'Nova' - Book Review

by Samuel R. Delany

Nova was a big deal when I was young. I read it and liked it then. But now I find that his messing with the language and his literary experiments (attempts to convey things in new and interesting ways) really bother me.

The language thing is a pet peeve: of course language will be different in the future. But if you write your book in that invented new language, your readers will spend a great deal more time assimilating your new language than enjoying your plot - or for that matter your prose, which is now in a language that's entirely new to them so they can't appreciate the elegant prose. Better to do as most authors do, and just translate that future language into modern-day English. Authors writing about foreign countries have been doing that for thousands of years, just "translating" the foreign language into our own.

I have to admit that in this case Delaney has a better excuse than most: he's using language differences between two political areas, Draco (which includes Earth) and the Pleiades (where they speak a structurally distorted version of English that's easy enough to understand) to emphasize the political and cultural separation between the two.

Our observer is The Mouse, but the main character is Lorq Von Ray. Lorq has a hideously scarred face - in an age when scars are very easily removed. But the scar ties in with his personal history, and his obsession of changing the balance of power to help the Pleiades out of its subjugation by Draco. The "opposition," as it were, are represented by Prince and Ruby Red, a brother and sister from the richest family in Draco.

I got through the book's relatively short 215 pages, but it was a bit of a struggle and I found myself underwhelmed by Delany's desire for literary cleverness - clearly voiced by his character Katin, who is a would-be novel writer in a time when no one reads novels. The characterizations are fairly good (although their motivations are sometimes hard to follow), but the plot is - despite being heavy on the revenge - a bit thin, and the writing annoyed me to no end.