Book Diary: Samuel R. Delany – The Fall of the Towers

The Fall of the Towers by Samuel R. DelanyThe Fall of the Towers is an omnibus of a trilogy Delany wrote early in his career, and while it is nowhere near the quality of his best works, it is hard to believe that he was a mere 22 years old when he completed it; it already shows a degree of accomplishment (not to mention sheer inventiveness) that many writers never manage to achieve.

Rather to my surprise, I felt myself reminded of John Brunner’s Meeting at Infinity that I read a while back (and the comparison does not seem to be completely off the mark, seeing how Delany dedicates the final volume of the trilogy to Brunner and his wife Marjorie) – like Brunner’s novel, Delany’s trilogy has a somewhat crude pulp-ish as its unassuming foundation (alien invasion in Brunner, two trans-galactic super-beings battling it out in Delany) on which they both build a splendid narrative edifice by means of dazzling imagination, brilliant invention and colourful writing (although still far from the blinding linguistic luminescence of Delany’s later works like Nova), supported by some solid world-building (I found it particularly remarkable that both authors gave some thought to how the economics of his world works – or indeed, does not).

Where Delany’s later novels build up vertical complexity, i.e., use a small cast of characters and a basic plot but add layers upon layers of world-building, character depth, mythical resonance and literary reference to that, The Fall of the Towers extends mostly into the horizontal plane – while characters appear (comparatively) flat, there are a lot of them, and the plot is quite sprawling, which I suppose is quite appropriate for a trilogy.

Even so, the whole thing whizzes by at a very high speed, fast enough to leave the reader dizzy at times from the dazzling display of words and ideas Delany fires off. I do not want to come across as nostalgic, but I am feeling very tempted to say that they just don’t make them like this any more – looking at today’s sedentary, sprawling space operas with their extensive and detailed world-building and comparing them to the fast and furious fireworks of Delany or early Brunner (or Zelazny or Eillison or…) is almost like looking at a balding, beer-bellied guy in his advanced middle age and wondering whatever became of the lean and hungry teenager with the visionary gaze that he used to be…

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7 comments

  1. I still have not everything by him (most notable not Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand), but from those I have read, I suppose it would be a toss-up between Nova and Dhalgren – maybe slightly favouring the latter, because I have a general fondness for literary modernism and Dhalgren situates itself in that tradition at least as much as in an SF-nal one. For the sheer, exuberant joy of reading, though, nothing beats Nova for me.

  2. I still haven’t been able to convince myself to write a review for Nova (or Tiptree’s collection Ten-Thousand Years Light-Years from Home) — I re-read it for a sci-fi book reading group on sci-fi authors interested in issues of gender….

  3. I can relate to that, it is a somewhat daunting task – my last re-read of Nova was in September 2011, just a month before I embarked on my book diary project, so I just barely missed having to make a post about it. I have been contemplating reading my way chronologically through all of Delany’s fiction oeuvre, from Jewels of Aptor to Dark Reflections. Unlikely I’ll ever do it, but Delany is an author I’ve been coming back to again and again; he might very well be the best thing that ever happened to science fiction. Needless to say, I still would love to see you tackle Nova on your blog…
    And the same goes for Tiptree, who is another of those “Read as a teenager in German translation” authors. I have her collection of stories, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, and am confident I am going to read that some day…

  4. I’m not convinced that I like Tiptree — in her collection Ten-Thousand Years I enjoyed perhaps three or so of the stories….

    But yeah, after I finish my phd qualifying exams I’ll kick into gear with more book reviews 🙂 At the moment I have to read 2-3 medieval history books a day….

  5. I thought to compare Meeting at Infinity with The Fall of the Towers, but there was a familiar sensation when I read Meeting at Infinity. Must be that sort of dark and turbid transmission of conspiracy and strife.

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