Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction
Samuel R. Delany
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In Starboard Wine, Samuel R. Delany explores the implications of his now-famous assertion that science fiction is not about the future. Rather, it uses the future as a means of talking about the present and its potentiality. By recognizing a text’s specific “difference,” we begin to see the quality of its particulars. Through riveting analyses of works by Joanna Russ, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and Thomas M. Disch, Delany reveals critical strategies for reading that move beyond overwrought theorizing and formulaic thinking. Throughout, the author performs the kinds of careful inquiry and urgent speculation that he calls others to engage in.
last seen him, he’d worked as a salad assistant in the galley of a Matson Line steamship on another coast.) “I mean the other lights. Down there.” “Down where?” I asked. “There. Below the mast. Look: on each side of the boat there’s a beacon. The red light means it’s the port side. And a green light would mean you were seeing the starboard side. When I worked on the boats out of San Francisco, they gave us two ways to remember which was which. Red is on the left side of the ship, the port side,
science fiction, we have made no unitary statement, however vague or at whatever level of suggestion or implication, about its value. I suspect this is because, again, innate to the discourse of science fiction is the concept of value plurality. It may be well to point out here exactly what I have done so that no one is tempted to overvalue this exploration. I have simply taken the list of values Foucault has recovered from the literary concept of “author” and let them guide me through a range
story itself and read it as if nothing had happened. As for the rest, that undefined group of people who hear of interesting and difficult books but never get around to reading them, I suspect they will wonder what anyone could possibly find in Thomas Disch’s short story “Angouleme” to write 300 pages about. And if that alerts them to the play-filled subtleties of that most elegantly wrought text the next time they turn to it in Disch’s SF story series 334, then my work will have done a
times since, I’ve brought the story up in dozens of conversations with writers and editors, as one of the most economical jobs of character sketching I know. Disch paints his character largely through the use of lists, in one case a list of items in an almost empty kitchen cabinet and, a page or so later, a shopping list. It struck me then and still does as a marvelously Chekhovian triumph that certainly singles out the tale for any writer with interest in the technical side of the craft.
reread, and enjoyed the most, and a general readership, given a chance, might well concur. Three of Disch’s brief nonfiction pieces make up a first appendix because it’s interesting to read what writers who are important to you have written about their own writing and writing in general. Disch’s libretto for Greg Sandow’s opera, The Fall of the House of Usher, based on the Poe story of the same title, is here as a second appendix because it is always elegant, frequently witty, and you can’t find