endearing character Mouse creates is central to the story.

is there hard science in this book? I am not a science guy, not remotely, and a lot of what Delany was describing flew right over my head. so much so that I couldn't tell if it was actual science or if it was Delany using science in a fantastical way.

one of the things I often notice when reading science fiction from earlier eras is how much these authors can pack into such a short number of pages. just a bit over 200 pages! and yet Delany successfully develops multiple characters, an entire future society, a revenge narrative, and much else in those pages. very, very impressive. such a small package but so much within.

loved the use of tarot cards. I think the only other science fiction I've read that had such heavy use was Piers Anthony's Tarot series. and now I'm a little embarrassed that I've mentioned Piers Anthony. but he had some good novels!

I'm a bit shaky on the Grail Quest within this novel. it appears central but at the same time its use was somewhat obscure to me. I have to think on that a little bit, maybe do some research.

one of the things I like about New Wave science fiction authors is just how literary they can get. I have no problem with straightforward 'genre prose' but I just really, really love the artistry of more experimental writers who don't handhold readers from point A to B and who treat their prose with a combination of playfulness and seriousness, like it's a fun challenge for them to write what they intend to be a fun challenge to read. reading Delany and others of his ilk is the opposite of a passive experience. it is the kind of a writing that hits many different parts of me at different times and in different ways. exciting prose!
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
August 28, 2016
“NOVA!” – Queen sings – Ahhh-Ahhhh!

Reading this, I could not help thinking about the 1980 Mike Hodges film Flash Gordon starring Max von Sydow and Sam Jones. Many critics and reviewers have used the term “space opera” to label and describe Samuel Delaney’s imaginative Hugo nominated 1968 science fiction novel, and I think I will join those ranks.

Wikipedia defines “space opera" as follows:

Space opera is a sub genre of science fiction that often emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, weapons, and other technology.

I call Nova a space opera because of the dramatic, chamber-like setting of a science fiction story. While Delaney explains his science well and his novel contains all of the usual elements of the genre, it is similar to John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in that all or most of the action takes place in a closed setting, as if on a theater stage.

Comparing the novel to Flash Gordon and affixing the space opera label on the work may lead some readers to assign the novel to the campy or pulpy lower ranks of sci-fi mediocrity. This is far from the case. Delaney has crafted an adventure of far future cultural and socio-economic complexity and all wound together with a refreshingly original literary talent. It is readily clear that the author, a green but educated 25 at the time of submission, has a creative ability that generations of writers-to-be would give an artificial limb to possess.

Delaney’s science is cutting edge as well, and he anticipates the cyberpunk sub-genre (more than a decade early) while blending together a rich topography of classical, mythological and mystical constituents.

A must read for a true science fiction fan.

Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews270 followers
July 11, 2015
Nova: A New-Wave Grail Quest space opera from the 1960s
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Nova is Samuel "Chip" Delany's 1968 space opera with mythic/Grail Quest overtones. It is packed with different themes, subtexts, allegorical and cultural references, and literary experiments, and the young author (just 25 years old) is clearly a very talented, intelligent, and passionate writer.

But I didn't enjoy it, sadly. While I thought Babel-17 was a very fast-paced, vivid and engaging space opera that centered on language and identity, this book felt very turgid and forced. Why, you ask? Well, the author was determined to mold the story along the lines of a Grail Quest, Moby Dick, and Jason and the Argonauts, with the goal being a race to retrieve the super material Illyrion from the heart of a recently-exploded nova, in order to swing the balance of power in the universe between feuding aristocratic families. So events in the story have to conform to this format, and none of the actions of the characters rang true to me.

Obsession, greed, revenge, vying for supremacy - I can understand those emotions. But the actions of the characters, both the principals and supporting cast, don't seem to make much sense. If this rag-tag group of misfits was really determined to retrieve this material, why the heck did Delany structure the story the way he did? The first 10-15% of the book has Captain Lorq Von Ray gathering together his crew, and then for the next 50% of the book there is an overlong flashback of Lorq's childhood and encounters with the rival Red family and his nemesis Prince Red and his beautiful but submissive sister.

It's good to build the backstory for why the characters have such animosity for each other, but this section goes on far too long. There is also a detailed side-story about a young gypsy musician named Mouse, a windbag intellectual named Katin who wants to try the long-lost art of writing a novel, a drawn-out episode involving Tarot cards and how scientific they are, and a seemingly-aimless pit-stop on a planet that results in a major confrontation that ends inconclusively. By the time the mission to find the nova gets underway, we're already 70% through the book! Finally in the last 10% of the book the long-awaited encounter with the nova develops into a thoroughly unbelievable standoff between the main characters. This part made no sense to me whatsoever.

Though the writing quality and language are consistently strong like Babel-17, I feel like this was wasted since the story's pacing was so interminable and the mythic undertones just didn't resonate with me. I've always felt that realistic character motivations and world-building are far more appealing than stories that try hard to be symbolic and archetypal. Even within the book this dynamic is debated between the impulsive, emotional Mouse and the dry, intellectual Katin. Unfortunately, it seems that Katin has had a greater influence on the story than Mouse, and I never trust a book where a character is writing a novel that doesn't yet have a subject. You can see where that is headed a mile away.

There are certainly some fascinating cyborg aspects of the book that have clearly been influential on the Cyberpunk movement, since characters have implants (plugs) that allow them to directly interface with sockets and operate all types of machinery. Neuromancer, anyone? Even in Babel-17, I liked the fact that there was a huge databank of stored personalities that could be revived as discorporates.

But as should be clear now, though Delany can spin off lots of neat SF ideas, his real interests lie much more in the literary direction. Speaking of which, his 1968 Hugo Award winner The Einstein Intersection is probably the most overtly allegorical of all his books, but at least it is short, which cannot be said of his massive (and reportedly unreadable) magnum opus Dhalgren.
Profile Image for Mark.
Author 58 books72 followers
March 10, 2017
Finished a reread of Samuel R. Delany's Nova for my reading group. I'll post a longer review later, but for now...

Nova is considered by some critics as the last of Delany's early period, "lesser" novels. I think it is the first of his masterpieces insofar as he fully embraces what will become a trademark in the next several---Dhalgren, Trouble On Triton, and all the Neveryon books, ending with Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand, namely the full use of metafiction. Many mainstream literary novelists employed it in roughly the same time period---Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, Fowles, even Vonnegut, and certain Atwood, Murdoch, Peircy, and Lessing---but one rarely encountered it in science fiction. Certainly it was never used to such effect until much later. In Nova we find it's first full deployment.

On the surface, this is a space opera-style adventure, a feud between two great families across the galaxy, high politics and finance, and a race for a treasure. It has all the classic tropes---an independently-owned starship, a motley crew, wild and vividly described planets, and at times nail-biting pacing---but it also steps back from itself to comment on what is happening in terms of history and myth, mostly via the character of Katin, a more or less aimless young man with an immense store of academic training and a finely-honed sense of process who has been taking notes for years on a novel he intends to write, which in this far flung time is a lost art. He joins the crew of the Roc almost by accident and quickly becomes invested in their quest as much for the relationships he makes among the varied members of the crew as for all the resonances he sees in the captain's self-imposed quest. It is a grail quest, it is a hunt for a white whale, it is spy-craft, and it is fate all rolled into one mission to an exploding star. Delany offers up the points of mythic resonance throughout for anyone who cares to find out more, tying the adventure to literary and cultural archetypes spanning millennia.

This raises the novel well above the level of simple adventure. Hints as to the nature of the crew---who is Jason, who is Argos, who is Medea, who is Ahab?---are sprinkled throughout.

As well, this book gives us a foretaste of the kind of evocative language Delany will hone in the next several novels.

As metafiction, Delany's novels are master classes on how science fiction is constructed and why the subtext connects so strongly to what on the surface appears to be a mere entertainment. He is as interested in how culture works as in what his characters go through. Nothing in a Delany novel happens in isolation from all of history and myth.
Profile Image for Mike.
513 reviews114 followers
June 20, 2013
Nova does not cease telling you how clever it is. It does this with plenty of the goobledigook that can mar any narrative, sci-fi or not. First: the neologisms meant to indicate that the writer really thought through his futuristic world ("sensory-syrynx" and "psychorama" are among the plenty). These are meant to broadcast the legitimacy of his imagined world and that, yes, he took care to note that language evolves with the times. Yet the dialogue and language otherwise has timeless problems: stilted exposition, weirdly clunky, or just plain stale talk no matter how grandiose the stage. Second are assumptions about structure that are disregarded for the sake of caprice: in this case, ending the novel in the middle of a sentence in the most groaner-y fashion possible. It should not have been a surprise considering chapters begin and end in the middle of a conversation for no discernible motive other than to force a cliffhanger when one doesn't appear naturally. But it was one of those non-surprises that still yielded an "oh, come on" out loud from yours truly. Third is the author-surrogate character, the always-unwelcome Katin, a neurotic soapbox of half-baked truths about a half-baked reality. Half-baked truths about the current reality are unpalatable; imagine hearing fallacious arguments spouted at length about the state of existence in an already intangible other-world.

Let's see, what else: as a plot it's relatively paper-thin. It's, at base, a "space opera" as they call it. And the odor of triteness that comes with the territory is pungent, indeed: both the antagonist and protagonists are meant to look sympathetic not because of their actions, but because they are both marked by physical deformity. The seeds of their rivalry germinate in a childhood "traumatic event" that defines the rest of their lives. A man loves his rival's sister, or so one thinks. There's even a set of twins that finish each others' sentences. The protagonist and his rivals are identically maniacal. The book is melodramatic not just in its template, but in its "weighty" themes.

There are ways Nova is just dangling philosophical ideas from a form as tried-and-true as it can get, and in the meantime uses the form to speculate about a future universe. This means characters relay background information to one another at length. This means the writer-surrogate gets to opine at length about whatever topic fits the author's whims. And sometimes it does feel like it is "whatever topic." The various subjects covered don't cohere all that well, even with the nova metaphor of a major self-collapse leaving something behind to salvage and re-build from. Basically, when the book isn't shoehorning Delaney's viewpoints into every open nook-and-cranny, it is marching along the narrowest and thinnest of narrative arcs. Moby-Dick this is not. I am confounded by the comparison.

The sad thing is those viewpoints aren't very enlightening or provocative. Some just feel over-confident and inapplicable. There's a debate between fiction and music, music being "of the moment" and fiction being "of the past." There's a flourish about how future civilizations combat the problem of worker alienation that is fairly clever, but ultimately too romantic and hollow. So, truly, Nova is an unsuccessful balancing act between high-minded and unsuccessful ideas, and a broad-minded and unsuccessful plot-romance-template. Sure, The Brothers Karamazov was, in essence, a courtroom drama interspersed with Christian philosophy. But it was more, wasn't it? It was so much more. That mixture of form and invention leaves one with more than the sum of its parts sometimes. (This is something fiction and music can have in common.) Other times, it leaves one with less than. Nova is one of those times.

Profile Image for Simon.
378 reviews78 followers
October 8, 2022
Out of the four novels by Samuel R. Delany that I have read so far, this is by far the most accessible one but still an unusual reading experience even today. How often do you read a space opera novel that's also a forerunner to cyberpunk, a futuristic take on 18th/19th century seafaring novels and an Arthurian grail quest myth at the same time?

You can see how "Nova" has been an inspiration for William Gibson and his ilk: Delany depicts a future where megacorporations have more influence than governments, mercenaries are more worth worrying about than state military forces, and where most humans in the story are partially cyborgised with brain/computer interfaces being commonplace and the villain's "red right hand" being that one of his arms is robotic. One interesting bit of worldbuilding is that Delany throws in a Roma character to show how the Roma people's refusal to cyborgise has become yet another excuse to discriminate against them! The scenes of "jacking in" to shipboard computers are reminiscent of similar scenes in Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy, and there are several plot points which Gibson outright borrowed for Neuromancer: Said Roma character, a travelling musician and soldier of fortune nicknamed "Mouse", functions as a viewpoint character who starts out down-on-his luck far away from home... where he gets a chance to get his life in order by signing up for a bizarre mission among other eccentric members of a ragtag crew. More or less the same situation as "cybercowboy" Henry Dorsett Case is in at the beginning of "Neuromancer". The villains are also a decadent and dysfunctional upper-class family whom Gibson might have modelled the Tessier-Ashpool clan on.

At the same time, "Nova" feels more like a 19th century seafaring novel than anything else. The main characters are space pirates whose spaceship is powered by solar sails, future society has regressed to 18th/19th century mercantilist economic systems with the megacorps resembling the East India Company more than Microsoft, when Delany describes the future architectural styles and fashion trends they even sound similar to those of the 19th century. There are obvious callbacks in the story and characters to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, with the starship captain Lorq van Ray being very much a futuristic Captain Ahab figure. On a personal level, I noticed the "Moby Dick" analogues more than the Grail Quest parallels though the characters in "Nova" actively point out the latter - in particular a member of the ship's crew, who goes on to write a novel about his experiences.

"Nova" might technically have a standard action-adventure plot at its core, but it's an unusual book to read because the whole thing is bristling with mad ideas. Delany puts a lot of work into creating several different future cultures with distinctive styles of art and craftsmanship, as well as lifestyles adapted to the respective exoplanets they inhabit - the results being future societies that feel genuinely alien. The atmosphere is certainly not as literal an "Age of Sail in space" which a more conventional SF author than Delany would have made of the same ingredients. The worldbuilding is consistently of high quality, where all the fictional cultures feel real in-universe, despite Delany avoiding more exposition than absolutely necessary. We also have characters successfully using the Tarot as a tool for divination, as well as the travelling warrior-bard protagonist having a futuristic music instrument that can also project holograms to illustrate the notes played (I wonder if Delany has synesthesia) which is used as a weapon in the book's very memorable climax.

The closest analogy I can think of among other SF works is probably Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, another futuristic take on 19th century adventure novels, but with a weird hippyish sense of tripped out surrealism that is the product of a different Zeitgeist than Bester. That atmosphere I've only really seen elsewhere in Jean "Moebius" Giraud' science-fiction comic books from the 1970's and 1980's (The Incal, The World of Edena, Major Grubert etc), to the point I'd be surprised if Moebius wasn't a fan of "Nova" or Delany's writing in general.

"Nova" is probably the best place to start with Samuel Delany out of those books by him I've read so far. Definitely recommended for people who want something different in their space opera.

Many thanks to Justin Isis for recommendation, his own science-fiction short story collection Welcome to the Arms Race being a modern take on New Wave Science Fiction with several of the stories showing a clear influence from Delany's writing style.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,292 followers
October 29, 2010
Ah, classic space opera: futuristic setting, oddball characters with oddball philosophies, and ships and science well beyond what we ken. Unlike a good deal of space opera, Nova is not a doorstopper. It is more modest in length and in focus, though not in scope. The cast of characters is small, but the events have large repercussion. Captain Lorq von Ray certainly has much in common with Captain Ahab, and obsession is an important motif in Nova. I hesitate to compare it to Moby-Dick—not because I think such a comparison is invalid but because I read Moby-Dick once, a long time ago, and don't much remember it. Instead, I'm going to grab hold of that space opera vibe and run with it.

First, a caveat. The term space opera is so hopelessly imprecise that you might not agree with how I'm using it, and that's OK. Hopefully you still understand what I'm saying about this form, even if you don't agree with my label for it.

I have a special place in my heart for space opera above other forms of science fiction. I want to attribute this in part to Dune , which was one of the earliest science-fiction novels I read. Two problems. Firstly, Dune is more of a planetary romance than a space opera. Sure, it has huge spaceships that cover vast interstellar distances in the blink of an eye. But as the title implies, the book is much more about the planet than the space around it. Secondly, and more importantly, Dune is not the book that influenced my perception of space opera for all time; that distinction belongs to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy .

But this isn't a review of h2g2, and perhaps one day I'll write a review explaining why I consider it my formative space opera experience. For now, let's return to Nova and Samuel R. Delany's use of space opera. Delany has divided humanity into a tripartite society based loosely on constellation: Draco contains Earth and the richest planets in known space, and it's home to Red-shift Limited, the sole manufacturer of faster-than-light drives and company owned by Prince Red; the Pleidaes Federation is the home of operations for the rival Von Rays, and its other rich families are the "new money" to Draco's "old;" finally there are the Outer Colonies, whose only attraction are the Illyrion mines, and whose population consists mostly of working class people. If you read this and start thinking, "class conflict," then you are on the right track.

Through the expository conversations between the Mouse and Katin, Delany explains how society has changed in the 1200 years that have elapsed between his time and theirs. I loved these parts of Nova, even when they seemed ancillary to the rest of the plot. Katin reminds me a little of myself, dismissive of the past yet simultaneously yearning for its philosophical renaissances. Katin can't quite believe that we twentieth-century folk were backward enough to doubt the accuracy of Tarot; he expresses his joy that the elimination of disease has made personal hygiene unnecessary (Delany neglects to address the problem of smell). As a student of history, he has taken the ultimate plunge of falling in love with an anachronistic literary form: the novel. Katin goes around making notes—he has over twelve thousand of them now—in preparation for his novel, which he has not yet begun for lack of a subject. It's good to see that despite other changes, there will always be writers who perpetually procrastinate in their writing. Despite his deferral of the task, Katin remains obsessed with the idea of writing a novel, of creating something from a dead art form. And this obsession drives him forward to observe and take notes, eventually bringing him to Lorq von Ray's ship.

Captain Lorq von Ray is obsessed with diving into the heart of a nova to harvest Illyrion. (I think Delany should have said a supernova, as they are not the same thing, but I'm not sure how well 1960s astrophysics differentiated between the two, so we'll let that slide.) This MacGuffin substance is a group of stable transuranic elements that, for reasons never explained, are the key to faster-than-light travel. Now, you can synthesize Illyrion, or you can mine it, but both of these operations are expensive and inefficient. Lorq is convinced he can come out—alive—with enough Illyrion to flood the market. Among other things, this would devastate Red-shift Limited.

Lorq's motives for upsetting the careful equilibrium between the Reds and the Von Rays become clear in a series of flashbacks, through which we see the enmity between Prince and Lorq develop. At first it seems like the incidents that incur Prince's ire are the result of misunderstandings. The two family patriarchs do their best to inculcate friendship between Lorq and Prince, but it doesn't take. And eventually it becomes clear that Prince is psychotic. While this spoils some of the tragedy for me, it adds an interesting dimension to the conflict.

Although Lorq and Prince have a personal enmity, their status as essentially modern aristocrats means this affects the fate of entire societies. If Lorq is successful, not only will he crush Prince's company; the Illyrion mines in the Outer Colonies will be obsolete over night. Millions of workers will be displaced. Prince—or more precisely, Ruby—asks Lorq how he can do such a thing, how he can damage the structure of society and create so much chaos. Lorq claims it is a matter of survival, that he has to strike before Prince does. But this is not a fairy tale, and Lorq is not Prince Charming, come to rescue the princess.

That princess, Ruby Red, intrigues me because she's such a weak character. She seems to have no will of her own, devoting herself instead to Prince and his schemes. As "the sister," she always had the potential to bring Lorq and Prince closer together or drive them apart. Owing to Prince's psychotic tendencies, it seems inevitable that it would be the latter; any time Lorq makes any kind of overture to Ruby, real or imagined, Prince goes berserk. But as far as we can see, Ruby never makes an attempt at reconciliation. She takes Prince's hate for Lorq and makes it her own, to the point where should would murder-suicide Lorq if she had the chance:

Your are not the only one with secrets, Lorq. Prince and I have ours. When you came up out of the burning rocks, yes, I thought Prince was dead. There was a hollow tooth in my jaw filled with strychnine. I wanted to give you a victory kiss. I would have, if Prince had not screamed.

Delany never explicitly codifies the relationship between Prince and Ruby Red, so the extent of their closeness is open to interpretation. I think it's significant, however, that whenever Lorq talks about the search for a nova as a race, he refers to his opponents as "Prince and Ruby Red." But when he talks about his enemy, his rival, the person he has to defeat, he only mentions "Prince." And in the end, not to spoil it, I think that having to surrender this distinction is what defeats him.

For a race, it seems like Nova spends an awful lot of time dallying before finally arriving at the finish line. Yet this might be an illusion caused by the brevity of the book—I think the build up to the climax at the nova is the right length; I just didn't expect it to end so abruptly. We just get an epilogue in which we learn the fates of Lorq and the rest of his expedition; Delany never deals with the larger ramifications of Lorq's plan.

And unlike a lot of space opera, Nova does not involve fantastic battles between massive armadas or invasions of entire solar systems. Instead, the entire book is a series of stories about individuals, each with a different obsession, whose paths converge and clash, with consequences beyond just the scope of their own lives. More than that, it's a presentation of a fascinating future, burgeoning with so many good seeds of ideas that would later mature and flourish in other books, both those by Delany and by future contributors to science fiction.

Alas, because of this wealth of ideas, Nova never delves into any of them with much depth. Nevertheless, I think I have not covered all that Nova has to offer a reader, and I am not entirely happy with how I have discussed what I did cover. True to my conception of space opera, Delany has taken an adventuresome quest and married it to an intensely personal conflict between two larger-than-life characters, Lorq von Ray and Prince Red. The result is a gem of a novel—and like most gems, this one has its share of flaws. But that is OK, and I still like it all the same.

Creative Commons License
Profile Image for Juho Pohjalainen.
Author 5 books283 followers
February 28, 2020
A grizzled young captain and his ragtag crew go on the biggest and deadliest refueling trip in history. Stakes: entire galactic economy, massive inflation should they succeed. It starts out promising, introduces the main characters effectively, gets us to hate the bad guys properly, and outlines enough of the life in the early fourth millennium to give us a good stage of where we are now. And it ends well, too, with a great climactic finish, triumph attained with sacrifice, and lessons learned.

Should be great, right? Well, there has to be a middle point between the beginning and the end - and here there's a problem.

Here the story shifts away into an almost-half-book tangent about other matters, things that are largely irrelevant for the narrative, yet not sufficiently fleshed out in their own right to be worthwhile. It gives glimpses to the future society in the form of a few worlds visited, but each world is so superficially described and detailed - the visits so short and fairly uneventful - that there's not much to them on their own. The trips between largely consist of philosophical ramblings, especially from the aspiring author Katin who is still looking for a subject for his book (a common malady even in our time), creating a bit of a backdrop for this whole thing but giving it too much direct focus. There's an extended scene - fired up by Tarot reading of all things - that goes into greater detail of the modern technology and the few Luddite gypsies that have chosen to stay out of it, but it would have needed to give us more spotlight of them for it to be worth our while, as the bits about the computer plugs had already become clear elsewhere... and yet at the same time the whole thing with Tarot feels almost the opposite, and completely out of place with the rest of the story. And as for the history of the setting, the book talks a lot about things that happened in our time, many millennia before the present of the book, as if there was nothing worthwhile that had happened since: it feels lazy, to be honest, a massive missed opportunity in worldbuilding.

All these aspects feel transient, ephemeral, like tiny bubbles of potential interest floating in the void, separate from one another, doing nothing on their own, yet still taking up precious space and attention from the actually plot-relevant stuff. Very little of actual consequence to the story takes place in them.

It compares itself to the Arthurian legends, towards the end, but it really would have needed more epic space adventures to qualify as such. And it started out so well, too. A bit of a shame.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,197 reviews115 followers
November 14, 2019
Sprung from pirates, reeling blind in fire, I am called pirate, murderer, thief.

Kudos to Delany for writing, in 1968, one of the first space opera stories with real substance and serious cultural and sociological underpinnings, as well as some interesting mythological overtones. It is also considered a major cyberpunk forerunner, introducing the concept of direct interfacing between man and machine. Clearly this can be viewed as groundbreaking sci-fi. However, perhaps because of it's age and New Age roots I found some elements hokey (Tarot cards, drug use, psychedelic musical/sensory instruments) and in general not all that entertaining.
Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 36 books446 followers
January 23, 2016
For those of you unfamiliar with Delany, let me explain to you what it's like reading one of his novels. (And Delany is a clever PLUS, so I think there should be way more raving about him than there is- I don't quite hear enough!)

Here's the blurb they give you:
"The balance of galactic power in the 31st century revolves around Illyrion, the most precious energy source in the universe. The varied and exotic crew who sign up with Captain Lorq van Ray know their mission is dangerous, and they soon learn that they are involved in a deadly race with the charismatic but vicious leader of an opposing space federation. But they have no idea of Lorq's secret obsession: to gather Illyrion at source by flying through the very heart of an imploding star."

So you're like, 'Oh! 240 pgs of ragtag interstellar fun! I'm in!' But you start to read and you're like:
- pg 1-50: intro to characters and recruitment for dangerous race with Lorq van Ray
- pgs 51-220: 'Of course, if we consider the 25th century's extrapolation of interdimensional sociocultural hegemony, Heidegger is, in retrospect, the 20th century's most important thinker. If- and it goes without saying- we couple this idea with Marx's Scientific Dialectics... the physicochemical structure Illyrion is better understood if we conduct a thought experiment to consider the properties of a substance not yet available on the 21st century's periodic table of elements...'
- pgs 220-240: 'Holy fuck: that van Ray guy's trying to gather Illyrion at source by flying through the very heart of an imploding star!'

So you can see why I like it! Delany delves beyond shallow-novel dilettantism to make fearsome polymathic connections between disciplines. (And clearly his intellectual exuberance is infectious!) In fact, I'm convinced if this novel was really written in the 31st century, you'd barely have to change a goddamn thing- which is a ridiculous statement to make, but such is the power of Delany's sci-fi :)

Given my little primer on Delany above, there's way too much to capture in a single reading, and that's why I'm delighted to be following this one up with Dhalgren, which I WTF-ed over years ago (it's sci-fi Ulysses.) But much like any WTF dense piece of showboatery (Camus, Joyce, Pynchon, Gass, DFW, Gibson?), the first reading is the breathless anxious "Will I even get through this?" investment that allows for the second reading's reaping of gold.

So I see this is a 2015 version of this novel! And Delany's first three novels were recently reissued in a single compendium, so almost all his stuff is back in print, I believe. Let SF Masterworks know they've done the right thing and buy a paperback of this asap! (If indeed that does signal publishers- who ever knows :D) Because Delany's words thrive on a printed page and you'll judge yourself less for all the flicking back and forth :P
Profile Image for Kevin Lopez (on sabbatical).
85 reviews21 followers
March 10, 2021
Nova is an interesting look into the early, unpolished work of a writer still struggling to emerge from his chrysalis; a portrait of an artist as young man; and one who would soon go on to become a towering figure in his field and a master of his craft.
Profile Image for S̶e̶a̶n̶.
861 reviews364 followers
February 22, 2019
Direct-seeming in the mythic way, Nova still belies its modest page count, bursting at its seams with Delany's muscular world-building prowess. How could it come to an end so quickly, I thought, with how full it is growing. And Delany's world! Constructed with an innate faith in the ability of his readers to keep up, or perhaps simply not caring if they do. Having only read Dhalgren prior to this, I wasn't sure what to expect. More of the same? And that I did find in certain ways. How he only half-sketches out some aspects in concrete terms, leaving the rest to be filled out in the reader's mind with the aid of abstract impressions. I like this. It scratches flint for the imagination. How his outsider characters interact in unexpected ways—how from strangers they grow close and support each other. How he seems to relish showing us a good party. How his keen class consciousness pervades the text. And always his imagination glittering on the page—even on the yellowed pages of this old paperback. It was interesting to read this in parallel with Robert Sheckley's science fiction stories. Delany's worlds, so intricately textured and fully alien, contrast sharply with those of Sheckley, whose settings evoke Earth-centric roots and often read as if they are but window dressing for their creator's social commentary. The two could not be farther apart in style, and yet I enjoyed both, just in different ways. But comparisons to Sheckley aside, I won't rehash the storyline of Nova here, as I don't see the point. If you've read Dhalgren, you should enjoy this. And if you have not, this would certainly be a good precursor to that fine novel.
Profile Image for Chris.
1,970 reviews25 followers
February 8, 2019
There's so much one can say about this book, but I'm not nearly smart or eloquent enough for all that. So here's my sad attempt:

I think Nova is my favorite book by Delany - and that's saying a lot given how much I love Dhalgren. Being the fourth time I read it, I realized that it's really quite a short, quick book if you let it be. There's not so much to the plot itself; rather, most of what's in the book is devoted to scene or world(s)-building. But in the prose there's so much richness: Nearly each sentence is a true million-dollar sentence, not tortured, but masterfully crafted.

And I love how the book tells you how and why it works so well. In Nova, the reader is schooled by one of the world's greatest writers; the book itself is a masterclass in novel writing.

Not only that, but, perhaps because of the above, the characters in Nova are so vivid and so likable. I've always felt this way from the first time I read this book in October, 2003. I love reading about them, and I'm already looking forward to my next re-read of Nova.
Profile Image for Punk.
1,510 reviews250 followers
July 6, 2022
Space miners! Space ships! Weird syntax! Sadly, it's the weird syntax that stuck with me after reading this.

Most of the action is set in the year 3172, in a universe where most of the galaxy is colonized by humans. In the Pleiades Federation, natives speak a dialect that always puts the verb at the end of the sentence. It gave us a lot of dialogue like: "I if his advisory meeting over is will see." The entire time I was reading I was wondering what kind of a culture puts its verbs last, and I'm disappointed in Delany for making this a prominent part of the book and making no move to explain it. Especially when his Babel-17 was all about language.

So, two stars for disappointment, though if you don't care about alien languages and enjoy space travel and a rag-tag crew of space miners banding together to...mine space, then this is at least a three.

July 2022: I'm back, almost twenty years later, to answer my own question: Japanese. The verbs come last in Japanese.
Profile Image for Liviu Szoke.
Author 29 books382 followers
December 18, 2017
O poveste care se citește ușor, în ciuda pasajelor cu ordinea cuvintelor inversată. O idee interesantă, cea cu călătoria în interiorul novelor pentru extragerea illyrionului, păcat că este lăsată cam deoparte până spre final, punându-se în schimb accentul pe conflictul celor două familii rivale care conduc practic întreaga galaxie. Ce m-a nemulțumit: cam puțin parcă a evoluat lumea din anul 1968, când a apărut cartea lui Samuel R. Delany, și anul 3172, când se petrece acțiunea. Acuma, eu înțeleg că autorul nu a gândit-o ca pe un hard-SF doldora de speculații științifice despre ce va descoperi omenirea în 1200 de ani, dar să vină numai cu niște racorduri montate la încheieturile mâinilor pentru a se lega de diverse componente ale navelor spațiale pentru a le face mai ușor de pilotat și cu un instrument muzical năstrușnic, mi se pare totuși cam puțin. Are totuși un merit: reprezintă probabil declicul care s-a produs șaptesprezece ani mai târziu, când William Gibson a lansat „Neuromantul”, ducând la alt nivel legătura om-mașină pe care a imaginat-o aici Samuel R. Delany. Aștept „Triton” (despre care am citit zeci de rânduri în superba „Printre ceilalți” a lui Jo Walton) sau „Dhalgren”, grelele scrise de Delany. Mai multe, pe FanSF: https://wp.me/pz4D9-2H8.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,207 reviews3,686 followers
June 16, 2022
I'll be honest, I don't feel like I fully understood what was going on with this book. Part of that is probably the structure of the book which is often non-linear, includes flashbacks, and lacks a straightforward plot. But part of it might be that I didn't have this to read physically and instead listened to the audiobook. I might have gotten more out of it in a different format.

That said, Nova is certainly imaginative and experimental with interesting ideas as a book written in 1968. (Like this instrument that can play more than sound, but also smell and sight to recreate memories) It follows a spaceship captain and the ragtag crew he assembles on their quest to gather Illyrion, a lucrative source of power. We get flashbacks, side plots, and maybe some drug induced visions? So it can be hard to follow at times.

Knowing Delany was gay, there is some queer subtext in the book, but given the time it came out it's pretty subtle. Interesting nonetheless.

One thing to note is this book is "of it's time" in some ways, such as referring to a Romani character by a word now commonly thought of as a slur, or referring to Black characters in ways that are outdated. That said, it's quite a diverse cast of characters for a space opera written in the late 60's, likely due to the Black and gay identity of the author. This wasn't quite a hit for me, but I liked elements of it and I am interested in reading something else from Delany, perhaps from later in his career.
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,595 reviews1,027 followers
May 24, 2010
This was fun. Samuel R. Delany is a talented writer with a lot of ideas and a good sense of character and social context. He's certainly not reaching here like he did in his masterpiece, Dhalgren, and a lot of this boils down to a drama cast in archetypes: bold, vaguely Ahab-esque captain, back from previous failed expedition plans next. Semi-amoral rival with a beautiful sister. Street-smart orphan who tries to live in the present without introspection. Etc. Except Delaney manages to make most of these central roles pretty compelling and well-fleshed out nonetheless. And in this case the melodrama plays out over a trip to fly through the center of an exploding star (via some very dubious, very exciting physics).
Profile Image for Adam.
558 reviews360 followers
August 27, 2007
Bizarre psychedelic jewel of novel that sometimes reads like prose poetry. Allusions to Bester, Holy Grail, Moby Dick, tarot, City of the Dreadful Night add to the enjoyment all with interesting thoughts on film and music, the future of the novel, humanity and technology, work and other weird thoughts.This book has an especially chilling finale alleviated by the humurous last line and an unsuspected conclusion. First Delaney I've made it through but maybe this will give the urge to tackle more(I failed my first attempts at Dhalgren and Einstein Intersection)
Profile Image for Maggie K.
477 reviews124 followers
February 19, 2018
wow-a very charismatic space captain somehow gets a crew to take on a near-suicide type mission that's both greed and vengeance oriented...and it is so believable you will think its possible to fly into a nova!

I find it so awe-inspiring that Delany stuffed all this into a 200 page book, but there you are. The most content per word book ever!
Profile Image for Tina.
785 reviews39 followers
October 24, 2014
When reading/reviewing this novel, you need to ignore the "science" parts of science fiction, as this was published in 1968, before the moon landing, let alone feasible space mining or colonization. Yet, Delany's ideas are not so out there to be considered improbable (or at least distracting to the story). Illyrion is quite properly described not as a substance, but as a superheavy material - that is, something more akin to particles than something you can hold in your hand (worst explanation ever, but you get my point, I hope), and the concept of people having cybernetic implants in their bodies to allow them to operate machinery using their nerves was a fascinating concept. The story itself is very simple but I wish Delany would have expanded a little more on the characters. Mouse, Katin and Von Ray are fleshed out pretty nicely, but the others we don't learn enough about - especially Ruby. Price's motivations make sense (he's a psycho with an inferiority complex) but Ruby... quite frankly, she's the most fascinating character in the novel, because she isn't given a perspective, and her motives/actions aren't clear. It's obvious she has some weird obsession with her brother, but why? And is she also attracted to Von Ray? And why? I'm convinced these lingering questions aren't an oversight on Delany's part, but intentional.

There is just so much packed into this tiny novel you could extrapolate on. Race relations, humans and their relationships with machines, politics, power, alienation (Katin, Mouse, and Von Ray are very strange men - loners and vagrants), and various others.

The book has a very distinct style - somewhere between post-modern and modernism, as if Delany wanted to experiment with the format (like in Dhalgren) but decided not to.

Either way, upon reflection, I enjoyed this book more in thinking about it than actually reading it (though it was a very quick and definitely interesting). I wish the characters were a little deeper though, as I said before, but Delaney's wordplay and concepts make this a great novel.

Some wonderful Delany lines:
"A moon’s beauty is in variations of sameness."
"Katin tried to look reservedly doubtful. The expression was too complicated and came out blank."
Profile Image for Jedediah Smith.
Author 8 books2 followers
September 7, 2019
This novel might be off-putting to readers of current SF or fantasy novels. Its approach to prose and plot is very different from contemporary works, and I note that SF novels of the 50s and 60s often approached plot as an exploration of ideas. It's not that they weren't often entertaining and well structured. But novels by Delaney, Spinrad, Dick, LeGuin and many others seemed to develop their characters and setting and plots in the service of theme, developing and testing ideas, and extrapolating social changes from technological inventions or scientific discoveries. And once a hypothesis had been established and tried and evaluated, the novel would end. Often around the 250 page mark.

Today, the focus is on immersion into story and setting. Readers want long-term escapism for their money. So the prose is clear and simple, there is an emphasis on long changing relationships and fortunes of characters, and the page counts are massive, often stretching into a series of novels (trilogies? not a chance! why drop an established and successful brand) or "world" novels without end.

Delany not only allowed his prose to be difficult, he delighted in it. He loved to throw the reader into a new world with new rules and new meanings, while providing them with few road signs. He often described his love for work by authors who would challenge readers to put together hints and make inferences in order to make sense of this new creation. Long exposition and explanation would make it too easy and rob the reader of the joy of discovery, of making connections and leaps on their own, of inference, which is really the process of making love to literature. Nova weaves a tapestry of its influences and creates an organic whole.

Of course, Delany, Brunner, Pynchon, and Spinrad all had at least one magnum opus that pushed the page count well beyond the 500 page mark. But these were not SF soap operas following long character arcs. In each case, these were the authors' most challenging, experimental, and difficult works.
Profile Image for Craig.
5,143 reviews122 followers
October 15, 2016
I still believe that this may be Delany's best novel, his other (far) more acclaimed works notwithstanding. I've always been impressed with the number of levels it works on; as a space-opera, as a grail-quest, an an introduction to Tarot, as a character study using sf as an exploration of myth and/or the drug culture... Mouse rocks.
Profile Image for sologdin.
1,717 reviews643 followers
February 28, 2020
Nutshell: always already dashing petit bourgeois outsider seeks to break interstellar monopoly of Old Money aristocrat via innovative stellar semiotics.

Text is kickass in its presentation of celestial objects and outer space, “where night means forever and morning’s a recollection” (18). Space itself: “the vermillion rush, in which hung the charred stars” (90). Each star is similarly “a furnace where the very worlds of empire are smelted” (86). One planet’s inhabitants speak with a dicked-up Yodaesque syntax, which is mostly annoying, but does have its corollary moments of awesome: “Into the blasting sun, plunge?” (94).

Primary objective of protagonist and his seven samurai sub-protagonists is a fictive heavy element, ‘illyrion,’ found in the centers of stars, accessible during a nova, say—“the whole continuum in the area of a nova is space that has been twisted away” (21). Sufficient illyrion “to keep this moon’s core molten is measured in grams” (26); protagonist accordingly proposes to capture seven tons of the stuff (id.).

This is set in an interstellar society, which retains its proto-fascistic losers who complain about “moral degeneration of the young” (40-41), that “economic, political, and technological change have shattered all cultural tradition” (41), that “there’s no reservoir of national, or world solidarity, even on Earth” (id.), and instead “pseudo-interplanetary society” replaced “any real tradition,” a “tangle of decadence, scheming, corruption” (id.).

These losers respond with despair to interstellar society’s basic proposition that
given any product, half of it may be grown on one world, the other half mined a thousand light-years away. On Earth, seventeen out of the hundreds of possible elements make up ninety percent of the planet. Take any other world, and you’ll find a different dozen making up ninety to ninety-nine percent. (79)
This monologue leads up to the point that interstellar society is contingent fundamentally on transit so expensive that only “national governments on Earth, or corporations” “could afford the initial cost” (80). This leads to one sector of interstellar society having been “extended by the vastly monied classes of Earth,” whereas another sector “was populated by a comparatively middle-class movement” and a third sector, the newest, “comes from the lowest economic strata of the galaxy” (83). Protagonist is one of the principal nouveau riche greasers at the head of the ‘middle-class’ sector, and much of the conflict of the novel arises out of a silly set of childhood confrontations with antagonist from the ‘vast monied classes.’

Though the puerile sections are of little moment to the overall setting, the present moment conflict between them has world-historical significance, as though SRD were boiling down class struggle between an aristocracy and a bourgeoisie to these two principals. Protagonist reveals himself to be a ludic nihilist (is that a class-bound ideology?), which we shall recall is the upjumped cousin of lumpenized antisocial nihilism:
the worlds we’ve been through haven’t really fit us for meanings. If I survive, then a world, a hundred worlds, a way of life survives. If [antagonist] survives… […] Still, perhaps it is a game. They keep telling us we live in a meaningless society, that there is no solidity to our lives. Worlds are tottering about us now, and still I only want to play. (152)
This candor reveals protagonist to be not only a ludic nihilist, but likewise a bearer of Sloterdijk’s enlightened false consciousness: “the character I thought obsessed by purpose reveals his obsession is only a habit; his habits are gratuitously meaningless, while those actions I construed as gratuitous reveal a most demonic purpose” (166). Protagonist even informs antagonist that “the reason I must fight you is I think I can win” (183). So, he’s, like, supergross--and yet still better than antagonist, who’s merely an Old Right aristocrat.

An example of how alien interstellar society might appear:
There was a thousand-year period from about fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred, when people spent an incredible amount of time and energy keeping things clean. It ended when the last communicable disease finally became not only curable but impossible. There used to be an incredibility called ‘the common cold’ that even in the twenty-fifth century you could be fairly sure of having at least once a year. I suppose back then there was some excuse for the fetish: there seemed to have been some correlation between dirt and disease. But after contagion became an obsolescent concern, sanitation became equally obsolescent. (123)
Interstellar society also relies upon “a revolution in the concept of work” (195), arising out of the invention of “neural plugs,” whereby people plug their brain directly into machines to operate them: “All major industrial work began to be broken down into jobs that could be machined ‘directly’ by man.” This purportedly “returned humanity to the working man. Under this system, much of the endemic mental illness caused by feelings of alienation left society” (196). The conclusion is that this society has allegedly abolished Marxist ‘alienation’ caused by diremptions in the process of production, maybe (this is as yet still a class society based on private property, exploitation of wage labor, and suchlike, though).

Manifestly a precursor to Rothfuss (insofar as one sub-protagonist is an orphaned gypsy lutist of sorts) and to The Matrix to the extent that people are plugged directly into machines. Metatextualist component in another sub-protagonist who is “writing a novel” and records notes on his travels for the book, amounting to “some hundred thousand words of notes” (15). Novelist contends that “novels were primarily about relationships. […] Their potentiality lay in that they belied the loneliness of the people who read them, people essentially hypnotized by the machinations of their own consciousness” (159).

Something conceptually very interesting in “there are expressions that happen on the outside of the face; there are expressions that happen on the inside, with only quivers on the lips and eyelids” (93), a semiotics of face that we find most importantly later in R. Scott Bakker. One character notes that “on the ruptured features it was hard to read subtleties in [protagonist’s] emotions” (96) (emphasis added). Someone else’s “expression inside was a quick smile” (100).
You for a few seconds only [antagonist’s] face have seen. In the face the lines of a man’s fate mapped are. […] From the crack across mine, you where those lines my fate can tell will touch? (id.)
Similarly, dude notes “the smile the captain had not yet allowed on his face” (175). There is a cool concordance here—just as there are internal and external signifiers for persons, both of which can be read by the trained interlocutor, so too the star has its own semiotics, both internal and external: “Because the make-up of a star doesn’t change in a nova, you can’t detect the build-up over any distance with spectranalysis or anything like that” (88).

Much is therefore made of the astrophysics of the nova, which are noted to be “implosions, not explosions” (86); the ultimate explanation for this is kinda cool (not gonna spoil it). This is important because protagonist wishes to pass to the center of a star while nova is in flagrante delicto in order to harvest his unobtainium; he had already done as much by accident when “our ship was funneled directly through the center of the sun—and out the other side” (89). Novel reveals astrophysicist opinion to be lacking consensus on the question:
After a thousand years of study [!!!], from close up and far away, it’s a bit unnerving how much we don’t know about what happens in the center of the most calamitous of stellar catastrophes [!]. The make-up of the star stays the same, only the organization of the matter within the star is disrupted by a process that is still not quite understood. It could be an effect of tidal harmonics. It could even be a prank of Maxwell’s demon. (95)
So, after 1,000 years of study, the results of astrophysics is to note that the signifier changes but the underlying signified is self-identical (that’s synonymy, I think).

Because it’s a Delany book, it can be labor intensive at times, though not so much as Babel, Einstein, or heavens forfend, Dhalgren. Contains however the normal SRD fixation on some body of mythological content, here, working with the Tarot and Arthurian sangraal. Authorial alter ego asks in this connection:
I haven’t seen anybody read the Tarot since I was in school. […] I suppose at one time you could have called me quite an amateur aficionado of the Book of Toth [sic] as they were incorrectly labeled in the seventeenth century. I would say rather […] the Book of the Grail? (100)
(Am uncertain what the ‘Book of the Grail’ means; there’s a few allegedly lost things out there by that name, but it’s apparently not the name of any standard Arthurian text.) Author’s alter ego explains that “the cards don’t actually predict anything. They simply propagate an educated commentary on present situations” (101), which is innocuous enough. But:
the seventy-eight cards of the Tarot present symbols and mythological images that have recurred and reverberated through forty-five centuries of human history. Someone who understands these symbols can construct a dialogue about a given situation. There’s nothing superstitious about it. The Book of Changes, even Chaldean Astrology only become superstitious when they are abused, employed to direct rather than guide and suggest. (id.)
Uh, okay? It gets worse: “If somebody had told me I’d be working in the same crew, today, in the thirty-first century, with somebody who could honestly be skeptical about the Tarot, I don’t think I would have believed it” (110). Dude will “doubt if such fossilized ideas could have come from anywhere else but Earth” (id.); he “wouldn’t be surprised if in some upper Mongolian desert town there isn’t someone who still thinks Earth floats on a dish on the back of an elephant who stands on a serpent coiled on a turtle swimming in the sea of forever” (id.); indeed, this setting is so inverted that alter ego will carp “here you are, flying this star-freighter, a product of thirty-first century technology, and at the same time your head full of a petrified ideas a thousand years out of date” (id.). Alter ego can therefore proclaim that the thesis that the Tarot was faked by gypsies is “a very romantic notion” (111): “the idea that all those symbols, filtered down through five thousand years of mythology, are basically meaningless and have no bearing on man’s mind and actions [NB: idealist collective subject as per similar juvenile ideas in Ayn Rand], strikes a little bell of nihilism ringing” (id.). I suppose the basis of accusing Tarot skepticism of nihilism must be a hasty and unwarranted vulgar jungianism. Ugh.

Despite all that, alter ego is an interesting cat, who believes that he needs “an awareness of my time’s conception of history” in order to write his novel, which is a fairly Benjaminian approach (cf. the ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ especially No. VI, VII, & IX). History begins with the ancient Greeks as “the study of whatever had happened during their own lives” (116), and became in the hands of Anna Komnena “the study of those events of man’s actions that had been documented” (id.); a thousand years thereafter, it morphed again into “a series of cyclic rises and falls as one civilization overtook another” (id.), with events outside the cycle as “unimportant.” It may be “difficult for us today to appreciate the differences between Spengler and Toynbee, though from all accounts their approaches were considered polar in their day” (id.). Dude’s theory of history is revealed, after several deferrals, as “a great net, spreading among the stars, through time” (126), which is kinda philistine as a figuration, but may have some applicability when diffusion is dependent upon interstellar transit. A “great web that spreads across the galaxy,” “the matrix in which history happens” (155). Each person is a “junction” and each event “like a ripple” (id.).

The effect of this doctrine:
The United States was a product of that whole communication explosion, movements of people, movements of information, the development of movies, radio, and television that standardized speech and the framework of thought—not thought itself, however—which meant that person A could understand not only person B, but person W, X and Y as well. People, information, and ideas move across the galaxy much faster today than they moved across the United States in 1950. You and I were born a third of a galaxy apart […] Still, you and I are much closer in information structure than a Cornishman and Welshman a thousand years ago. (137-38)

Recommended for those who make a last stand for cultural autonomy and all that, readers unable to distinguish between laughter and rage, and persons who between you and your flaming sun will come.
37 reviews6 followers
February 10, 2021
TL;DR Review:
A wonderfully satisfying read, Nova rewards any and all effort expended to read it. Science fiction that is truly "literature" though not without a few weak points. Recommended.

The rest of it:
Nova is a master's piece that consciously strives to be literature. As such, when reviewing, I'm mentally holding it to the same standards set by Tolstoy, Dickens, and the like. I'm comparing it to The (nebulous) Canon.

To best understand it, I recommend a previous (and close!) reading of Moby Dick - or at least familiarity with its archetypes and symbolism. An additional aid to understanding this book would be War and Peace.

The book itself:

There's less scientific explanation than fans of harder sci-fi (Asimov, Clarke) would probably want, but more than non-speculative fiction (obviously). I thought the balance was good and allowed the characters and concepts to take center stage.

Speaking of concepts, one character in particular is used by the author to relate some of the author's ideas quite directly. Some may find it annoying (particularly during more self-referential monologues) but I didn't mind it. A few exposed me to very new ideas I found myself agreeing with (e.g., the nature of work in contemporary society). Don't drop the book when Katin starts a speech!

I give it 4/5 due to slow moments that did not advance either symbolism or plot and due to the ending. I can do slow: I've read War and Peace and Bleak House in the last few months. But those moments must serve a purpose in the scheme of the novel.

As to the ending, I had mixed feelings though for good reasons. The denouement was very artistic and inevitable, 5/5. The climax, as inevitable as it was, I thought needed more. I didn't hear drum rolls and cymbal crashes - it was over too fast! 

I say "inevitable" often in this review. There are few twists and turns, but rather the steady grinding of time on humanity is on display.

The book is a very cohesive whole. It straddles the line between good and great. I recommend to anyone seeking literary sci-fi, forgotten jewels, or who read an abridged Moby Dick and enjoyed the lack of nautical jargon but still wanted more. (Spoiler: what if Ahab succeeded???)

Nova pairs well with:
Mahler's 2nd symphony, Shostakovich's 7th, Sibelius' 4th or 7th, and Holst's Planets (mainly Neptune and Uranus).

Also consider:
Wagnerian overtures, Beethoven's "Shipwreck" or "Apassionata"  sonatas, Bartok quartets, Ives' "Concord" sonata.
Profile Image for Simona Stoica.
Author 16 books730 followers
October 23, 2017
Recenzia completă: http://bit.ly/2gw0k8c

„Presupun că singura modalitate de a mă proteja de blesteme ar fi să abandonez cartea înainte de scrierea ultimului capitol.”

În 1968, Samuel R. Delany publica romanul Nova. În 2017, eu mă plimbam cu un geamantan și cu o listă kilometrică la Bookfest, ușor amețită din pricina miilor de cărţi care îşi „scuturau” copertele când îmi surprindeau privirea, doar-doar aveam să le iau cu mine acasă. Îmi amintesc cum turnul de romane primit de la Grupul Editorial Art ameninţa să se prăbuşească, însă asta nu m-a împiedicat să strecor un SF între două romane fantasy. Motivul? Coperta.

A fost dragoste… chiar şi la a doua vedere. Coperta e hipnotizantă, seducătoare. Vârtejuri, haos, spirale şi întuneric. Promisiunea unei călătorii printre stele, până la marginea nopţii. Şi un grup de personaje cum nu mi-a mai fost dat să întâlnesc, fiinţe cu haruri neobişnuite, atrase într-un joc periculos, pe viaţă şi pe moarte, fără să fie obligate, constrânse sau ademenite de marele premiu.

Nu cred că există un motiv întemeiat pentru care am evitat să citesc SF-uri, cel puţin în ultima perioadă, dar abia când am terminat de citit Nova mi-am dat seama cât de mult mi-a lipsit acest gen literar. În plus, cum aş fi putut refuza un space opera cu misfits şi o cursă contra-cronometru pentru obţinerea celui mai preţios element din galaxie, illyrionul?
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,543 reviews17 followers
July 18, 2020
I was not impressed. I didn’t like the writing style, I wasn’t a fan of all the “flashbacks” It felt, to me, like most of the book was flashbacks and I disliked how nearly every chapter just “stopped”.

No one I liked, crappy dialogue.

Profile Image for Anna.
1,741 reviews677 followers
June 13, 2021
I grabbed 'Nova' off the library shelf as I've been meaning to read Delany's Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia and SF Masterworks are generally a safe bet. 'Nova' was published in 1968 and gives a rather fascinating insight into late 1960s counterculture. The world-building features footloose freelancers, frequent tarot readings, and a multi-sensory musical instrument that I think Futurama parodied as the Holophonor. The plot is essentially an economic conflict between the super-rich, which the crew of a spaceship get dragged into. The class and economic themes are thought-provoking. The decadence and carelessness of the rich, not to mention their dialect, is in contrast to the largely working class crew. However, this is also a world without illness, where serious injuries can be fixed in seconds, and subsistence appears guaranteed, or at least comfortably easy. Delany explains the technological transformation of the 31st century economy, ingeniously getting round Marx's theory of increasing capital intensity and falling labour intensity of industry. Nearly everyone has plugs that allow their bodies to interface with and directly control machines. Thus automation has given way to symbiosis with machines, and unemployment is not a serious issue. The prospect of it once again becoming so is part of the central conflict driving the plot, though.

A good deal of the book consists of meandering dialogue, with occasional descriptions of violence or other activity in somewhat overwrought prose. I was more interested in exploring the socio-economic underpinnings of the world than in the characters and plot per se. Indeed, I experienced the novel more as a piece of sci-fi history than at face value. The dynamic between Lorq, Prince, and Ruby felt excessively melodramatic, whereas the crew's debates and card games were more appealing. I was amused that Mouse got teased for superstition because he didn't believe in the tarot. Katin's monologues on writing a novel were also great and the ending very neat. 'Nova' is a book I couldn't evaluate outside its historical context, but that is by no means a bad thing.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,014 followers
September 16, 2017
I’ve meant to read this for so long, because it’s a total classic and everyone seemed to expect me to love Delany’s work. Although the writing is clever, the way some of the characters speak (verb last) just got infuriating, and I don’t think any of the characters are really there to be liked. As for the grail story narrative that’s supposed to be there, well; knowing the grail story as well as I do (clue: very well, thanks to Cardiff University’s medieval lit tutors) it didn’t really feel like a grail story. Moby Dick, perhaps; that’s a comparison that does feel apt.

There are some gorgeous bits of prose and intriguing ideas, and I did want to read it all and find out how things turned out, but… it just didn’t blow me away. Possibly the fault lies in me, since Delany is a classic SF writer; I’ve still got Babel-17 to read, and we’ll see if I like that better.

Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.
Profile Image for BridgeBurger Spoony.
119 reviews1 follower
July 18, 2022
I’m being generous here because I have to think about it a little more.

My immediate response is that I just don’t understand Delany. There are great ideas to explore in here, most intriguing being the death of tradition via the homogenisation of cultures. These lead to some great dialogue and blend nicely with the larger plot being one of a traditional grail quest in a sci-fi format. Despite this very classic style of plot, the novel is all over the place.

The problem is just like in Babel-17, Delany doesn’t put in the work to truly explore the ideas, flesh out the story, or the characters. Everything feels a little distant and undercooked.

I still don’t click with his prose. It seems more intent on keeping the reader on their toes than it does on actually telling the story. That’s new wave SF for you, but I didn’t much enjoy it here. The events and places feel very loosely sketched so I could never get my footing, but at least the dialogue is very good.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 599 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.