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    Why you should read some Samuel Delany today (and every day).

    Brittany Allen

    April 1, 2024, 1:53pm

    Today Samuel Delany–inventor/expander of several galaxies–turns 82. And I for one would like to throw some birthday love towards this greatest of octogenarians. Known for his high-concept science fiction and his sharp theories on social contact, Delany’s canon spans genres and generations. I first met his work in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, an urban planning analysis that is also a bracingly candid sex diary set among queer men in a pre-Stonewall New York. This two-tone spirit is something of a Delany hallmark; in both his essays and his sci-fi omnibuses (omnibi?), there’s usually a sensual curiosity guiding all the heavy-hitting theory. He writes of love for bodies, and the structures that would connect them–no matter the genre.

    Here are a few more reasons why you should join me in wishing this singular author a Very Good Day:

    He’s committed to blowing up classifications. 

    Delany’s disdain for writing silos is well-chronicled. (“Genres don’t solve problems, they create problems,” he has said. And, “I think of myself as the kind of person who writes, rather than as one kind of writer or another.”) Such lines are only the tip of a great intellectual iceberg. Well before it was trendy, Delany was hinting at the ways identity can be weaponized, particularly for the historically marginalized author. Which brings me to point two…

    He has accurately predicted the future several times. 

    Delany has given us many clear-eyed visions of near and alternate realities (see: the door-stop, DhalgrenThe Ballad of Beta-2). But his knack for identifying the narrative problem of our age may be particularly uncanny.

    In a speculative piece for The Village Voice written on the eve of Y2K, Delany did some extra-eerie soothsaying when he wrote, “I do think the problem of the 21st century is going to be the problem of misinformation…If the people who design and run the Web don’t develop reliable ways to evaluate and stabilize information, the Internet may become the agent of social chaos.” In this same piece, Delany also predicted 1) an epidemic that would result in massive urban flight from New York City and 2) generative AI. Now I’m not saying he’s possessive of The Sight. But I’m not…not. You know?

    He seems like a lovely teacher. 

    In this clip from Fred Barney Taylor’s 2007 documentary, The Polymath, or The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman, Delany describes with heartbreaking passion a cornerstone of his pedagogy: the importance of inspiring confidence in his students. I want them to know they matter, he tells an interviewer, through rising tears. Well right back atcha, Chip.

    And finally: beard game.

    How many writers today can we identify at a glance care of some longstanding aesthetic hallmark? Thanks to the monoculture and Rachel Comey, I fear too few. Delany has rocked a long, snowy beard for decades now, as befits his probable wizard’s status. I thank you, sir, for the perennial call to communicate with fashion, in addition to words.

     “I shall always be able to come up with new fantasies,” Delany told The Paris Review in 2011.  “As long as there are people walking around in the street, as long as I have books to read and windows to look out of, I’m not going to use them up.”

    Let’s raise a glass and cheers to that. 

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