Visiting Samuel R. Delany’s “Empire Star”
“The only important elements in any society are the artistic and the criminal, because they alone, by questioning the society’s values, can force it to change.”
For my birthday, writer friend and Ballads of the Distant Reaches editor/co-maestro Robert Frankel gave me a 2-in-1 book with stories by Samuel R. Delany, collecting Empire Star and Babel-17. Because Empire Star (published in 1966) was way shorter, I read that first.
It’s unlike any novella I’ve read — the complexity of its fourth wall breaking narrative mirrors the growth of the protagonist, someone who begins as an uneducated “simplex” backwater boy and becomes a galactic “multiplex” traveler tasked with sending a message he doesn’t even know or understand. It might be backwards from a gender perspective (and others), but it’s a story about the multiple layers of understanding and intelligences. It’s a story about asking questions, the only way to learn.