The 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…