Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Nova vintage books cover

Nova (1968)
1969 Hugo Award Nominee

2002 Vintage Books trade paperback
241 pages (left)

1969 Bantam Books paperback
cover art uncredited
215 pages (right)

Nova bantam books cover

From the back cover of the Vintage trade paperback:
       Given that the suns of Draco stretch almost sixteen light-years from end to end, it stands to reason that the cost of transportation is the most important factor of the 32nd century.  And since Illyrion is the element most needed for space travel, Lorq Von Ray is plenty willing to fly through the core of a recently imploded sun in order to obtain seven tons of it.  The potential for profit is so great that Lorq has little difficulty cobbling together an alluring crew that includes a gypsy musician and a moon-obsessed scholar interested in the ancient art of writing a novel.  What the crew doesn't know, though, is that Lorq's quest is actually fueled by a private revenge so consuming that he'll stop at nothing to achieve it.  In the grandest manner of speculative fiction, Nova is a wise and witty classic that casts a fascinating new light on some of humanity's oldest truths and enduring myths.

From the back cover of the Bantam paperback:
       "These are (at least some of) the ways you can read Nova: as a fast-action farflung interstellar adventure; as archetypal mystical/mythical allegory (in which the Tarot and the Grail both figure prominently); as modern myth told in the S-F idiom . . . The reader observes, recollects, or participates in a range of personal human experience including violent pain and disfigurement, sensory deprivation and overload, man-machine communion, the drug experience, the creative experience -- and inter-personal relationships which include incest and assassination, father-son, leader-follower, human-pet, and lots more!" -- Fantasy and Science Fiction

Read for group discussion on September 22, 2004

Amy's summary  Samuel R. Delany - Nova
(Warning! Some spoilers)

Nova is set in the far future, 3148 to 3172 AD, on planets in the Pleiades Federation and on Earth.  It tells of Lorq Von Ray's quest for a vast quantity of the valuable, super-heavy, "something else" elements known as Illyrion.

The book starts with a young gypsy, the Mouse, who plays a sensory-syrynx, an instrument that can create illusions of sight, sound, and smell.  Mouse just recently got his sockets - one operates tools by plugging them into the sockets in their wrists - and wants to be hired as a cyborg stud on a star-run.  The Mouse encounters Blind Dan, whose senses overloaded when he looked at a nova on a mission with Captain Lorq Von Ray.

Lorq Von Ray is the heir of a powerful family in the Pleiades Federation.  As a kid, Lorq met fellow rich kids Prince and Ruby Red.  Prince is missing an arm and won't tolerate anything that can be construed as pointing out his deformity.  Prince was cruel even as a child.

A dozen years later, Prince invites Lorq to a party in Paris on faraway Earth.  Lorq talks with the beautiful Ruby.  Prince, who despises Lorq, gets mad, and in a fight slashes Lorq's face.  Their families have a history of past animosities.  Prince and Ruby are heirs of Red-shift Limited, maker of interstellar space drives, a powerful company in Draco.  Lorq's great-great-grandfather prevented the Red-shift from establishing themselves in the Pleiades by blowing up their ships with a atomic cannon.

To get back at Prince and assure the Pleiades Federation's independence, Lorq seeks enough Illyrion to upset the balance of power, although it will ruin the economy of two-thirds of the galaxy.  He believes he can find such quantities of Illyrion within an exploding sun, a nova.  Lorq has tried this mission twice before without success.

Captain Lorq Von Ray puts together a spur-of-the-moment crew to fly his ship, the Roc, on a hunt for a nova.  Included are the Mouse from Earth with his syrynx; Katin, a tall man from Luna who is perusing the obsolete art of writing a novel; Idas and his albino twin Lynceos, black men from the Outer Colonies who complete each others sentences; and, from the other world of the star in the Pleiades called the Dim Sister, Sebastian, with his dark winged pets and his companion, Ty˙, who reads 3-D dioramic tarot cards.

Together they travel from Neptune's moon Triton to the Alkane Institute on Vorpis, a world where net-riders hunt in the polar fog, to learn the location of a star soon to become a nova, and then on to the City of Dreadful Night with its molten river Gold.  Eventually they arrive at the star due to explode, beyond the Far Out Colonies.  At each stop, Lorq and his crew are confronted by the threatening madman Prince and his sister Ruby Red.

summary written by

How we each rated this book
Dan - Amy 7.5 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 7 Barb -
Aaron 7 Cynthia -
Jackie - Ron 6
Christine - Deb 8
Mike 7 Stephanie -
Gary 6 Monte 7

Aaron's Commentary  Samuel R. Delany - Nova

Science fiction's "New Wave" of the 1960s and early '70s was very important to the development of the field, but much of it is almost unreadable in hindsight.  To Samuel Delany's credit, Nova is an excellent example of the New Wave movement, yet for the most part it is also comprehensible and entertaining, even if heavy-handed at times.  Nova brought a literary sensibility to traditional space opera, opening the door for today's "New Space Opera," and invalidating any dismissal of science fiction as adolescent (although some still try to dismiss it as such even today).

The characters of Nova are interesting and nicely enigmatic, with the exception of the persistently evil Prince.  The narrative includes many clever touches, such as specifying time and place at the top of each page to keep scenes out of chronological sequence from becoming confusing, and thought-provoking speculations about future science and culture.  I especially liked the notion that disbelief in the tarot will be considered superstitious in the future.  It may be 35 years old but - allowing for the occasional clunky, overwritten passage - Nova's combination of fun adventure and skillful writing gives it the feel of more contemporary science fiction.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following books by Samuel R. Delany:
-- They Fly at Çiron   in March 2001

Samuel R. Delany (1942-    ) is a US author and critic.

1967 Nebula Award for Best Novel for Babel-17
1968 Nebula Award for Best Short Story for "Aye, and Gomorrah . . ."
1968 Nebula Award for Best Novel for The Einstein Intersection
1970 Nebula Award for Best Novelette for "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"
1970 Hugo Award for Best Short Story for "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"
1989 Hugo Award for Best Non-fiction Book for The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957-65

Samuel R. Delany was the first successful African-American author of science fiction and fantasy, and an important figure in the New Wave movement of SF of the 1960's.

Delany burst onto the SF scene at an early age, completing his ninth novel by the time he was 26. Despite his age, his first novels were recognized as extremely sophisticated in style and themes. The Jewels of Aptor (1962); The Fall of the Towers trilogy, consisting of Captives of the Flame (1963, revised as Out of the Dead City), The Towers of Toron (1964), and City of a Thousand Suns (1965); The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965); and Empire Star (1966) are variations on Delany's favorite premise, a great quest in the far future.

His next three novels were arguably his most important. Babel-17 (1966), winner of the Nebula Award, is Delany's most direct treatment of one of his recurrent themes, language and communication. The Einstein Intersection (1967), also a Nebula winner, in which a far future Orpheus wanders a bizarre transformed Earth, and Nova (1968), in which a Holy Grail quest leads a determined ship captain to the heart of a star about to go nova, both display Delany's love of mythology.

Delany did not publish another SF novel until Dhalgren (1975), an extremely long and dense novel about a young artist who arrives at a decadent city and begins to write an extremely long and dense novel. Debate continues over whether this is Delany's best work or his worst. This was followed closely by Triton (1976, also titled Trouble on Triton). Subtitled "An Ambiguous Heterotopia," this is the most detailed examination of issues of sexuality in a science fiction setting that Delany, who is bisexual, has written.

Delany's only subsequent science fiction novel was Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). His short SF is collected in Driftglass (1978) and Distant Stars (1981).

Since the late 70's, most of Delany's published fiction has been fantasy. In addition to They Fly at Ciron (1993), Delany wrote a series of books comprising the Neveryon (Nevčr˙on) sequence: Tales of Neveryon (1979), Neveryona (1983), Flight from Neveryon (1985), and The Bridge of Lost Desire (1987, also titled Return to Neveryon). On the surface the Neveryon stories are standard sword and sorcery adventures, but they raise many race, gender, and class issues.

Delany has written various books of a sexually explicit nature. The Tides of Lust (1973, also titled Equinox) and Hogg (1995, but written much earlier), are both pornographic novels featuring scenes of graphic and unpleasant sado-masochism. Mad Man (1994) is a mainstream novel of an academic descending into a world of sexual extremism. On a related note, Delany's recent book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999), bemoans Mayor Giuliani's elimination of the New York City Times Square sex theaters.

Over the course of his career, Delany has increasingly turned his energy away from writing fiction to literary criticism. His works of criticism include The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (1977), The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch - "Angouleme" (1978 - an entire book devoted to analyzing a single Disch short story!), Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love (1979), Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (1984), The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957-65 (1988), Wagner/Artaud: A Play of 19th and 20th Century Critical Fiction (1988), The Straits of Messina (1989), Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics: A Collection of Written Interviews (1993), Longer Views: Extended Essays (1996), and Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts and the Politics of the Paraliterary (2000). Much of this work seeks to define science fiction's place in literature as a whole, and it is often interspersed with significant autobiographical details. Similarly, Atlantis: Three Tales (1995), is a semi autobiographical account of Delany's artistic influences, some of which are also apparent in 1984: Collected Letters (2000).

Finally, Delany co-edited with his former wife, poet Marilyn Hacker, a series of four anthologies of experimental SF entitled Quark (1970-1971).

Thanks to Aaron for this Delany bibliography

Our book club's page for They Fly at Ciron by Samuel R. Delany
Jay Schuster's Samuel R. Delany Fan Tribute Site
Samuel R Delany: Nova - an infinity plus review
The SF Site Featured Review: Nova
Science Fiction Weekly Interview - Samuel R. Delany (2001)

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