[Free Reading] Tales of NevèrÿonAuthor Samuel R. Delany – Vivefutbol.co

There s a recurring thread in various Delany stories wherein being provincial geographically, or socio economically may limit one s scope of experience, but should never be confused with intelligence The experience will come And so this idea may play into the very form he selected for Neveryon the genre provincialism of the barbarian adventure story does not, here, suggest anything simple or intellectually un developed In fact, Neveryon is Delany s brink of civilization testing ground for ideas about the subtle relationships of power, the societal effects of economics and the advent of currency, how ideas gain a life of their own, and the arbitrary societal basis for gender roles and identities Given the prominence of isolated primitive societies in anthropology class, in Delany s hands, barbarian stories seem like a natural setting for extending these ideas Sometimesa theoretical essay than story, but either side is handled excellently, and the whole is very readable Still, I have to wonder how something so potentially audienceless could possibly have been received That it made it into several mass market paperback editions before Wesleyan University reissued it in the 90s may suggest that the ready market of the fantasy novel, like that of the sci fi it bleeds into, may not actually be a bad way to get ideas out after all. If you have read any Samuel R Delany, you know he is a complex dude, and even his simplest stories are complex in some way Tales of Nev r on is no exception Largely branded sword and sorcery, it s actually an attempt to deconstruct this subgenre and provide commentary on the relationship between capitalism and slavery And, for bonus points, if you read closely enough you start to see patterns and echoes from some of his other work, including Triton and Dhalgren.I picked up what appear to be first editions, or near enough, of the first three Return to Nev r on books from my used bookstore a year or so ago This version of Tales of Nev r on lacks the preface by Delany s fictional K Leslie Steiner, though I do get the afterword, Appendix Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus, Part Three by S L Kermit love the play with the initials there Apparently later editions printings have corrected errors So there s that But I love collecting old, used editions of classic SFF like this, so I will suffer in satisfaction.Longtime readers of my reviews will know I m never quite satisfied by short story collections That being said, Tales of Nev r on fits into the loophole of one story deliberately structured as a series of related shorts Indeed, the stories in this collection are evenrelated than most Characters and settings overlap, with characters from one story reappearing, often older but not necessarily wiser and in different capacities than they once did Each story tends to focus on a particular theme, which Delany might then rebut or reinforce in later stories Overall, the stories form a kind of tapestry of tales that provide us with an understanding of Nev r on, its cultures, and the changes underway in this empire.This might be one of those rare situations where briefly looking at each story would genuinely be helpful The Tale of Gorgik is the first and pivotal story, since Gorgik goes on to play important roles in most of the subsequent stories and, I am given to understand, later books in the series Gorgik is a light skinned man in a land ruled by darker skinned people He becomes a slave and works in the mines until a high ranking government bureaucrat pulls him up out of that position to use as her sex buddy He lives on her sufferance at the imperial residence for a while, then she gives him an army commission and sends him packing Eventually, Gorgik strikes off on his own, becoming a kind of adventurer Yet his experiences have left him with a taste for freedom and a distaste for slavery, and we ll see that later All in all, The Tale of Gorgik is mostly a reflection on how one s fortunes are often out of one s control and depend upon the will and power of other players The Tale of Old Venn takes us across the land to an archipelago off the coast of Nev r on proper The peoples of these islands trade with Nev r on but otherwise exist outside its influence That is changing, however, because money is making its way through the land Although comprising several stories told by the eponymous Venn, the protagonist of the frame story is actually Norema, who will later emigrate to Nev r on and one day meet Gorgik Through Venn s stories, Norema is exposed to the potential problems with the introduction of money, as well as different ideas about gender roles This story might be one of the most confusing to follow, simply owing to its structure The Tale of Small Sarg concerns a young man, littlethan a boy, who is kidnapped from his people and sold into slavery are you sensing a theme yet Sarg was revered as a prince among his people, which seems to mean he wasn t responsible for doing all that much, because in his society women had most of the responsibility As a slave, Sarg gets sold to Gorgik The relationship between these two forms the core of this story, as they navigate complicated matters of sexuality, kink, and the power dynamics of master slave which might not be what you would expect, not that I want to spoil it Basically, if you are familiar with Delany you shouldn t be surprised that so many of his characters are super queer, and this is book no exception This story advances Gorgik s character development, setting him on the path on which we encounter him in subsequent books The Tale of Potters and Dragons returns onceto this idea that money could be a saviour of society or the root of all evil A potter educates his apprentice in the virtues of money before sending him to conclude a business deal On the voyage, the apprentice meets Norema, also dispatched by her mistress to secure the same contract he is after Unfortunately for both, they never reach their destination, falling victim instead to a muchmassive and older deception Norema meets Raven, a woman from the matriarchal society of the Western Crevasse, who tells her a very detailed myth about the creation of women and then men I really like this story for its plot, the craftiness of some of the characters we never meet, and because I get to see Norema again The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers brings together Norema and Raven with Gorgik and Sarg The best way I can describe this is that Sarg basically yells, RAMPAGE and runs into a castle and kills as many guards as possible, kind of like Sir Lancelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail The scenes are literally kind of cinematic in that way But anyway, this is the story that sees the culmination of the narratives on slavery, power, and economic revolutions It s a short but powerful tale amplified by the reader s awareness of the previous narratives.Lastly, we have Appendix Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus, Part Three This is where I ll state the controversial opinion that you could, indeed, just skip this entire part if you wanted I think it s possible to enjoy Tales of Nev r on on the strength of the stories alone without worrying too much about what Delany is doing here However, if you re into considering the deeper implications of Delany s work, then it is worthwhile reading and trying to parse this last entry This is part three of these informal remarks the first two are in Triton An Ambiguous Heterotopia the main story is part one and an appendix to that story is part two.So Delany is trying to link his works, trying to create a common thread throughout them I don t have the energy or memory to really compare Triton with these stories But I can see some similarities between Dhalgren and these stories In both cases, Delany makes much of the deconstruction and semiotic analysis as pioneered by Derrida Language and symbols have huge significance in Tales of Nev r on in The Tale of Gorgik , Curly lectures Gorgik over the depth and significance of the few words the Child Empress utters to him in The Tale of Old Venn , the rult that Venn describes from her time among the Rulvyn is a potent symbol, and this story also examines the utility of writing in The Tale of Small Sarg , the slave collar that Sarg wears plays an important role in the relationship between Sarg and Gorgik beyond denotation of who is the slave and so on.And so, this is how Tales of Nev r on transcends the sword and sorcery genre from which it takes its setting and inspiration Delany transforms the setting into a meditation on the shape and scope of language, of writing, of money the intersection of language and economics It s a slim volume that should not be underestimated it reminds me a lot of the anthropological science fiction of Ursula K Le Guin I don t know if this is a good entry point to Delany s writing, but I d also argue it isn t a bad one. This was a unique venture into fantasy fiction for me, as I believe it would be for most In its settings and basest aesthetic themes it is Sword Sorcery, filled with high adventure, barbaric people and their customs However in execution this isa treatise on philosophy and social studies The story told in an episodic fashion, introducing each individual character, and slowly intertwining their stories Each individual story also serves as commentary on societal prejudices, like sexuality, sexism, religion, colonialism, social hierarchy, slavery, labour and trade It is also filled with symbolism A recurring theme is mirrors and reflections, which is an apt symbol, as the story itself, though taking place in a fictional world with fictional people, is intended as reflection of our real world modern customs and people And as interesting as it is to see many of humankind s views twisted and reflected in upon themselves, it is just as interesting to see may of fantasy fiction s tropes and cliches twisted and reflected by Delany just as cleverly The format in which it was written, took some getting used to As it was quite slow in the beginning and I had expected a rollicking sword swinging adventure, despite knowing beforehand some of the themes Instead I was treated to an inventive form of storytelling with real depth and meaning It all leads to an ending with clever connections that leaves the reader smirking and satisfied.Though the story itself is perhaps not overly riveting at times, the big pay off is in the knowledge and wisdom one gains from reading it It is unfortunate that perhaps the format of the story, being sword sorcery and being philosophy, will turn away readers from both fields As would perhaps the subject matter of said philosophies, and the grotesqueries of said genre of fiction Because I would recommend this work to fans of both, as long as it is read with an open heart and open mind.For entertainment value, the book would receive a 3.5, if not for an action packed story then for the way each thread of the story is woven into a beautiful whole However, the depth and insight and moral philosophical implications of this work rate as high as any from famous freethinkers, and in that aspect it would receive a 4.5 Overall, then, I will give it a well deserved 4 5. This is a substantial work It consists of five stories of varying lengths, a preface, and an appendix The preface and the appendix profess to be authored by a K Leslie Steiner and a S.L Kermit respectively, but it is fairly clear that these people are characters in the metafictional work, as is Delany himself The appendix is titled Some Informal Remarks Towards the Modular Calculus, Part Three, indicating its place as the third entry in another series of Delany s which starts with Trouble on Triton, a science fiction novel that is also thematically at least, though maybe also through some bending of space and time I have not read that work so I couldn t say for sure a preface to the Nev r on tales And the structure gets no easier within the tales themselves they follow Gorgik and Norema alternately, but as narrative is an important theme THE theme, really of the work, there are threads of other peoples stories weaving throughout Gorgik and Norema s sections.I think that reading Catherynne M Valente In the Night Garden and Octavia E Butler Wild Seed earlier this year prepared me well for this work if you have bounced off of either of those authors because you found them boring or confusing, I doubt this is for you Delany sacrifices story to philosophy farthan either of them did, as is fitting for a work of metafiction, but the bits that made my brain hurt are my favorites, so overall I loved this work I don t exactly know where it s going yet, but I m positive I want to be along for the ride Return a preface by K Leslie Steiner This is a demanding piece to start the volume off with It s very much the sort of preface an academic would write as it should be, as K Leslie Steiner is your average black American female academic, working in the largely white preserves of a sprawling midwestern university, unable, as a seventies graduate student, to make up her mind between mathematics and German literature Steiner is relevant to the story at hand because she is the translator of the Culhar fragment a narrative fragment of approximately nine hundred words which may be the oldest writing known by a human hand which is the supposed inspiration for Delany s Nev r on tales I didn t quite know what to make of the preface on first reading, but that s okay it s mainly there to indicate to the casual reader that this is no standard sword and sorcery epic The Tale of Gorgik This first tale is a much easier entry into the volume, as it hews most closely to sword and sorcery tropes A young boy is born into poverty, ends up enslaved, rises out of slavery through the strength of his character and a hefty dose of luck, and ends up with a respected position heading a garrison of soldiers after a brief stint at court Of course, in this culture the civilized are dark skinned and the barbarians who usually become enslaved are light skinned Gorgik s main duties at court are as catamite to a noblewoman AND her eunuch steward most of the nobles have been slaves at some point due to dramatic shifts in political fortune though not all have developed an aversion to slavery as a result and so on, as Delany plays with the ideas of power and race and class and gender and sexuality Still, this tale can be read pretty much straight, as the tale of Gorgik s development into the person that stands at the center of these tales It also serves to introduce us to Nev r on, the titular city on the brink of civilization, which has been playing with the idea of coined money for three generations and has had writing for a bit longer even than that It is interesting to note that very early on the Child Empress whose ascension to power resulted in Gorgik s enslavement changes the city s name to Kolhari, and Kolhari it remains through the end of the volume and likely further The Tale of Old Venn This second tale is the one where Delany makes his theme of narrative explicit though it serves as a tale of Norema s childhood the same way The Tale of Gorgik is the tale of Gorgik s childhood, it is mainly there for the conversations between Norema and the wise woman Old Venn This was my favorite tale, as I was fascinated by the way Old Venn explained the central concept and the various examples she used Those examples also give us a picture of some of the barbarian cultures, the ones that are still skeptical of the idea of writing though they seem to have embraced coined money quite well, despite the way it has completely upended the way their societies function The Tale of Small Sarg This third tale was a bit of a letdown for me Small Sarg comes from an evenbarbaric culture than Norema, one without writing or coined money at all He is a prince in his land, but a slave in Nev r on A middle aged Gorgik purchases him and beds him he has a conversation with a young girl, and the story ends It felt like a necessary placeholder, and while it too addresses the issues of slavery, gender roles, and sexuality, it just didn t quite satisfy after The Tale of Old Venn The Tale of Potters and Dragons This fourth tale returns to Norema, now a secretary in Nev r on She embarks on a business trip for her employer and encounters Raven, a traveler from an ian culture who is by turns amused and apalled at the odd gender roles she has encountered in Nev r on Norema has a run in with politics and sees some of the concepts she discussed with Old Venn in action There s a hefty dose of irony about this tale, and I would not have minded if it had been twice as long The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers This fifth and final tale is where Gorgik and Norema s paths finally cross Gorgik and Small Sarg have been getting into trouble Raven and Norema have been mostly staying out of trouble, and the men stumble onto the women s campsite and share a meal Much is revealed to the reader, rather less is revealed to the characters, and again, the tone is ironic There is actually some action in this tale, and again, Delany packs a whallop thematically into not very many pages Appendix Some Informal Remarks Towards the Modular Calculus, Part Three by S.L Kermit In this final segment we jump back out to the world of academia, where Kermit gives the history of the Culhar fragment and makes Steiner s role in its translationexplicit This section brings the theme as laid out in The Tale of Old Venn back to the forefront and wraps it all up with an appeal to Derrida It didn t have any emotional impact, but it did its job well and just as all the other sections left me wanting . I have a love hate relationship with Delany He is utterly unappreciated by African American critics, mainly because he rarely chooses to discuss race explicitly, but his explorations of power and desire are vivid, creative, and insightful Although I can t seem to digest any of his cyberpunk writings, this sword and sorcery series Return to Neveryon is my kind of fantasy read The masters are dark skinned and the slaves are white heh and as the people of Neveryon discover the value of currency, literacy, and sexual freedom, you start to thinkhey, Delany may not be writing about some prehistoric past This is, among other things, historical fiction that looks at inventions and social change for example, the introduction of money into a barter tribe, and the consequent devaluation of women, and why as explored within a gorgeous ethnographic tale attached to which is a satire of Freud s penis envy theory, at once funny and seriously mind warping At one point in this book, when the introduction of writing is critiqued, because writing s first uses were to convenience slavery, I thought of a revelatory chapter in The Art of Not Being Governed An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, Orality, Writing and Texts about why peoples might want to hang onto the freedoms of an oral culture and resist writing I thought, I needn t have read that, I can read this fantasy fiction instead I d been clobbered by that chapter in The Art, but it s here in Delany, and muchto come Slavery is about the most important institution there was in every history up to recent times this fantasy history gives slavery its large place I have ambitions to leaf through Cambridge s World History of Slavery but maybe I can just read Delany Anyway, is the Cambridge going to inspect us on how we can hate coercive power yet want sex games around it As Gorgik and Small Sarg, the Spartacuses of this world, do I ll avow that I love both Gorgik and Small Sarg the one a giant noted to be unhandsome, with a brutish but affable face the other captured from a forest tribe his tale begins, In that brutal and barbaric time he was a real barbarian prince which meant that his mother s brother wore women s jewelry and was consulted about animals and sickness Delany loves the ironies he can wring from these barbaric times and those adjectives civilized and savage The anthropology on savage tribes here is wonderful But neither are the aristocrats in court anything other than human beings first and not to be blamed for where they are The other half of the book is Norema and Raven The women of Norema s island, thoughtor less barbaric, tend to invent things and ideas that civilization runs on Raven is his woman warrior Now, she is hard to like, as is her culture On Norema s island you can see sailor women who rub along in near equality, at least an equality of work, but Raven inverts patriarchy and its ills inverted, you see how horrible it is Nevertheless these two strike up a friendship At the end the four of them meet and talk Talk like university intellectuals, as often happens in this book At times I explain that to myself as Delany translating, capturing thoughts they have but cannot possibly express so well at other times I accuse myself of prejudice and see it as a statement in itself, that even primitive people in this novel can argue Derrida into the ground Either way, I like this technique It lives beside an unusual sense of realness that in part comes from his attention to the underprivileged, in part is the detail with which he pictures people I ll admit this realness is intermittent Still astonishing. 3.5 5 But the problem begins with trying to reduce them to all the same measure of coin in the first place skilled time, unskilled time, the talk of a clever woman, nature s gifts of fish and fruit, the invention of a craftsman, the strength of a laboring woman one simply cannot measure weight, coldness, the passage of time, and the brightness of fire all on the same scale. This one was a debacle to rate Eventually, I gave up the holistic scale and settled on the Delany scale, indicating a number of stars greater than that of the disappointing Babel 17 and lesser than that of the magnificent Dhalgren THe beginning story cycle chapter was the strongest, much as the first film is often the best after being birthed out of the longest gestation period compared to its hasty younger siblings, and while the later bits did fill in various plot holes rather teasingly, there were too many moments of similarly voiced characters and uncharacteristic monologuing near the end for me to engage in this deeper than I would with a particularly unusual thought exercise As for the tail end pseudo commentary, my recent read of The Princess Bride exhausted me with such finagling contrivances, and it is a thin line that that appendix walks between invigorating contextualization and blowhard pretension In light of that, will I be reading the rest of this quartet I ll certainly acquire the next one if I stumble across it, and considering Delany s one of the few reasons I even bother with the Sci Fi Fantasy sections any, so he has a better chance of being indulged in than most I won t be adding it to my digital shelves just yet, though irrational fear of commitments and all.As I said earlier, the beginning of this was definitely the strongest, the bits and pieces of PoMo accentuating rather than conflicting with the fantasy mainframe, playing with conceits of the genre in a tone of satire as well as sincere exploration of themes Indeed, thinking back, I beginning to better understand the driving motivation where certain philosophies were brought to a barbarian plain, inseminated, and then studied in vivo, from patriarchy to capitalism, radical feminism to Marxism, slavery to freedom I wouldn t assign relative worth based on my chosen orders and pairings if I were you The problem, I suppose, is when the chapter epigraphs began weighing too heavily on their respective skeins of narrative and the characters started sounding a bit too much like uniform 20th century mouthpieces, and a flaw that reached its most discordant peak in the final chapter and plays a major part in my decision to not officially add the sequel to my stacks just yet All in all, this wasn t nearly as lazily harmful as Babel 17 in its ideological underpinnings, but that story was admittedly tighter anddeftly balanced in its mixture of plot and dialectic on the other side of the spectrum, this was nowhere near the grandeur of Dhalgren , whose strength often lay in not bothering to explain things and just letting the queer in all senses of the world times roll I also don t like narratives with sexualized children in them, but there re bigger,mainstream fish to fry on that note cough Disney cough , so honestly, if you re planning on obsessing over it in this work, you best be prepared to take it on with those who don t engage with it nearly as critically as Delany does.Did this work start coming apart at the seams at the end Yes Do I fear a similar increasing lack of cohesion in the succeeding three volumes A tad, despite reading an entry excerpt of the sequel provided at the end of this edition What I m really hoping to get my hands on is Delany s nonfiction in the form of The Motion Of Light In Water Sex And Science Fiction Writing In The East Village, as I find nonfiction works better with certain authors when I ve had a trend of not so brilliant fictional interactions with them This strategy s currently working splendidly for Nin, and my reading of Wolf s Cassandra would not have been nearly as worthwhile without the four contextualizing essays included in my edition So, here s hoping that one shows up soon I ll still purchase thefantastical sequel if it comes my way, but I could use a better sense of Delany s directional efforts before I dive back into the results of such He was learning that power was like a fog over a meadow at evening From any distance, it seemed to have a shape, a substance, a color, an edge, yet as you approached it, it seemed to recede before you Finally, when common sense said you were at its center, it still seemed just as far away, only by this time it was on all sides, obscuring any vision of the world beyond it. In His Four Volume Series Return To Nev R On, Hugo And Nebula Award Winner Samuel R Delany Appropriated The Conceits Of Sword And Sorcery Fantasy To Explore His Characteristic Themes Of Language, Power, Gender, And The Nature Of Civilization Wesleyan University Press Has Reissued The Long Unavailable Nev R On Volumes In Trade Paperback The Eleven Stories, Novellas, And Novels In Return To Nev R On S Four Volumes Chronicle A Long Ago Land On Civilization S Brink, Perhaps In Asia Or Africa, Or Even On The Mediterranean Taken Slave In Childhood, Gorgik Gains His Freedom, Leads A Slave Revolt, And Becomes A Minister Of State, Finally Abolishing Slavery Ironically, However, He Is Sexually Aroused By The Iron Slave Collars Of Servitude Does This Contaminate His Mission Or Intensify It Presumably Elaborated From An Ancient Text Of Unknown Geographical Origin, The Stories Are Sunk In Translators And Commentators Introductions And Appendices, Forming A Richly Comic Frame I thought this would be a nice light fantasy read, however I was proven wrong from the get go Delany creates a ancient world that puts one to thinking, and a world that is starting to civilize, money making an appearance over barter, first writings, new inventions and improved inventions, with all this the world is still most brutal There are Dragons And women are at the forefront. From the moment I saw the epigraphs heading each section were from Derrida, Foucault, and several other academic sources, I wasn t sure what to expect from this book I knew it wasn t going to be straight up sword and sorcery And, as it happens, that s probably for the worst.The sword and sorcery aspects of the book are fun, like areflective, mellow Robert E Howard He divides the book into five separate tales in different times and places in the world of Neveryon Characters from previous tales pop up in later ones Nothing really resolves Characters just age and change circumstances The first tale , of Gorgik, a slave taken from the mines by a slutty courtier to the imperial court, is probably the best It introduces a world of complex political intrigue, sexual appetites, and architecture It s all downhill from there.Delany is obviously an intelligent, sophisticated guy Reading the academic texts he reads is not easy My degree is in philosophy, so I have first hand experience I like to think he really believed the epigraphs chosen relate to the narrative, that he wasn t just showing his erudition, but the epigraphs chosen are very specific to the texts they re taken from and not easily generalized I can t imagine why he chose them.This skepticism about Delany carries into the narrative He spends inordinate amounts of the text on philosophical discussions that have no real significance to the narrative and have no original insight Several pages are devoted to some barbarians replaying out Freud s penis envy theory in their own culture One or two paragraphs, this is amusing satire Several pages of it and the joke s on us for reading it He also spends many pages on Derrida s deconstructionism and lengthy but dated discussions on the origin of currency Money is one of the major themes of the novel, so that s consistent at least He just has nothing of value to say about it Philosophical digressions in narratives can do wonders, propel a story to heights These just fall flat and bog down the narrative Even worse is when characters that had a fixed personality before suddenly become mouthpieces for this pseudo intellectualizing.Delany s abusive writing style doesn t help All of the great philosophers strove for felicity of expression in their best texts Intellectual depth does not require bad writing Delany, under the influence of the hip continental theoriests of the 70s like Derrida, writes in a deliberately difficult style Paragraphs that fill whole pages are essentially a short sentence bloated with parenthetical remark after parenthetical remark It s just terrible prose.This is my first time reading a Samuel Delany book I will certainly give him another chance He can draw interesting characters with rich, compelling thoughts Maybe I can find something he wrote before his mind was destroyed by Lacan.