Below is a short review of Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection (1967); I’ve posted a more thorough review at Retrospeculative.
I think in this short novel, Delany is showing off (or he was a heck of a lot smarter than I was at the tender age of twenty-three), but if the reader can struggle through the confusing patches, there are delights to be had. Delany is definitely not for everyone, but there is some wonderfully lyrical writing, and the novel is quite satisfying if you’re able to immerse yourself in his world-vision. It amazes me that Delany was published in a pulp fiction market. His working title for the book was A Fabulous, Formless Darkness (from a William Butler Yeats work he’d quoted), but it was ‘re-worked’ by the publisher, Ace Books (of garish covers and low-priced packaging fame). Ace‘s main audience was teenage boys who wanted formulaic plots with the usual science fiction stereotypes. Delany employed the stereotypes, but twisted them into unusual perspectives. Even though he set his stories far in the future, they were designed to describe the world as it was.
The novel takes place on Earth; however, it is set tens-of-thousands of years into the future: myths run rampant and are only partially explained at the crossroads of logic and irrationality (with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I’d suggest searching at the corner of Einstein Street and Gödel Avenue). Two of the major themes are travel, through space, time, and thought, as echoed in Delany’s travels through the Mediterranean, Spain, and Greece (which he relates in between-chapter notes), and difference from the ‘norm’, as demonstrated by the mutating aliens, who are attempting to maintain a sense of conformity while sifting through the gossamer memories of a sentient species — humanity — that has vanished.
The reader is immersed in the alien’s milieu, just as the aliens are immersed in the quagmire of humanity’s psychic memories. Within the body of the novel, Delany has included some travel-notes, which he wrote while wandering through foreign lands, creating the novel. At one point [p.119], he writes: “…perhaps on rewriting I shall change Kid Death’s hair from black to red.” But the reader has already encountered the character, and his hair is red, which demonstrates Delany’s interest in time, events in time, and awareness; what has been, what might have been, and what is. And he has also set up a conscious association between the author, the reader, and the words on the page (something he does to a dizzying degree in Dhalgren). At another point [p. 65], Delany implicitly states that “…the central subject of the book is myth.”
It is a book full of myth and peppered with confusion; nevertheless, if you enjoy a story that requires some cobbling together and leaves you thinking after you finish, I highly recommend it; along with Dhalgren, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, and the Return to Nevèrÿon series, it displays Delany at his mythical best.