The Einstein Intersection

By Samuel R. Delany

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Ace Books, a major purveyor of escapist science
fiction during the Cold War year, targeted an
audience of teenage boys with its simplistic good-
versus-evil space operas, most of them priced at an
affordable thirty-five cents.  Few of these books
remain in print nowadays,
but a handful have become
classics, some even gaining
eventual recognition as
serious works of literary
fiction.  Ace published
books by Philip K. Dick,
William Burroughs, Ursula
K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison,
Roger Zelazny, Samuel R.
Delany and others forward-
looking authors—although
gaudy and extravagant covers
and cut-rate packaging (which often featured two
novels bound together at 180 degree angles in a
single volume in the popular 'twofer' style) were
sometimes an embarrassing mismatch with the
higher aspirations of the imprint's more ambitious
writers. "If the Holy Bible was printed as an Ace
Double", Charles McGrath once quipped, "it would
be cut down to two 20,000-word halves with the Old
Testament retitled as 'Master of Chaos' and the New
Testament as 'The Thing With Three Souls.'"

Ace was at the peak of its success in 1967 when it
published Samuel Delany's
The Einstein Intersection.  
But before the end of the year, Ace's founder A.A.
Wyn would be dead, at age 69, and the publishing
firm would cut back sharply on its release of new
titles.  The company had always been frugal in its
dealing with authors—one writer famously encoded
a message into an Ace book, with the initial letters of
each chapter spelling out"A.A. Wyn is a tightwad"
—but as the company’s finances faltered, writers
could not even count on reliable advances and
royalties.  By the time Grosset & Dunlap took
ownership of Ace in 1972, the imprint had lost much
of its luster.  Since then, ownership has changed
hands two more times. Ace continues to publish sci-
fi, but with little of the free-wheeling extravagance
and prominence of its early years.

A book like Delany's
The Einstein Intersection serves
as a useful reminder of both Ace's daring and the
experimental tendencies shaking up the sci-fi field
during the 1960s.  I wonder what the adolescents
and teenagers who bought this book made of the
peculiar add-ons to Delany's text.  How did they
respond to the novel's opening—a quote from
James Joyce's
Finnegans Wake? "It darkles, (tinct,
tinct) all this our funanimal world."  What did they
think about the ensuing extracts from Jean Genet,
Plotinus, Gregory Corso, Jean-Paul Sartre and the
Marquis de Sade?  How did they interpret the
interpolation of entries from Delany's journal, which
describe his European travels during the period he
wrote
The Einstein Intersection?

These metanarrative distractions adorn a story that,
at first glance, stays close to the conventions of pulp
fiction.  Our hero Lobey is mourning the death of
his beloved Friza, and decides to leave his native
village and journey to the big city.  Along the way,
he encounters adventures and obstacles, and
eventually meets up with his adversary, Kid Death,
who has the power to bring Friza back to life.

The Einstein Intersection is set in the distant future,
when the planet suffers from a collapse in
technology and widespread genetic mutancy.  But
much of the tone and attitude of the novel is
reminiscent of stories of the Wild West.  (Ace, it is
worth noting, also published cowboy fiction during
the 1950s and 1960s.)  Lobey works herding dragons,
but they might as well be cattle.  His enemy Kid
Death is at least partly based on the real life Western
villain Billy the Kid.  The final confrontation
between the two combatants is in the tradition of the
inevitable
High Noon-esque showdowns and shoot-
outs of the western genre.  

These evocations are deliberate, expressions of
Delany’s focus on folklore and myths—a fixation
that constantly moves into the foreground of
The
Einstein Intersection
.  When Lobey sets off on his
journey to bring back his dead love Friza, he is told
by the village elder that his task recreates Orpheus's
descent into the underworld to retrieve Eurydice. A
subplot about a fellow dragon herder named Green-
eye consciously echoes several stories from the New
Testament…whoops, excuse me, from
The Thing with
Three Souls
.  Yet our author is equally interested in
our modern equivalents of mythic figures, namely
popular celebrities, and finds ways
of incorporating Jean Harlow, Ringo Starr, Mario
Montez and Spiderman in these pages. In case the
reader might miss the connections, Delany calls
attention to them in the passages from his writer’s
journal that he inserts between the chapters. "The
central subject of the book is myth," he asserts plain
as day.

But others themes and subjects battles for control
of
The Einstein Intersection.  A half-formed subplot
about the ostracism of people who fail to meet
social norms never really gains momentum, and
another story line about duplicity and betrayal, with
echoes of Christ and Judas, is equally left hanging.  
But this is part of the modus operandi of our
novelist.  Delany, in another journal entry,
announces that "Endings to be useful must be
inconclusive," and this is a dictum that he adheres
to with some rigor, in a book that has little of rigor
about it.

The novelty of these departures from science fiction
norms ensured that
The Einstein Intersection would
gain some notoriety, and even a few awards.  After
all, not many pulp fiction writers start out their
stories with
Finnegans Wake, end up with Billy the
Kid, and still find time along the way for dragons
and mutants.  I'm not surprised that a book of this
sort would win the Nebula award for best novel of
the year, and earned a nomination for a Hugo.  
Almost a half century after its debut, it still retains a
certain cult status as an underground sci-fi classic.

But like so much of Delany's work, this book is
frustrating and intriguing in almost equal doses.  
The experimental qualities in the prose come across
as self-conscious and, often, distracting.  The citation
of fashionable authors does little to enhance the
story, and eventually collapses into coy name-
dropping.  Yet I still admire the reach of this young
author, who found himself working for a lowbrow
pulp fiction mill and was determined to mess with
his readers' minds. And given how pervasive escapist
storytelling has become in the current day, and how
predictable most of these narratives have become, I
can't help wishing that the purveyors of our
contemporary myths might imbibe a bit of Mr.
Delany's renegade spirit.
conceptual fiction
Click on image to purchase
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal



Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites
The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter


SF Site
io9
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog


Disclosure:  Conceptual Fiction
and its sister sites may receive review copies
and promotional materials from publishers,
authors,  publicists or other parties.