The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Aye, And Gomorrah" by Samuel R. Delany: An Appreciation by Hal Duncan

And came down in DRIFTGLASS:

Where I read the opening rubric of a poem that asks the simple question--Was Sodom destroyed?--and raced through the stories of the collection, "The Star Pit", "Dog In A Fisherman's Net" and "Corona"--relishing these little intricacies of the Delany that I'd come across, somewhere between 14 and 16 years of age, in the 80s Gollancz Classics reprints of NOVA and BABEL-17, teased by the gruff gamin in the former, Mouse with his syrinx, and by the polyamorous threesome in the latter--to the story that gave me the answer: "Aye, And Gomorrah."

Which, in its clipped tumult of young neutered spacers tearing up the town on shore leave and the fetishists, the frelks, they scorn, tease, hustle and, in one brief fling of incommunication, try to understand--in short, of desires abandoned and frustrated--managed to articulate in a way I couldn't the disjunction at the zero-spot of my queer adolescent sexuality. Laid out in dynamic snapshots of an Earth of foreign cities, the Other, what it is to be it and what it is to want it. Delany riffed with his modern jazz of language, concise yet complex, and I understood something of the frelk in me, that thwarted appetence, and the spacer, the corresponding surgical disconnect, the pervert and the neuter . . . and the gap of need between them filled with energy.

Walked through those cities with Delany's unnamed narrator, recognising the refrain of tactfully expressed (but all the more alienating for it) prejudice in voices saying, "Spacer, do you not think you . . . people should leave?" I admired the subtle magnanimity of not putting a stress on people, not rendering the disquiet in crude bigotry but rather in the recurring implicities of the gap between "you" and "people":

you, here;

people, there.

The story was beyond me at the time. On the surface it's just a simple tale, easy to summarise, of a spacer's encounter with a frelk, but there's so much going on in those fractured sentences, in the stops and starts they create, and the sense of gaps they generate, that as a callow teenager I just stumbled through it, high on the vitality of the language, sensing the other energies in the tension, but without a hope in hell of establishing a rapport at the level the story invites. So I headed on through the rest of the stories in the collection, connected with them all, just not as deeply as with this one, and went to the book shelf in the library or the shop and found myself the next fling. And went up.

And came down in 2006:

Tried to put into words what this story said to me at that age, the way it and myself, like a spacer and a frelk (though I don't know which was which) met in the streets of Delany's words, how it tried to draw out of me what I wanted as I tried to understand its queer aesthetic. I tried to think of ways I could articulate the sense of . . . inarticulacy that, for me, emerges in the tumbling whirl of the story, in the still-point where the narrator and the frelk fail to connect. When this project came up, the thing is, I couldn't pass on the chance to pay the story tribute, but I find it almost as impossible now as it was then to express what the story means to me; the story itself shapes it in better words than I ever could. In the end, I put this appreciation off for months before finally making an attempt, hoping I might at least give some sense of the affect if not the meaning. Part of it lies in the need of the frelk, as any queer kid will surely recognise:

'. . . Me? I study, I read, paint, talk with my friends--' she came over to the bed, sat down on the floor '--go to the theater, look at spacers who pass me on the street, till one looks back; I am lonely too.'

But part of it lies in the less obvious and more insightful psychology of the spacers, in the alienation that goes with the casual hedonism of the neuter, striking a more complex chord than the straightforward identification with the sexual outsider.

Still, I find it hard to say much more than: "Read the story; it says this better than I ever could." Maybe it's appropriate that I wanted to be this story's . . . worshipper? . . . so bad I end up trying to express my reverence by imitating its style (". . . they were a man and woman dressed up as spacers," says one of the narrator's companions, "trying to pick up frelks!"). Maybe it's apt that I end up with a sense of desire frustrated by the story's strange energies ("The changes I put that frelk through," says another, "you should have seen him!"). Maybe it's right that I'd so dearly love to explain how this story hit me as a queer teenager, torn between the frustration of the frelks and the abandonment of the spacers, that despite the inevitable thwarting of that desire, I tried.

And gave up.

Link to story.


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