Samuel R. Delany has written innovative science fiction, literary analysis and autobiography. I discovered him in the seventies, and became a fan of his SF. In the 80’s he published a series of books about sex, slavery,and homosexuality in a fantasy/sword and sorcery world. I did not read all of the books in the Neryona series, and although I bought the books of his interviews, the subjects he talked about did not much interest me. Many writers, if they’re writing above the level of junk, go through phases of interest, and one risk is that members of their existing audience may not come along for these new explorations. This was the case with me.
So DARK REFLECTIONS was a huge surprise. It wasn’t the massive mind-bender of DHALGREN, or the dense, sex-crammed THE MAD MAN, but the story of a poet barely scraping out an existence. He doesn’t hit the jackpot, or meet the love of his life. His great achievement is that he survives, though he is haunted by the reality that his work may not survive him.
DARK REFLECTIONS strikes me as a blend of how Delany has described his actual life and how his life might have been had he been a poet instead of a science fiction writer and then a ‘gay writer’ in contemporary America. There are many amusing, odd, and painful details I won’t ruin for you. Delany has spoken at length about how important are the economic conditions of characters in fiction, and he describes the half-empty-hand-to-mouth existence of his writer, how the smallest expenses can throw the aging character into turmoil when budgeting is spoiled.
All of that is background to the story of a writer who is closer to the end than the beginning and is clenched with worry and regret over his lack of success and recognition. It is a book of moments, from the look at the shelf of slim publications to the forwardness of a girl telling the writer he should go into a public men’s room for the sex he desires. Delany doesn’t tell a traditionally-structured story, so be warned if you are looking for something about a down-and-out writer who finds the spark of life through meeting a charming misfit.
I haven’t done a good job of communicating anything more than my own enthusiasm. I think many readers are reluctant to spoil the unique moments of special books. If you are at all interested in something cerebral and truer to life than most popular fiction, and aren’t put off by the book’s odd structure, give DARK REFLECTIONS a look. Delany is a valuable writer, and his books should be read, savored, and re-read over and over before they are placed on your own shelf of Delany masterpieces.