It’s difficult to review this novel, and would be difficult to recommend it because the experience of reading it can be confusing and disorienting. Two other books kind of come to mind for me with this book, one that seemingly borrows some of the technique in this book and the other that clarifies the experience. There’s also a few other sci fi books and movies that create the same kind of disorientation for me.
We begin with a scene in which a young wastrel (who seems to be a drug addict) is offered a chance for peace. He’s not going to be given a happy life, but to be given the ability of being happy about his life as it is. He’s also told that this process with turn him into a kind of slave. We come to understand later that this means he’s going to be shipped from “master” to “master” in the future. After his home planet is destroyed and he’s further waylaid, he is enlisted to a new master with whom he forms a tight bond (friendship and erotic, and kind of but not exactly sexual). And their experiences together provide most of the rest of the novel. And like in his novel Dhalgren, Delany gives us a long epilogue that provides clarity and insight to the final moments.
The disorientation for me comes in the form of the sheer amount of information the novel implies about the world it’s built. This reminds me of what poor Arthur Dent felt at the beginning of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, and it’s also a feeling I get when I begin to process just how vast the culture of any other place on Earth would be, and then try to understand novels of the past and novels of the future as the author tries to impart thousands of years of time or longer and the accrued culture and history that suggests.
The reading experience, though this book is much more complex, is similar in some ways to the newer novel “This is How you Lose the Time War”, but that’s just a similarity, not a direct comparison.