Heartwood 10:2 – The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany’s name has been coming up in all the right places for years now, so I finally grabbed this thin title to give his work a try. The Einstein Intersection is mostly a retelling of the Orpheus myth, but it also includes a chapter that is reminiscent of the hunting of the Minotaur, and much of the latter part of the book is something of a futuristic western, where the cowboys ride and mobilize a group of dragons. Many other allusions swirl and mix in the book to tell tales that don’t quite sync up with their origins, but that are different and tell of difference.

Delany writes in a crisp style that moves the action along, but that also displays a more reflective nature. The chapters are preceded with epigraphs (often several) from diverse figures including James Joyce, Bob Dylan, the Marquis de Sade, Sartre, Ruskin, Yeats, Andrew Marvell, and even a snippet from a Pepsi commercial. Lo Lobey, the Orpheus character, is ready to track down Kid Death (modeled on Billy the Kid) to get Friza back from the dead (Kid Death says he took her life). Lobey has telepathic powers that allow him to hear music and words in other people’s heads, and Friza has telekinetic powers (as does Kid Death). Instead of a lyre, Lobey has a machete that has a flute built into it with twenty perforations which he covers with his fingers and his especially long toes (it’s more like he has four arms at times). The characters in this story are the successors to humans who are long since gone and whose cities are now buried in sand.

The action at the end of the book picks up speed as the dragon wranglers bring the herd into Branning-at-sea, a huge urban metropolis, where Green-eye, a mute fellow wrangler, is recognized as some kind of prince, maybe even the prince of peace. I found the conclusion to be open-ended and a bit challenging to follow  Perhaps the best way to think about this book is suggested by a conversation between Lobey and a character named Spider who emphasizes the importance of Gödel’s theorems that any closed mathematical system has an infinite number of truths that elude our grasp. Delany has taken several well-known myths or narratives and transformed them, remixed them, moved them into the future, made them difficult to recognize, and by doing so has created a kind of composite myth of his own. There’s no way I can adequately summarize it other than to encourage you to read the book and see for yourself just what he has done.

A plus for Neil Gaiman fans is the introduction he wrote to this Wesleyan edition in 1997, back when he was mostly known for his comic book series The Sandman.