on March 14, 2003
This volume is by far the best one so far. The first book ("Tales of Neveryon") was a bunch of neat stories with ulterior meanings that were sometimes obvious and sometimes no so obvious, and the second novel was good but meandered a bit more than it needed to. Here, however, it all comes together. Delany seems far more focused here than in the other volumes. In the earlier stories Delany seemed more experimental than anything else, cloaking a variety of topics in the sword and sorcery genre just to see if he could, in this volume he's decided to explore subjects that mean a lot more personally to him, and this causes an incredible jump in quality (which was high to begin with). The three stories are uniformly excellent here, and all are vastly different. Delany seems to be trying to look into the nature of reality and myth here, trying to figure out the difference between what is "real" and what people perceive and how it might get like that. This is more intellectual stuff than fantasy is normally used to, and far from the typical "good vs evil" simplicities that usually inhabit the fantasy genre. The reason Delany can pull this off is because the fantasy here feels "real" when he focuses on minor events and characters who are really just regular people it gives the story added weight. His Neveryon comes across as a real place with an active and complex culture, from the admirable to the hedonistic. He's probably also the first to inject homosexuality into fantasy, in all its forms, which is something that has always been noticably absent from fantasy over the years (not that it needs to be there, but it's about the only major genre to not even acknowledge it . . . except for the usual fey, pale, lisping princes and the like . . .) and is very prominent in this volume, moreso than the others, which it was acknowledged but not really addressed. The last story especially "The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals" is really an amazing story, nominally about the emergence of an AIDS like illness into Neveryon while also an account of Delany's experiences in NY in the early eighties when AIDS was first becoming more prevalent. He captures both times well and the story jumps back and forth from his recollections to Neveryon to his thoughts on writing the book and eventually does a lot to blur the line between our world and Neveryon. It alone is worth the purchase of the volume. Overall these stories are some of his best post-"Dhalgren" work and for anyone who thinks that fantasy can be more relevant than beating up trolls, they owe it to themselves to track down this series.
on June 13, 2009
Delany's "Tale of Plagues and Carnivals" (a tale in "Flight from Nevèrÿon"), is a milestone in American literary history insofar as it was one of the first works of fiction, perhaps the first, at least among those we know of because they were subsequently published, to be informed by the beginning of the modern AIDS pandemic, the inauguration of the manuscript having been inspired by AIDS before the disease even had name.
It is interesting to me that so much fantasy is obviously more inspired by the medieval era than any other, in which disease and plague were significant factors in the lives of everyone and shaped the imagination of the people of that day, and yet disease and plague go virtually unmentioned, certainly rarely detailed, in most published fantasy writing.
This is not to suggest that disease or plague is a major factor throughout the four-book Nevèrÿon series. But in focusing one of the Nevèrÿon tales, and a particularly haunting one, specifically on disease--including its social context in a pre-modern, urban, fantasy setting--and in managing to make that tale so compelling, Delany becomes all the more noteworthy as a fantasy writer.