By way of introductory remarks, I’d like to say I’m not going to enjoy this review of Samuel R. Delany’s Tales of Nevèrÿon.
I wanted to like it. I really did. Delany sounds an interesting man. Sword and Sorcery has given me many good reading experiences. What I’d read of Gorgik, the main thread in this collection of short stories and novellas, sounded intriguing. The book has some historical importance, particularly in the light of re-examining diversity in fantasy.
I did like it at first. In fact, the first story, The Tale of Gorgik, is fascinating. It’s a potted history of Gorgik and the Empire, as Gorgik goes from well-off boy, to slave, to aristocratic favourite, to soldier, to outlaw, seeing society from multiple angles. It’s well-written, amusing, insightful, everything that such a whistle-stop tour of a man’s life can be. Perhaps if I’d only read this story, I’d be going around asking “why aren’t talking about Delany more?”
Alas, I read others.
This is a good point to point out that if Tales of Nevèrÿon is sword and sorcery, then Fifty Shades of Grey is epic fantasy. Actually, it would fit better – it does contain fantasies, where as Delany’s book is very light on both swords and sorcery. It is more accurate to say that he has taken the genre’s setting and some of its narrative structure, then uses it to write what I guess is slice of life meets literary fiction, with a lot of musings on myth, economics, and social structure. Some might say that’s still S&S – to me, this is it’s own thing, and calling it S&S is grossly misleading considering how that sub-genre is almost entirely action-adventure.
This diversion mightn’t have been such a big thing if it wasn’t for the very dry and dense nature of the text. In short story form, it works. Reading a novel full of it, even slowly and when the novel is a collection of stories, just defeated me. There’s no other word for it. I finished it out of stubborness and a hope it would pick up, but the joy was long gone. It was like what I’d imagined eating a box of dry weetabix must be like.
Perhaps one day I will revisit this book and revise this review. I’d like that. I’d also like if it I inspired others to pick it up, people who like the idea of some literary slice of life fantasy with lots of philosophy in an interesting ancient world. I know they exist. Maybe they’ll like the prose too.
Right now though, that’s not me.