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Ash of Stars: On the Writings of Samuel Delany.

James Sallis, ed. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1996. 242 pp. $42.50 cloth/$17.95 paper.

Reviewed by

Sinda Gregory San Diego State University

Samuel R. Delany has been challenging readers and critics since he burst onto the insular scene of science fiction in the late '60s as a prodigiously talented young man who, at twenty-five, had published not one but two novels which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, science fiction's most prestigious prizes. Most critics within science fiction, however, were not familiar with semiology and poststructuralism and simply didn't know what to make of his daring and original application of metafictional techniques to a kind of popular fiction so resolutely conventional and realistic in its narrative structure. Meanwhile, for all the ballyhooed collapse of distinctions between popular genres and "serious" art, most mainstream critics then (and often now) lacked the necessary background in sf's history and genre conventions to appreciate Delany's dazzling reworkings of its fictional formulas. Another formidable obstacle for critics is the sheer bulk of Delany's work: In a career that spans thirty years, he has published an awesome amount of innovative, challenging work, including novels, poetry, story collections, literary criticism, autobiography, graphic novels, books of interviews, and numerous hybrid forms.

The appearance of Ash of Stars suggests, however, that the critical world is finally catching up with Delany's work. With this eclectic collection of essays, editor James Sallis has brought together an impressive range of approaches, the sort of range necessary for a writer like Delany, whose work draws from so many sources, both inside and outside of sf, and whose intertextural treatment of these sources is so varied and multi-leveled. Central to this volume is its presumption that Delany's background in science fiction requires no apology; these critics take as a given the worth of science fiction and its centrality to postmodern art. The essays are united by a set of core issues - semiological, racial, cultural, sexual, and aesthetic - that are central to all of Delany's writing, but the editor should be commended for selecting articles more interested in examining the specific treatment these :issues receive in his work than in showcasing these issues to further their own agendas. Agenda-driven criticism rarely yields much of lasting value about any artist, and this is especially true for a writer like Delany, whose fiction and non-fiction refuse to present fixed models of thought.

These essays on his science fiction include an excellent general introduction to Dhalgren by Jean Mark Gawron and a useful overview by Kathleen L. Spencer of what is probably the most neglected of all his major works, his meta-sword-and-sorcery series, the Tales of Neveryon. Other articles deal with lesser known (and extremely controversial) works such his outrageous and painfully powerful pornography, here addressed by Ray Davis in "Delany's Dirt." Ken James's "Subverted Equations" explores the way Delany has employed mathematics as a structuring device in his fiction generally and, in particular, demonstrates the impact of G. Spencer Brown's The Laws of Form. And David N. Samuelson evaluates Delany's critical writing and its contribution to sf theory. Indeed, it is the variety of topics and approaches that is striking about this volume and indicative of the complexity, richness, and scope of Delany's work. As a result, perhaps more than any earlier study, Ash Of Stars underscores and often illuminates the range of narrative forms, aesthetic approaches, and intellectual concerns that makes his writing unique.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Gregory, Sinda
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1999
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