Nova by Samuel R Delany

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Nova by Samuel R Delany

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: JY Saville
Reviewed by JY Saville
Summary: This reissue of a late sixties space adventure story is a must for fans of thought-provoking science fiction. Vivid descriptions and coherent backstory make this a universe you can get fully immersed in, as you join the crew of the Roc on their hunt for a star on the verge of going nova.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1473211919

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In the 31st century the rare element Illyrion is a crucial energy source, and naturally enough a whole lot of politics and power are bound up with whoever controls the supply. Lorq Von Ray, daring spaceship captain, has this mad idea that flying into an imploding star will – as long as he can get out again – allow him to gather Illyrion in unimaginable quantities. Luckily his rag-bag crew don't know about this when they sign on.

This new edition of Samuel R Delany's 1968 novel is part of the SF Masterworks series, and masterwork is a fitting term for what has been one of the most satisfying science fiction experiences of my life. The internal consistency was truly marvellous, with a considered history worked out to explain how the world ended up in the state we find it. Every time something was mentioned in passing and made me wonder how it would work in practice, the answer was waiting for me later on. Every situation that made me wonder what that implied for something else, the implications fell out of some natural-sounding conversation further down the page. The world was so fully-realised and scattered with telling details that it was a joy to explore.

Although Lorq is the central character, and of course it is his obsession with the Illyrion-gathering scheme that drives the narrative, the other members of his crew are interesting characters in themselves. There is Katin, the questioning young intellectual who wants to write a novel someday, Mouse the even younger drifter from Earth with the mesmerising talent on the sensory syrynx (a kind of musical instrument with added scents and pictures), Tyy and her tarot cards, and Sebastian with his strange, sinister-sounding pets.

At its heart this is an adventure story, one man's single-minded quest dragging a cast of supporting characters in his wake to the edge of the explored universe, but it goes deeper than that and does make you think quite hard along the way. I read it relatively quickly because I was drawn into the story, but it's not always an easy read. You can tell this was written in the late sixties – and I mean that in a complimentary way. The prose had a poetic feeling and made me want to listen to The Doors, there was much philosophising, questioning the status quo, and the occasional appearance of mind-altering substances. Yet the novel doesn't feel dated in the way that, for instance, some of Philip K Dick's work does now. Delany has imagined a coherent and distinct future, not simply 1968 with interstellar travel.

A good book to try if you enjoy Nova is The Algebraist by Iain M Banks, one of his stand-alone novels rather than part of his Culture series. It's easily three times the length of Nova and you have to get past the initial torture scene (that doesn't set the tone for the book at all, but does have a purpose) but again it has that sense of difference and the feel of a fully coherent universe of its own, and it makes you think.

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Buy Nova by Samuel R Delany at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nova by Samuel R Delany at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Nova by Samuel R Delany at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nova by Samuel R Delany at


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