I started reading SF during what has come to be called its "Golden Age. Since then, I've grown a little jaded, don't like the latest trends, think there are several things missing from the core of contemporary SF, the basic tenets themselves. Blah blah blah.
But such sociopolitical observations and punditry can be completely destroyed by a story that pulls out all stops, goes completely further than I would have thought possible from page one, and leaves me a little stunned. A recent example of this would be Sterling's Cicada Queen, which I first encountered in the Gardner Dozois "Year's Best Science Fiction" collection. There's a dance left in the old dame yet, I thought. I had to close the book for a while.
"Nova" by Samuel R. Delaney had a similar impact. I was amazed from beginning to end. Many of the currencies and eyeball kicks of cyberpunk SF were first developed here, particularly jacking in, and what is now referred to as virtual reality. Delaney brought all this off with a panache that would be difficult to match today, a space opera braggadocio and swagger that was in itself a stunning and refreshing statement. I can still vividly remember scenes from it: The guy going through permanent sensory overload because he flew through a nova. The sister kissing her brother's corpse and going insane with grief at the loss of her lover. Flying through novas to get the few precious ounces of trans-Einsteinian elements. "Nova" was a hard SF space opera.
But perhaps the environment in which I read "Nova" had something to do with the impression it made. I was on a canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness, the Voyageur park that Canada shares with the US. It was completely antithetical to the "Nova" environment of space ships and colonies and satellites and so on. But one night, we camped out on a moss-covered rock, sleeping under the stars. I woke much later to the wind howling, the trees bending and shaking. And the sky was covered with aurorae: a green honeycomb pattern in the skies above me; towards the northern horizon, purple curtains, white ball lightning, all dancing and shifting and floating. Ah, THAT'S it, I thought.
First published in that proto- cyberpunk of a year 1968, "Nova" has proven its resiliency with a succession of new generations of readers. Simpler in style and structure than Delaney's mammoth, multi-layered later novels, "Nova" was (and is) highly original in its treatment of the theme of space colonization.
Delaney's scenarios of thirty- second century inter-galactic social and economic conflicts stand out from the run of "hard SF" extrapolative future histories. "Nova" anticipates many of the key emphases of vanguard 80's and 90's writing - alienation, post-industrial work and its discontents, future communications media and consciousness. His delineation of multi-sensory aesthetics, post-cinematic visual documentation and electro- kinetic robotics remains challenging as ever.
Samuel R. Delany
graphic - Alien
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Nova:
Mouse, consider this. Captain Von Ray has sockets. He's one of the richest men in the universe. And so does any miner, or street cleaner, or bartender, or file clerk. In the Pleiades Federation or in the Outer Colonies, it's a totally cross-cultural phenomenon - part of a way of considering all machines as a direct extension of man that has been accepted by all social levels. Up until this conversation, I would have said it was a totally cross-cultural phenomenon on Earth as well. Until you reminded me that on our strange ancestral home world, some incredible cultural anachronisms have managed to dodder on until today.