Since when was power goodness, or cleverness truth?
The second book of Samuel R. Delany’s Return to Nevèrÿon sequence has for its protagonist a teenage girl who flies into the story on a dragon. It is one large, very whole tale, unlike the interwoven “Tales” of the previous volume, but it does see the return–in legend or in person–of a few of the earlier characters. The girl Pryn’s chief virtue, besides a certain indomitability, is that she is literate. She moves southwards through Nevèrÿon, from her home village of Ellamon, to the city Kolhari and its suburbs, and then beyond, nearly to the ruins of the Vygernangx Monastery. Her adventures give her the opportunity to witness and reflect on the deployments of power, the development of technologies, and the mutation of economies. Despite these large themes, and notwithstanding the single numinous myth that anchors the story at both ends, the book retains a personal scale. It details the confusion and challenges of a very young woman at large in a dangerous world.
In the book’s first appendix, Delany carries forward the scholarly conceit he had established for the “Culhar’ Fragment” that is supposed to be the ancient basis for these stories. This time he adds to his fictional scholars the participation of an actual academic Charles Hoequist Jr., who wrote a response to the appendix of the first volume. Hoequist telegraphs that he is “in on the joke” by means of a passing reference to the Necronomicon in his first letter!
There is also a second appendix, where Delaney is unusually open and detailed (for a novelist) regarding not only his sources but the particular uses he has put them to. I would never have guessed that the book took its principal structure from a film, given how very concerned it is with text and inscription, and how it explicitly and repeatedly references the “linguistic turn” in twentieth-century philosophy.
I observe the remark in another review that these Return to Nevèrÿon books reward re-reading, and I’m sure it’s true. In fact, I have it notably in mind to go back and re-read “Ashima Slade and the Harbin-Y Lectures” from Delany’s Triton, which is an earlier segment of the semiotic experimentation in Nevèrÿon.
A rubber-bodied toddler with a painted face and very red hair lay dead beside your knee and for some reason it was this that destroyed you, it was this that kindled within you something you had no hope of defending against. You howled in a purity of fright.
It’s not make-up, it’s war paint. It isn’t clothing, it’s armor.
“We’re all in this together,” she said, which was a typically Fifth assumption. The Ninth didn’t think anyone was in anything together, or if they were, they all had to disperse as soon as humanly possible to avoid splash damage.