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The Einstein Intersection
Reviewed by Jayme Lynn Blaschke, © 2002

Format: Book
By:   Samuel R. Delany
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   Originally published 1967, newer edition in 1998
Review Date:   October 09, 2002
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)
I always get nervous right before I start to read something by Delany. Not that I'm afraid that it will be drek, but rather, I know almost with an unfailing certainty I will feel pretty stupid when I finish it. Stupid, as in "Damn, that Delany's operating on a plane so far above me I can feel my IQ points dribbling out my ears with each page I turn." There are a handful of writers who invariably have this effect on me, a list I shall not provide now because I must maintain some shreds of dignity.

But I found The Einstein Intersection clever and engaging. Quite accessible, in fact, which in some cosmic sense must relegate it among Delany's lesser works. Tough. Were I to recommend a book to serve as an introduction to Delany's work, The Einstein Intersection would certainly top the list.

Maybe it's because I'm a mythology junkie. Ancient myths and legends -- even not-so-ancient ones -- are fascinating, and Delany weaves his entire novel around the concept that our myths will carry on long after humanity itself has departed this Earth. In our place, mutable, genetically volatile aliens from the stars have taken our place, and taken the roles and identities of our mythologies upon themselves with a fatalistic determination.

From the opening scenes in which the Orpheus-like protagonist Lobey descends into ancient caverns containing aloof computers to battle a giant, minotaur-esque bull, it's clear that Delany is out to deliver more than a simple post-apocalyptic tale, or a revamped fairy tale with science fictional trappings. Instead, he pushes much harder, conjuring up mythological archetypes such as the Betrayer and the Sacrificial Lamb. Contemporary pop culture plays its part as well, at least circa 1967, with Elvis and the Beatles ascending to their own places of honor within the mythological hierarchy. They literally don't write them like this anymore.

After Lobey's love, Friza, is killed by the red headed, gill-necked Kid Death, Lobey embarks on a mission of vengeance, hoping against hope to return his love to the lands of the living. Armed only with his machete, which has a kind of flute or fife fashioned along the back of the blade, Lobey sets off on his quest, playing music as he goes. Along the way, Kid Death torments him with casual cruelty and glimpses of Friza. Dragon herders arrive in a surreal parody of Old West cattle-drives, along with the mild-tempered Green Eye, who has taken up the doomed mantle of the Christ figure, or Odin, or more likely both. The final resolution is both appropriate and ambiguous, leaving the reader somewhat unsure as to just what has been accomplished.

Of special interest is the inclusion of passages from Delany's journal, conversation fragments and relevant quotes from literature at the start of different chapters. More than simple epigraphs, the passages reference the period of time Delany was writing each chapter, and often reference specific plot points and the motivation behind certain decisions on the author's part as well. Kid Death began as a dark-haired being before a chance encounter inspired a color change. Jean Harlow, "The Great White Bitch," inspired the Dove, the embodiment of love and sex and desire. This deconstructionist approach seems irrelevant at first, and as the narrative progresses, appears to undermine the story before ultimately revealing (and reveling in) the fluid, mutable nature of myth.

Ultimately, The Einstein Intersection is a strange, contemplative and ambitious work. It's short and to the point, packing a surprising amount of adventure and ideas into a relatively short number of pages. Equal parts fantasy and science fiction, and clearly a product of the heady New Wave movement, this is a book that holds many secrets and is slow to give them up. I strongly suspect that this one of those rare works that improve with subsequent readings, as nuanced layers invisible during earlier visits open themselves up to the reader. I fully intend to test that theory someday, because even if I'm wrong, at the very least I've re-read a good book.
Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html

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