Publishing since the age of twenty, Samuel R. Delany is a highly respected novelist and literary critic alike. Familiarly known as “Chip”, Delany has written science fiction and fantasy (SFF) known for pushing boundaries, for challenging the notions of speculative genres, and experimenting with approaches to literature in general. Delany’s writing both subverts conventions and transcends fiction to explore social realities, most notably the existence of the Other. Indeed, as a man who could be described with terms such as academic, homosexual, polymath, African-American, and intelligent, Delany writes from the point of view of the Other, a spectrum of under-represented perspectives within SFF.
Both Delany’s fiction and nonfiction have been hugely influential, inspiring, and appreciated, partly due to this unique vision. However, his works have also resonated so strongly because Delany’s vision is not just unique, but uniquely brilliant, honest, and perceptive. With all of its challenges and transgressions against comfortable familiarity, Delany’s work strikes universal human chords, conveying both beauty and progressive encouragement.
Delany’s 1975 novel of apocalyptic literature, Dhalgren, remains the best-known representation of the themes to his fiction, and so far happens to be the only piece of fiction I’ve read by the author. (It is hard to read past works when it’s so much to just keep up with the new wonders!) Thus, reading a recent collection of works written in appreciation of Delany reminded me a lot of my experience reading an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in tribute of Gene Wolfe soon after starting to really read extensively. At the time utterly unfamiliar with the author, much significance was surely lost to me. Nevertheless, how I did enjoy it despite its challenges and personal obscurity.
Stories For Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, published by Rosarium Press and edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell, is a remarkable collection of both fiction and essays that very correctly does not aim to emulate Delany’s style, or even to copy the precise themes of his highly personal works. Yet, elements that echo Delany are certainly present in the fiction here, from eroticism to explorations of identity and perception.
At times surreal, the stories here are often as subversive and challenging as Delany’s own writing, making the collection no light reading. But as with Nisi Shawl’s own collection Filter House, this anthology will be meaningful to the right readers, and bears repeated readings. Of the thirty-three pieces that make up the collection, nine are reprints and the remainder original. Of the reprints, Junot Díaz’s “Nilda”, first published in The New Yorker, is likely the only one that probably reached a particularly large audience.
The nonfiction essays of the collection are mostly focused reflections on Delany’s works and influence, in a broad (Imarisha’s essay), individual (Swanwik’s), or combined (Lavender’s) context. This avoids including critical essays that try to tackle Delany’s own academic interest and experience directly, and it also provides readers who may be more new to Delany some context for appreciating some details of the story a bit more. Without any editorial comments from Shawl and Campbell (which honestly would have been still nice), these essays become near essential for some readers. I’ve previously enjoyed a collection of essays edited by Lavender, so reading more in this vein was welcome.
Like the contributors to the collection, the writing itself covers a significant diversity. A few instances of fiction, particularly the opening story by Eileen Gunn, are even closer to exercises in creative nonfiction. My personal two favorite stories among the fiction offerings were those by Claude Lalumière and the collaboration between Nalo Hopkinson and editor Shawl. Lalumière’s “Empathy Evolving as a Quantum of Eight-Dimensional Perception” falls into one my favorite categories: the weird alien encounter. In this case octopuses that dominate a far future Earth discover a human time traveler and attempt to absorb understanding of this strange creature. “Jamaica Ginger” by Hopkinson and Shawl is a far more “conventional” steam-punk tale that provides the most pure enjoyment from the collection.
Though I was going to limit myself to two, I just can’t help also mentioning Chesya Burke’s “For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Ababuo Need Not Apply)” and Sheree Renée Thomas’ “River Clap Your Hands”, a pair of fantasies each with intense emotional resonance and powerful characterization.
Stories For Chip is a collection that both makes you want to go and (re)discover what was so special about Delany while also look for more by some authors that are likely unknown to most readers. No work is really “for everyone”, but people who are looking for depth and diversity and challenges compared to what they may normally encounter in the SFF genres should find much to appreciate in this tribute anthology.
“Michael Swanwick and Samuel R. Delany at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, March 2005” by Eileen Gunn
“Billy Tumult” by Nick Harkaway
“Voice Prints” by devorah major
“Delany Encounters: Or, Another Reason Why I Study Race and Racism in Science Fiction” by Isiah Lavender, III
“Clarity” by Anil Menon
“When Two Swordsmen Meet” by Ellen Kushner
“For Sale: Fantasy Coffin (Ababuo Need Not Apply)” by Chesya Burke
“Holding Hands with Monsters” by Haralambi Markov
“Song for the Asking” by Carmelo Rafala
“Kickenders” by Kit Reed
“Walking Science Fiction: Samuel Delany and Visionary Fiction” by Walidah Imarisha
“Heart of Brass” by Alex Jennings
“Empathy Evolving as a Quantum of Eight-Dimensional Perception” by Claude Lalumière
“Be Three” by Jewelle Gomez
“Guerilla Mural of a Siren’s Song” by Ernest Hogan
“An Idyll in Erewhyna” by Hal Duncan
“Real Mothers, a Faggot Uncle, and the Name of the Father: Samuel R Delany’s Feminist Revisions of the Story of SF” by L. Timmel Duchamp
“Nilda” by Junot Díaz
“The First Gate of Logic” by Benjamin Rosenbaum
“The Master of the Milford Altarpiece” by Thomas M. Disch
“River Clap Your Hands” by Sheree Renée Thomas
“Haunt-type Experience” by Roz Clarke
“Eleven Stations” by Fábio Fernandes
“<<Légendaire.>>” by Kai Ashante Wilson
“On My First Reading of The Einstein Intersection” by Michael Swanwick
“Characters in the Margins of a Lost Notebook” by Kathryn Cramer
“Hamlet’s Ghost Sighted in Frontenac, KS” by Vincent Czyz
“Each Star a Sun to Invisible Planets” by Tenea D. Johnson
“Clones” by Alex Smith
“The Last Dying Man” by Geentanjali Dighe
“Capitalism in the 22nd Century” by Geoff Ryman
“Jamaica Ginger” by Nalo Hopkinson & Nisi Shawl
“Festival” by Chris Brown