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VINE VOICEon November 25, 2003
Samuel Delany has, through the years, greatly enriched the field of science fiction through his spectacular novels such as Nova and Babel-17 and short stories such as "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones". He has also done a great deal to bring the world of science fiction back into the field of recognized literature through essays and articles that have shown its richness, its ingenuity, its relationships with other forms of literature, and its ability to, at its best, illuminate the human condition in a fashion impossible in other forms.

This is an autobiographical rendering of his life from about age 14 to age 22. As might be supposed from his fictional writings, Delany is revealed to be both brilliant and highly unconventional. From his inter-racial marriage to Marilyn Hacker (who would later win a National Book Award for her poetry) at a time when such marriages where practically unheard of, to his awakening sexual predilections, this book is fascinating in its straight-forward directness, never avoiding describing events in detail regardless of how much the events were taboo or not mentioned in polite company.

Set with Delany's inimitable style, his ability to evoke pictures with words and seasoned with excerpts from some of Marilyn's (and his own) poems, Motion paints an indelible portrait of the tail end of the 'beat' era and the beginning of the 'hippie' movement. I found myself saying, yes, that is exactly how it was (even though Delany is six years older than me), as his work evoked some of my own memories of my early years away from home, living in a rat-trap with little income, the first experiences of actually living with a woman, the community of young people that wove around and over you, the passions and idealisms of youth.

On top of this, Delany lays forth the genesis of his early works, both their writing and his difficulties in getting them published. Some of the characters and situations of his novels take on a new light after reading this, seeing how much of himself Delany put into those characters. We find that Delany also has other talents besides writing: musician (once headlined above Bob Dylan), actor, and poet.
As they say in the movies: Warning: this book contains explicit sex scenes, both heterosexual and homosexual. Those who are offended by such should not read this book. But those who do read it will be rewarded with a great tale of life told with pin-point accuracy and all the emotion of great poetry.

This book took the 1989 Hugo for best science-fiction related non-fiction work, and it fully deserved it.

--- Reviewed by Patrick (hyperpat)
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on January 2, 2000
This is probably my favorite memoir of all time. The prose is sinuous and reflective, and reflects on much more than sex and science fiction writing. The cast of 'walk ons' in Delany's life is astounding; including Bob Dylan, W.H. Auden, and Albert Einstein (yes, Einstein). The poet Marilyn Hacker, his wife at the time, plays a prominent role in these pages and indeed Delany is one of the astutest critics of poets that I've read, which is all the more astounding since it's one of his very minor concerns! Delany is a major--and one of the tragically under-rated--figures in American literature--and this book not only shows the genesis of his writing, but cements his place in its own right.
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on February 12, 2000
One of the most engaging and thoughtful memoirs I've ever encountered. Delany writes of his life as a young writer and lover in Greenwich Village from about 1959 until 1963. I, too, was gay and sexually active in the Village, though a few years later, but the atmosphere wasn't all that changed and I remembered a lot of the places and feelings Delany described. Unfortunately, I (or probably anyone else who was around) did not have his sophistication and insight at age 20 or so, nor did I have the unbelievable luck (I think it was luck, at least in part) to have Delany's experiences and meet as many unbelievably interesting characters, many of whom became famous, as did Delany. Unless you are bothered by casual sex, including anonymous homosex, I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't find this book a fascinating and thoughtful read.
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on March 8, 1998
I've lived a much different life than Samuel Delany--he black, I white; I straight, he gay (or at least bisexual in this book). But race, sexuality and the place of the would-be writer in the world--while all straightforwardly addressed in his text--are all but colors on the palette of simple (and not so simple) LIFE that Delany so well expresses throughout. This is the only memoir I've ever read that straightforwardly addresses the elasticity of memory itself. While Delany seems to be doing a bang-up job in recalling his early years of marriage (paralleled with numerous accounts of homosexual and bisexual encounters), it is a bit remarkable that he claims to remember so much so well. Is he remembering or just reconstructing? It's not for me to say, and in any event he has fashioned a superlative look back at a New York I wasn't born into yet, and probably would barely recognize if I saw it. While threaded with Delany's characteristic images of desolation and death, this is a far more optimistic work than others of his I've seen (fantasy and non-fantasy), and remarkably big-hearted and lovable. Delany's affectionate portraits of his friends--everyone from fellow students to neighbors to reformed murderers he picks up for sex in the streets--makes for compelling reading, and he manages to get the reader to like these guys like Delany does. In the often emotionally barren landscapes of books like DHALGREN, human interaction is difficult and fractious. Delany's memoir is the opposite, a richly human landscape wherein even the worst behavior appears, in context, to be richly layered with emotions far more complex than mere cruelty. Having so little in common with Delany when I began the book, I felt at book's end that despite the obvious gulfs that exist between us as people, they would none of them be unbridgeable. That's as it should be; and only a highly generous and perceptive writer such as Delany could have written such a book.
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VINE VOICEon June 26, 2013
Admittedly I went into "Motion of Light in Water" not knowing what to expect, and I would reason that is the case for most readers. Having read Patti Smith's transcendent Just Kids I somehow thought that "Motion.." would give me more insight into what it was like to live in NYC's bohemian communities back in the 1960s, which it certainly does to varying degrees. Smith came along a few years after Delany and much of what they relay here is the same...NYC was a much smaller, more community based place then, and it was surprisingly easy to meet and get to know luminaries like W. H. Auden, Albert Einstein, and others in Delany's case. Delany accepts but also questions labels that were appropriate for that era...black, gay, dyslexic, and others, that most people today would reject in favor of inclusiveness, but this is a recollection of an earlier time and place, hence more appropriate. What I found myself pondering here is the confusion people may feel entering into this realm as they likely came here for different reasons. Fans of Delany's science fiction wanting likely will read this wanting more insight into his growth and development as an author as well as the sources of his inspiration. Many of them may be put off by his recollections of his mildly graphic homosexual encounters, but perhaps not. LGBT readers hoping for insight into an under-recognized pre-Stonewall part of the community may find themselves bored with the passages relating to his science fiction work or disturbed by his promiscuous nature at the time. Indeed there is almost sort of a "Mad Men" era to everything here. Nothing is truly politically correct; Chip and Marilyn (his wife at the time) were both bisexual, poor, and trying to find their own way. That's what's most interesting...how these two very lost souls found each other, came to understand each other for all their faults and weaknesses, worked out an arrangement, pursued a life together flying in the face of societal norms, set out to find their own way, and ultimately came to accept and realize their own limitations and attributes. There are incredibly prescient points along the way and much of what Delany presents should prompt readers to contemplate the fluidity of sexuality and human nature, and the confines of monogamy and heteronormative society. This isn't easy reading to be honest and there's a lot here than can put readers off. That Delany is so willing to lay bare his soul is laudatory, and he does so completely in a way that is refreshing and shocking. Like most geniuses Delany is a mix of creative genius and madness. He owns up to his dyslexia but I cannot help but ponder if he also falls in the spectrum of Asberger's with his detached nature, tendency towards the obsessive/compulsive, tendency to obsess on particular points (his father's date of death in particular), and his awkwardness in social situations. He has certainly become an agent provocateur in recent times and perhaps that has marginalized his role and importance in the LGBT community. "Motion..." is certainly worth the read but be forewarned, it is a tough slog for many. I'm certainly intrigued to read his other memoirs and social commentaries now that I have a better sense of his writing style and perspective. "Motion..." likely is not for everyone and honestly I'm hard pressed to say what it's precise appeal may be. It certainly does capture NYC in a certain space and time and does give you insight into the creative process. While it's likely not everyone's cup of tea it is an important book that deserves merit.
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on August 1, 1997
For Delany fans used to wading through his dense and complex narratives, this accessible autobiographical work will be either a disappointment or a relief. Delany presents a fascinating picture of his life in New York married to poet Marilyn Hacker, experiencing the burgeoning artistic world of Greenwich Village, and becoming a successful science fiction writer. The book also explores memory (its accuracies and inaccuracies), madness, and sexual identity. A good companion to this book is the autobiograpohical Heavenly Breakfast, written much earlier, but set in a time after these events. Guess what science fiction author-cum-folk singer once got top billing in a show with Bob Dylan
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on January 7, 1999
Much of the book has explicit homosexual action throughout the book, which made it very difficult for a number of people in my college English class. It's the story of Delany's first few years out of high school, when he was trying to make it as a science fiction writer, as well as figuring out his own sexuality. One of Delany's prime characters is a self-described "geriatric rapist." This man, along with a few other characters just make you sick about humanity. Still, there are some great psychological observations and neat little stories inside this book. W.H. Auden and Bob Dylan both make an appearance, although Auden's is much more memorable.
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on April 30, 1998
A very absorbing tale. A believable telling of an
almost unbelievable life.
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