Editors: Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell / Rosarium Publishing
Prior to becoming a dedicated reader of Black Speculative Fiction, I wasn’t familiar with Samuel “Chip” Delany. He’s from a generation of 60s and 70s writers that includes Philip K. Dick and Poul Anderson, not my favorite time period. This era was a time of experimentation in form and theme in Science Fiction, even as the genre continued to be almost exclusively white and male. Delany was well received by the science fiction establishment, winning 4 Nebula Awards and 3 Hugo Awards, even as he experienced discrimination based on his race, sexuality, and writing style. Discrimination that, in his later years, led him to be an outspoken critic of the genre, its promise and its betrayals.
As my reading list as grown, I’ve come to know Delany through his influence on other writers – Delany taught Octavia Butler at the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop; William Gibson’s Neuromancer owes a great debt to Delany’s Nova; Delany’s essays of criticism Science fiction, both as a literary movement and a social one, were implied forces for adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha, the women behind Octavia’s Brood – in the way that a successful, insightful writer and critic makes an impact, Delany has a wide reach.
In tribute to him, Rosarium Books has brought together 28 short stories and 5 essays that walk purposely in his footsteps. It is a perfect way to see the impact of one of the best and most lauded writers of Science Fiction and literary criticism.
This is a high quality, engaging and challenging anthology, including a wide variety of stories. Some echo Chip’s style, with fluid passages overfilled with imagery and references to mythology. In this category, I particularly liked “Billy Tumult” by Nick Harkaway, in which the reader is drawn deep into a patient’s Western-themed subconscious landscape. It reminded me of the movie Inception in its cyclical structure. Other tales match Delany’s subject matter: the complications of repressed sexuality, the power of desire, the futility of the outsider looking for a place. For the latter, I recommend “Song for the Asking” by Carmelo Rafala, a story about a man who’s converted to his oppressor’s religion, only to spend his life trying to prove he’s a true believer. There’s the very real sense that, fail or succeed, he’ll never be fully embraced by the faith he tries to embody and serve.
In addition to the fiction, there are also the essays. These are personal, touching recollections of how Delany’s approach and advice encouraged and supported the writer, often validating the feelings of exclusion that the writer thought was theirs alone. As with so many other instances of Black people standing in spaces designed to keep them out: having one person validate that yes, that happened to me too, is often what a person needs to keep fighting. And when that person is a lauded elder of that group, like Delany, that validation feels all the more valuable. Further, as a literary critic, Delany’s insights reach beyond the people he personally met and taught (he was a professor at a number of universities from 1975 until recently), influencing criticism of the genre at large and developing underpinnings for the study of Science Fiction as a serious literary subject.
These are stories and essays written by some of the leading writers and thinkers in Black Speculative Fiction. Even if they had no connection to Samuel “Chip” Delany, I would recommend it on that strength alone. Kai Ashante Wilson, who recently won the Crawford Award from International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA) for his novel Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, is here, as is Sheree Renee Thomas, editor of the Dark Matter anthology series which collects the short works of Black authors in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (and which has won two World Fantasy Awards). And the quality and entertainment in these stories lives up to these accolades.
Knowing these are all written in honor of Delany adds another level to the work. This is a great introduction to both the writers collected here and to the influence that Delany has. May it inspire us all, if not to go out and write, at least to go back and read some of his original novels and get to know our own history in the genre.