Though this at first seems like a straightforward
science-fictional quest -- a motley crew set forth to harvest
something that no-one's ever succeeded in retrieving before -- this
novel is really about a clash of personalities and cultures, a clash
that can only be resolved by the fall of one and the rise of another.
The novel's structure -- mostly third person narrative from three
points of view -- emphasises the relationships and backgrounds of
members of the crew. It's also about narrative structure itself; one
of the characters is continuously making notes for his 'novel' (an
archaic form of entertainment, we are informed), and Nova
forms part of it. This character goes on about a 'grail quest' -- and
perhaps that's what Delany has given us.
The plot is simple: Captain Von Ray gathers his crew in order to
find and retrieve some Illyrion -- material on which the economies of
many worlds depend. By flooding the market he intends to cause the
downfall of his long-time foe Prince Red. He intends to get his
Illyrion from the centre of a dying star -- a nova -- just as it's
about to explode.
The narrative builds up to a satisfying space-opera climax, but
takes the whole novel to do so. It's good stuff, written with bravura
confidence and a disregard for certain novelistic conventions. For
instance, many chapters end in mid-sentence. This style pervades the
whole book, even to the very end.
Delany's characterisation is intense -- several chapters are
devoted to Von Ray's past, and we also get lengthy insights into two
other members of the crew; these two don't figure particularly large
in the action, but they serve as counterpoint to the Captain's
Though superficially a space opera, Nova builds its tension
from the relationships and backgrounds of its main characters, and is
an engrossing read.
[1986 paperback edition reviewed (copyright 1968): £2.95,
224 pp, Gollancz, London, ISBN 0 575 03818 7]