Our society is often described as patriarchal—a society ruled by aging fathers concerned first and foremost with passing on the patrimony. At the risk of being glib, however, I’d suggest that it might be more accurate to say that we have a filiarchal society—a society ruled almost entirely by sons—by very young men. Certainly boys—especially white heterosexual boys—are the most privileged creatures in the Western social hierarchy. They are forgiven almost everything in life—and are forgiven everything in art.
Samuel R. Delany, interviewed in 1986, “On Triton and other matters”
You meet a new person, you go with him and suddenly you get a whole new city…you go down new streets, you see houses you never saw before, pass places you didn’t even know were there. Everything changes.
Talented writing tends to contain more information, sentence for sentence, clause for clause, than merely good writing. … It also employs rhetorical parallels and differences… . It pays attention to the sounds and rhythms of its sentences… . Much of the information it proffers is implied. … These are among the things that indicate talent.
I’ve often pondered on the terms “gay culture,” “gay society,” “gay sensibility.” The hard-headed Marxist in me knows that we must be talking about behavior, mediated through psychology, that responds to a whole set of social and economic forces […] But at the intuitive level (i.e., that level wholly culture bound), where we feel as if, somehow, there is such a thing as a culture apart from infrastructural realities, gay society has always seemed to me an accretion of dozens on dozens of such minutiae, a whole rhetoric of behavior—how to twist the skin off a clove of garlic, how to open the doors to the unsold box seats at Carnegie Hall with a dime, the shifting, protean, and liquid knowledge of where sex is to be found in the city, this season, or Worcestershire Sauce in your eggs—that together make up a life texture I was at once almost wholly appreciative of, and at the same time felt almost wholly estranged from: as if it were a myth that I could never quite reach.
But perhaps […] any “identity"—semantic, generic, personal, or cultural—is always such an accretive, associative, but finally disjunctive illusion.
Star Wars: A consideration of the great new S.F. film
by Samuel R. Delany, (Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1977)
“…Sometime, somewhere, somebody is going to write a review of Star Wars that begins: “In Lucas’s future, the black races and the yellow races have apparently died out and a sort of mid-Western American (with a few South Westerners who seem to specialize in being war ship pilots) has taken over the universe. By and large, women have also been bred out of the human race and, save for the odd gutsy princess or the isolated and coward aunt, humanity seems to be breeding quite nicely without them. …”
When those various review surface, somebody will no doubt object (and we’ll recognize the voice; it’s the same one who said, earlier, “…it’s got a good, solid story!”) with a shout: “But that’s not the point. This is entertainment!”
Well, entertainment is a complex business. And we are talking about an aspect of the film that isn’t particularly entertaining. When you travel across three whole worlds and all the humans you see are so scrupiously (sic) caucasian and male, Lucas’s future begins to seem a little dull. And the variation and invention suddenly tun out to be only the province of the set director and special effects crew.
How does one put in some variety, some human variety? The same way you put in your barrage of allusions to other films, i.e., you just do it and don’t make a big thing…”
Full review here.This is a great example of how you can love and enjoy something (as you can see reading the full review) and still be able to be critical of it. See more scans at samueldelany,
The variety of worlds science fiction accustoms us to, through imagination, is training for thinking about the actual changes—sometimes catastrophic, often confusing—that the real world funnels at us year after year. It helps us avoid feeling quite so gob-smacked.
The fact is, I don’t think SF can be really utopian. I mean utopia presupposes a pretty static, unchanging, and rather tyrannical world. You know: ‘I know the best way to live, and I’m going to tell you how to do it, and if you dare do anything else…’
Samuel R. Delany, interviewed in 1986, “On Triton and other matters”
“Science fiction doesn’t try to predict the future, but rather offers a significant distortion of the present…We sit around and look at what we see around us and we say how can the world be different” – Samuel R. Delany
Most people go blind in blackness. I have a fire in my eyes. I have that whole collapsing sun in my head, my visual tectum shorted wide open, jumping, leaping, sparking. It’s as though the light lashed the rods and cones of my retina to constant stimulation, balled up a rainbow and stuffed each socket full. That’s what I’m seeing now. Then you, outlined here, highlighted there, a solarized ghost across hell from me.
In a very real way, one writes a story to find out what happens in it. Before it is written it sits in the mind like a piece of overheard gossip or a bit of intriguing tattle. The story process is like taking up such a piece of gossip, hunting down the people actually involved, questioning them, finding out what really occurred, and visiting pertinent locations. As with gossip, you can’t be too surprised if important things turn up that were left out of the first-heard version entirely; or if points initially made much of turn out to have been distorted, or simply not to have happened at all.
Delany, Samuel R. About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews. Wesleyan University Press.
“Delany countered that the current Hugo debacle has nothing to do with
science fiction at all. ‘It’s socio-economic,’ he said. In 1967, as the
only black writer among the Nebula nominees, he didn’t represent the
same kind of threat. But Delany believes that, as women and people of
color start to have 'economic heft,’ there is a fear that what is
“normal” will cease to enjoy the same position of power. 'There are a
lot of black women writers, and some of them are gay, and they are
writing about their own historical moment, and the result is that white
male writers find themselves wondering if this is a reverse kind of
racism. But when it gets to fifty per cent,’ he said, then 'we can talk
about that.’ It has nothing to do with science fiction, he reiterated.
“’It has to do with the rest of society where science fiction exists.’“
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (2013)
“In this hip, accessible primer to the music, literature, and art of Afrofuturism, author Ytasha Womack introduces readers to the burgeoning community of artists creating Afrofuturist works, the innovators from the past, and the wide range of subjects they explore.
From the sci-fi literature of Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, and N. K. Jemisin to the musical cosmos of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, to the visual and multimedia artists inspired by African Dogon myths and Egyptian deities, the book’s topics range from the “alien” experience of blacks in America to the “wake up” cry that peppers sci-fi literature, sermons, and activism.
With a twofold aim to entertain and enlighten, Afrofuturists strive to break down racial, ethnic, and social limitations to empower and free individuals to be themselves.”
For better or for worse, I am often spoken of as the first African-American science fiction writer. But I wear that originary label as uneasily as any writer has worn the label of science fiction itself. Among the ranks of what is often referred to as proto-science fiction, there are a number of black writers. M. P. Shiel, whose Purple Cloud and Lord of the Sea are still read, was a Creole with some African ancestry. Black leader Martin Delany (1812–1885—alas, no relation) wrote his single and highly imaginative novel, still to be found on the shelves of Barnes & Noble today, Blake, or The Huts of America (1857), about an imagined successful slave revolt in Cuba and the American South—which is about as close to an sf-style alternate history novel as you can get. Other black writers whose work certainly borders on science fiction include Sutton E. Griggs and his novel Imperio Imperium (1899) in which an African-American secret society conspires to found a separate black state by taking over Texas, and Edward Johnson, who, following Bellamy’s example in Looking Backward (1888), wrote Light Ahead for the Negro (1904), telling of a black man transported into a socialist United States in the far future.