Science Fiction

Nova by Samuel R. Delany (and what I miss about classic sci-fi )

I am having the hardest time writing about Nova. There’s so much packed into this little book.  You know what I really miss about classic sci-fi books compared to modern ones? The size! These authors could pack an entire world into 200 pages and leave a reader full of adventures and ideas.  Now I feel like books are just getting longer and longer for the same reward. Which do you prefer?

Anyway, let’s look at Nova‘s original book facts and I’ll try to keep it brief since I’m writing a review, not a scholarly article. We will also play a game of favorite cover edition

Bookish quick facts:
  • Title: Nova
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Samuel R. Delany
  • Release: 1968
  • Pages: 241
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for space opera & classic sci-fi fans
Here’s the blurb:

Given that the suns of Draco stretch almost sixteen light years from end to end, it stands to reason that the cost of transportation is the most important factor of the 32nd century. And since Illyrion is the element most needed for space travel, Lorq von Ray is plenty willing to fly through the core of a recently imploded sun in order to obtain seven tons of it. The potential for profit is so great that Lorq has little difficulty cobbling together an alluring crew that includes a gypsy musician and a moon-obsessed scholar interested in the ancient art of writing a novel. What the crew doesn’t know, though, is that Lorq’s quest is actually fueled by a private revenge so consuming that he’ll stop at nothing to achieve it. In the grandest manner of speculative fiction, Nova is a wise and witty classic that casts a fascinating new light on some of humanity’s oldest truths and enduring myths.

My thoughts:

Okay. Samuel R. Delany always interested me as an author and person.  He wrote everything from scifi to fantasy to pornography, won a ton of SF awards, taught and lived all over the place including here near Buffalo for a bit, and is black. He was only I think 25 when Nova was released and is frequently listed by others as an influencial author. Overall I just think his biography is fascinating and it’s about time I read more of his work.

Nova is a space opera at heart.  A crew of mismatched people from all over the known world’s form up to help a famous and slightly crazed captain complete his quest.  He ties in Grail and Tarot myths, class and race, economics, history, rivalry, art, found family, ship pets, and much more, packing an adventure into a fully formed world … In well under 300 pages.

Seeing things from Mouse’s point of view we get the story through the eyes of a poor gypsy type with no formal education. Katin is a middle class guy with education who is on the search for something to write a novel about. Lorq von Ray, the captain, is rich and privileged from one of the most prominent family lines in the galaxy and absolutely hell bent on outrunning his own rage.  All three offer different viewpoints on the events as the story rolls on so that we understand how things effect different classes in different parts of known worlds.

The book is pretty funny too.  Among the more serious aspects, two crew members have “waddling along, malevolent and happy” pets that the captain threatens to shoot out the airlock if ever trips over them🤣.  Katin self describes as “a bright guy with a lot to say and nothing to say it about”.  There will be laughs, I promise.

I don’t want to go too deeply into themes since I’m not writing a scholarly article but a few are pretty interesting.  The nova itself – sensory overload as a form of destruction – is a theme that runs throughout.  So is the affect of large scale economics and events on small pockets of individuals.  Language is used thematically to show class and solidarity, where Delany translates a Turkish or Greek syntax word for word to demonstrate when people are speaking it, and uses a normal English to show when they’re speaking the accepted or higher class lingo.

My favorite part was this long running feud between von Ray and Prince Red. It started long before their time and was rekindled because, well, Prince is a psychopath.  Lorq says this wonderful bit about outrunning his rage and taking everything his antagonist wants, regardless of the cost. Both men are off the wall with jealousy over Ruby (of course there’s a woman) and rival family operations (fuel, transportation, cybernetics).

Oh….yeah, and pretty much everyone is a cyborg that can plug into spaceships and other things.

I’m only scratching the surface here and I think you all can see how much is actually going on in this book. All while they’re flying in an insane quest towards a supernova.  If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts!

P.S. I did sample the audiobook but I’ll be honest that Stefan Rudnicki isn’t my favorite narrator. He narrates a TON of classic sci-fi and it’s hard because I have to slow him way down, and when a book is this full of ideas I prefer to read it.  Anyway, thanks so much for checking out my book review and thoughts on Nova by Samuel R. Delany. This one came off my shelves and as always, all opinions are my own.

Alright, this book also has 5 billion different covers so I picked a few select random ones – which do you prefer?

6 replies on “Nova by Samuel R. Delany (and what I miss about classic sci-fi )”

Hahah I hear you! Books just seem to be getting longer these days. I love a good action packed shorter novel sometimes 😅


Thank you! I think a lot of people enjoy Dahlgren and Babel-17 more but I liked this one. If you read it let me know what you think!

Liked by 1 person

Agreed. I’d rather have a short book with big ideas that I can enjoy slowly, than a huge trilogy where I have to sift through all the fluff and have to read twice as fast to feel accomplished 😅


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