The Ballad of Beta 2
A group of generational starships..
..have degenerate into barbarism; during their travel, Earthly technology overtook them, so that when they eventually arrived, the galaxy had already been colonized (an idea later used in Michael Elder’s “The perfumed planet”). A student in
..have degenerate into barbarism; during their travel, Earthly technology overtook them, so that when they eventually arrived, the galaxy had already been colonized (an idea later used in Michael Elder’s “The perfumed planet”). A student in anthropology is charged to understand the exact meaning of a ballad, collected decades ago from the dilapidated remnants of the “Star Folk” who inhabited the ships.
In his early works, Delany shows a taste for traditional space opera, chock-full of sense of wonder, but wrought with a full literary toolset.
So we have fascinating gimmicks like “time stasis”, whereby one can throw his ship out the flow of time fore a while, and watch a frozen Universe (but not completely!); “discriminating fields” instead of “classic” air-locks for entering spaceships (fields capable to tell substances to let in or out from substances to keep outside or inside); the irony of the main character visiting the generational starship, to us a dreamed-of future, and finding it a relic of the past, industrial archeology, with its iris-shaped portholes..
And at the same time we have philological debates over the ballads, comparative readings of travel logs from the captains of different ships, proceedings of trials by their counterparts, the Judges (all this material eventually takes up more pagecount than the actual story), observations on dialects, shifts of meaning and accent changes on board the starships.
The solution to the mistery will be space-operatic, but with a peculiar Delany’s touch: a subculture of long-haired runaway youngsters, possibly with physical defects (one-eyed, one-armed, nail-biting.. Delany’s hallmark), faces deadly persecution from a Philistine majority.. but they will be the key to understanding.