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Review of "Nova" by Samuel R. Delany.

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Delany is a singular talent. He had to be in order to break into the science fiction field as an African American during the Civil Rights Era. Like few writers before him, Delany seemed to be possessed by a what is often termed a “natural” instinct for story structure and for character. This is not instinct, it is genius. Between the ages of 19 and 25, Delany published nine science fiction novels, two of which won the Nebula for best science fiction novel of the year. “Nova” was the ninth of these offerings.

The central plot of “Nova” is that by the year 3172, intergalactic society stretches sixteen light years in length, and thus, the biggest hurdle for society is the cost of transportation. That means Illyrion, an element crucial to faster-than-light-travel that can only be harvested from the heart of a dying star, a “nova.” When Mouse, a jobless musician, encounters Lorg von Ray, he finds himself with the opportunity to become a crew member of the Roc, and join the enigmatic captain on his quest to harvest Illyrion from a distant star at the very moment it goes super nova. If their quest succeeds, they’ll all be rich beyond their wildest dreams. And if it fails …

This novel is best described as the love child of “Moby Dick” and “2,000 Leagues Under the Sea” that was then given a bit of acid and then flung into space. In this story, the colorful crew of Lorq von Ray set out to harvest the embers of a dying star, while fighting off the pursuit of their powerful enemies, Prince Red and his younger sister Ruby Red. Lorq’s crew includes a gypsy musician, a pair of twins – only one of whom is albino, and a young scholar obsessed with the ancient art of writing a novel.

I picked this book up for the first time back in college. It is fast paced, innovative, and above all it is fun. Anyone who reads this novel can see the tremendous potential is has in becoming a movie one day, and I’m a little blown away that no one has ever gotten around to it. Hollywood can be a fickle and jealous thing for writers and so perhaps the rights are sitting in someone producer’s proverbial cellar, collecting dust. If that’s the case, perhaps one day that person will get wise. For one, I hope they do.


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