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Science Fiction and Fantasy  
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Samuel R. Delany

Like Disch, Samuel R. Delany became a leading American practitioner in the new wave. Black and bisexual, Delany frequently features socially marginalized outsiders as protagonists in his work. Their eroticism often involves elements of sadomasochism.

Gifted and intense, Delany also incorporates a wide range of mythic allusion into his narrative texture and probes deeply into the nature of science fiction's language and the protocols required to read it. Throughout the 1960s, the conceptual texture in his work grew increasingly dense. In the 1970s, as he produced more literary analysis and his ideas about science fiction's language matured, the linguistic texture in his narratives also became increasingly dense.

With the Nevèrÿon series (1976-1987), his work has become more and more like genre meta-fiction, very self-aware of heroic fantasy's conventions, even as it sets them up to subvert them. Whereas Disch has redirected his work toward a nongenre audience, Delany has done so toward a more academically inclined one.

Notable works by Delany include shorter pieces like "Aye, and Gomorrah..." (1967) and "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" (1969) and longer works like The Einstein Intersection (1967), Dahlgren (1975), Triton (1976), and the four volumes in his Nevèrÿon series: Tales of Nevèrÿon (1976), Nevèrÿona (1979), Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985), and The Bridge of Lost Desire (1987).

In "Aye, and Gomorrah..." neutered spacemen become the objects of erotic desire for perverted humans called "frelks." In "Time . . . Stones," a confidence man escapes the police with the help of a former, masochistic lover. In The Einstein Intersection, aliens try to decipher humanity after it has disappeared from earth. Taking on human bodies, the aliens reenact a colliding set of stories from mythology and popular culture. Their understanding remains unresolved.

Dahlgren, Delany's longest single book, divided his readership. Those who regarded his earlier work as precocious and exciting science fiction found Dahlgren undisciplined, unfocused, and unreadable. Others who were more tolerant of his increasing preoccupation with language theory found it an ambitious, challenging masterwork by a mature literary artist.

In its narrative, an allegorical protagonist, the Kid, comes to Bellona, where the violent urban culture is comparable to the near-future dystopia of Disch's 334. In Bellona, the Kid loves, lives, and leaves, having written a book about his experience that might be Dahlgren.

The Nevèrÿon series pursues Dahlgren's concern with the construction of literary fiction in a setting reminiscent of heroic fantasy in its barbarian mode. At first glance, Robert E. Howard's Conan might feel at home here, but Delany subverts the elements of heroic fantasy by fragmenting the narrative and rearranging its temporal order.

He fills the fragments with explicit erotic details of mastery and enslavement that his models would have left implicit. And he frames it all with a pseudo-academic critical apparatus of commentary and notes. The result is a post-structural fiction that would be more at home with Umberto Eco or Italo Calvino than with Conan.


In the Nevèrÿon series, Delany has pushed his genre far beyond the boundaries of its conventions. In doing so, he demonstrates as fully as anyone that science fiction and fantasy can transcend the limits of their traditional conventions, explore innovative depictions of gender and alternative sexuality, and convey this freedom and innovation with an ambitious technical sophistication.

Although it is true that his work--like that of Burroughs, Russ, and Disch--remains atypical, such work does assure us that readers concerned with alternative sexuality in literature will find worthwhile texts in science fiction and fantasy.

Joseph Marchesani

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literature >> Bradley, Marion Zimmer

A matriarch of fantasy and science fiction literature, Marion Zimmer Bradley also authored lesbian paperback pulps and articles for The Ladder and Mattachine Review.

literature >> Burroughs, William S.

Both in his life and his novels, American writer William S. Burroughs was an outlaw and a provocateur, focusing on sexual repression as the fundamental element of social control and writing in a surrealistic and bitterly satirical mode.

literature >> Delany, Samuel R.

Writer of science fiction, memoirs, erotica, cultural studies, and postmodern criticism, and winner of multiple Nebula, Hugo, and Lambda Literary Awards, Samuel R. Delany is widely regarded as one of the finest science fiction writers of his generation.

literature >> Forrest, Katherine V.

Writer and editor Katherine V. Forrest has played a major role in bringing lesbian fiction to the forefront of the mystery and science fiction genres.

literature >> Hartinger, Brent

Although best known as a writer of young adult fiction, Brent Hartinger is also a playwright and an activist against censorship.

literature >> Jansson, Tove

Best known for her series of children's books about the Moomin family of trolls, Tove Jansson, considered a national treasure in Finland, also wrote fiction for adults and was an accomplished artist and illustrator.

literature >> Le Guin, Ursula K.

Although Ursula Le Guin does not address homosexual issues directly, she includes homosexuals as minor characters in works that cause readers to reexamine their assumptions about sex roles and stereotypes.

literature >> Picano, Felice

Prolific author Felice Picano, a founding member of the Violet Quill, is also a pioneer in gay publishing, having founded two publishing houses.

literature >> Porter, Dorothy

The work of Australian lesbian poet Dorothy Porter presents a cheeky challenge to a literary establishment whose poetry has often been defined by pretension and obfuscation.

literature >> Russ, Joanna

In both her science fiction and her criticism, Joanna Russ is outspokenly lesbian and feminist.


Barron, Neil, ed. Anatomy of Wonder, A Critical Guide to Science Fiction. 3d ed. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1987.

Clute, John, and Peter Nichols, eds. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Orbit, 1993.

Decarnin, Camilla, Eric Garber, and Lyn Paleo, eds. Worlds Apart: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction and Fantasy. Boston: Alyson, 1986.

Elliot, Jeffrey, ed. Kindred Spirits: An Anthology of Gay and Lesbian Science Fiction Stories. Boston: Alyson, 1984.

Garber, Eric, and Lyn Paleo, eds. Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. 2d ed. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990.

Riemer, James D. "Homosexuality in Science Fiction and Fantasy." Erotic Universe. David Palumbo, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Sturgis, Susanna J., ed. Memories and Visions: Women's Fantasy & Science Fiction. Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1989.

Suvin, Darko. The Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979.


    Citation Information
    Author: Marchesani, Joseph  
    Entry Title: Science Fiction and Fantasy  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 20, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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