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Kenneth R. James

Beyond SF: The Vast Range of Samuel R. Delany

In spring 2016, novelist and critic Samuel R. Delany visited UC Santa Cruz to read from his work. The poster advertising the event described him as a “Sex Radical, Afro-Futurist, and Grand Master of Science Fiction.” What a description! But as extravagant as it is, it only hints at the diversity and range of his work, not to mention the diversity of audiences he’s moved, shocked, and astonished over the course of his 50-year career.

During that time, in addition to science fiction, Delany has written literary criticism, memoir, pornography, graphic novels, historical fiction, and—to use a term originating within the SF world—“mundane” fiction. Recently he has added a new thread to this tapestry of genres: the personal journal. (About which more below.) Given this astonishing range, one unifying intention beneath all the work—and here I use his characterization of the stories by black gay men collected in the anthology Shade, which includes a piece by Delany himself—has been to “celebrate difference—the pain of being different, surely, but also the wonder, the joy, and the truth of difference.” In a time of violent political reaction against this truth, readers need Delany’s work more than ever; for readers new to Delany, or unfamiliar with the range of his work outside SF, then, I offer this quick review.

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