This Way Up 
 
Northern Lights

Nova

by Samuel R. Delany

Reviewed by PAUL S. JENKINS

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 motivation.

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]

 

 

 
 
 
: home : non-fiction
 

Copyright © 2002 Willowsoft Communications

Except where otherwise noted, content and design of this issue of THIS WAY UP : Speculative Fiction Online is copyright © 2000-2002 by Willowsoft Communications. Individual stories and articles remain the copyright of their respective authors. Stories and articles may be viewed on screen or printed out for private use only. Any other reproduction, except by express, written permission of the copyright owner is prohibited under international copyright laws.