Samuel R. Delany has been away from science fiction for over twenty years — and now he's coming back to it, sort of. His new novel Through The Valley Of The Nest Of Spiders is an introspective future history.
When we talked to Samuel R. Delany for our mega-feature about writers we wished would return to science fiction last week, he was gracious enough to stay on the phone and answer some more questions. And since we promised almost a year ago to ask him some of your questions — back when we had a failed game of phone tag with him — we decided to ask as many as we could. Along the way, he told us a lot more about his new novel.
mistermac2000 asks: "During the seventies, Samuel Delany had a brief involvement in a few comics/graphic novel publications. With the rise in popularity of these forms, has he considered any more projects of this type?"
As I think I've written at one point or another, they are a large investment, especially for the artist. I think a 23 page ordinary comic is an investment for the artist, but if you're doing something 60 to 104 pages, that's a really big investment for an artist. So unless you've got someone who wants to pay you while you're doing it or up front, it's kind hard to get someone to do that with you, unless you're the artist yourself. When I did Empire with Howard Chaykin, which was 1980 or 1982, Byron Preiss was the packager, and that was a strangely ill-fated project. After we did it, I was very happy with what we did, and Byron was very unhappy with the ending, and just took it upon himself to completely rewrite it, and cut up the art, so that there's no way to put it back in its original shape. It just doesn't exist any more, and he's dead now of course. So nobody will ever see the way it was originally supposed to end. I've written about it in at least one interview. I think it's my book Silent Interviews. I'm very happy with Bread And Wine, which is the one I did with Mia Wolff more recently. It basically explains how Denis and I, my partner of the past, getting on for 20 years [got together]. But you basically need to find someone who is really interested in doing sixty to 100 full-sized fairly complicated and rich drawings — or paintings in the case of Empire, every page was actually painted in Empire — that's hard to find. So I could see doing more, but you've got to find somebody who wants to do it.
DocNoodle asks: After being involved in science fiction for 40 years, are you seeing any trends that are tend to repeat themselves or go in cycles, or do you have any predictions for the future of the genre?
Not really. No. I think that's the easiest way to answer that. Some of the Cyberpunk stuff — some of the most recent incarnations of the Cyberpunk stuff seem to me to be kind of dull. It seems to become a [collection] of endless mannerist fights, with everyone firing various and sundry power guns at each other from around corners, and I don't see what the point of it all is. I suspect probably I'm not giving it my full attention when I read it, rarely do I finish it. It ill behooves me to make a judgment, but rarely are they able to catch me up in the first 20 pages or so. It's as if they think these blood-and-thunder beginnings of "Agent Joe C. Seven leaned from behind and fired into the explosion, etc. etc.," and this goes on for twenty five pages, and this is supposed to make you interested in the character or the situation. ANd it doesn't. It sounds like a bad movie that I wouldn't be interested in either. I will not name names, but I do see a lot of that stuff, by writers who you can tell have a certain verbal facility. They actually do describe these things moderately well. For me, I've read the situation described so frequently, that there's no amount of verbal invention that's going to reawaken it for me. I want to read about a character doing something fairly quiet where I can picture who the character is, and what their attitude towards the world is — which I'm a lot more interested in than what they do under the pressure of a gunfight. Most people under the pressure of a gunfight, assuming they know how to shoot guns, do pretty much the same thing: try very hard to stay alive and kill the other guy. Not terribly exciting.
Djehuty asks: "Will he ever finish and publish The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities?"
Probably not, I can't say for sure. Again, I haven't written it off entirely. I did write about 150 pages of it at some point. But a number of things had come up to undercut it. I've explained it many, many times, and don't mind explaining it again. I was in a major relationship at that time, that kind of fueled the first volume, Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand. And that relationship broke up, and that was the beginning of the Eighties, at the same time the AIDS situation came in. A lot of it, as the diptych was originally planned out, was a celebration of lot of the stuff I saw at the time in the gay world. Sort of in allegorical form, a lot of that was being celebrated. There was a lot of the gay situation that made me rethink some of that, not in any kind of simplistic way, but in a fairly complicated way. So between the personal breakup, which was an eight-year relationship that came to ane nd, and the changes in the world situation, there were other things that sort of grabbed my interest more. That made the second one a little hard to go on. I still think there are some valid things to be said about it, in that second volume. And it's quite... I've got two or three more books, that I really would like to write, and at this point, my books take me three to five years. So that's 15 years, and I'm practically 70 years old. So I'll be in my 80s when those books are done, and I don't know whether I'm going to be writing anything, or even if I'm going to be here. But I do have thse other projgects I want to write first. Three of them, one of which is the book I'm finishing up now, Through The Valley Of The Nest Of Spiders.
Can you tell us more about that?
In a way, it's a very simple story, just about two working-class gay men, who meet when they're seventeen and nineteen, living on the coast of Georgia. They meet in 2007, and they stay together for the next 80 years, until one of them dies. Now you tell me whether that's science fiction or not. It definitely goes into the future, but on the other hand, they're absolutely out of the center of life, and things progress where they live, very very slowly. And they hear about things that are going on outside. They live on coastal part of Georgia in a little town that does go through cycles of being a semi-popular tourist spot in the summers, and then some years, nobody bothers to come at all. Eventually they move to a little island off the coast, and a little lesbian art colony starts up on the island. And they wonder if they're not being crowded out of their new home. But they're very fond of some of the people who live there, and some of the people who live there are very fond of them.
Gargle asks, Do you consider linguistics a science in real life? And how do linguistics and philosophy inform your work?
Yes, of course. Linguistics is very much a science. It's a human science, one of the human sciences. And it's one of the more interesting human sciences. It's a science in the same way that sociology and psychology is a science. [As for how they inform my work?] At this point, very little. They did when I was 22 and 23, and I am now 67.
Galatea2.2 asks: "One more question for Mr. Delany: Writers are often exhorted to write the novels they are dying to read...what's the unwritten book he would love to write (or just read)?"
All of my books have been ((what I would like to read.)) That's the impetus to write pretty much any book I've ever writen. That's true of the Jewels of Aptor, although maybe in this case, my wife would have liked to have read it, back when I was married. That cretainly was true of Dhalgren, and it's just equally true of Through The Valley Of The Nest Of Spiders... As a gay man in a long-term relationship that's been going along quite happily, for as I said, going on for 20 years, I realized I would like to read a book about a long-term relationship and the type of things that might go into it. It's not an autobiographycal work in any way shape or form, although certainly many many of the lessons and ideas and the kinds of things that you learn as you go on in your life have gone into it. It's a very low-key book about people who do their laundry together and help each other fold up the sheets, and one of them makes the coffee in the morning because he makes an especially good pot of coffee. That kind of thing. It is not a "big plot" novel. It's a very characater driven novel. Although it's fairly long, around 200,000 words.