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The Fall of the Towers
Samuel R. Delany
Vintage, 438 pages

Lester Lefkowitz/Corbis
The Fall of the Towers
Samuel R. Delany
Samuel R. Delany was born on April Fool's Day 1942 in Harlem, New York. His first novel, The Jewels of Aptor (1962) was published when he was just 19 years of age. Between 1962 and early 1964 he wrote the three books of the Towers Trilogy: Out of the Dead City a.k.a Captives of the Flame, The Towers of Toron, and City of a Thousand Suns collected in The Fall of the Towers. He won the first of his numerous awards and nominations for Babel-17 (a Nebula), and more recently the 1989 non-fiction Hugo Award for his memoirs The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village. He is a recipient of the Pilgrim Award for outstanding scholarship in the field of science fiction studies and the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to Lesbian and Gay Literature. His latest autobiographical book is 1984: Selected Letters (1999).

Bio/Bibliography: 1, 2
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Samuel R. Delany at Temple Univ.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Perhaps it is Samuel R. Delany's reputation as an author and academic that tends to make some reviewers resort to such abstruse descriptions as "[Delany's] imagination creates a mirror of the oceanic density of our times" (The Village Voice). Perhaps I came to Delany's works from a different direction than most, but at least in terms of The Fall of the Towers, I might, first and foremost, hearken back to an old British term and describe the book as "a ripping good yarn." When I came upon The Fall of the Towers for the first time, some 25 years ago, I was in my pulp SF-reading period, in particular Henry Kuttner's dark science fantasies The Dark World, The Valley of the Flame, The Time Axis, and The Well of the Worlds. Sure this Delany fellow wasn't hardcore, Weird Tales alumnus pulp, but with titles like Captives of the Flame and City of a Thousand Suns, he couldn't be all bad. And, indeed there were/are a lot of similarities in settings and plot: doomed cities, crumbling societal hierarchies, forces or intelligences transcending mere humanity. As much as I read The Fall of the Towers then for the pure fun of it, it was clear (and remains so) that here was someone who could take the endless clichés of Kuttner, Hamilton, Williamson and the like, and add some new ideas, possibly some commentary on current (60s) issues, yet still deliver it in a very entertaining and, to some degree, thought provoking package.

What made The Fall of the Towers different, then as now? The characters, so much more ambiguous and unpredictable, following science fantasy traditions in one place and totally overturning them elsewhere. A plot with false leads, unexpected twists, quirky characters with unusual qualities, keeping the reader not entirely sure of himself and not always sufficiently informed to know quite where things are headed, without being so confused as to abandon the story. This is where Delany's talent as a writer shines through.

When, upon rereading The Fall of the Towers for this review, some 25 years after my first reading, it struck me how remarkably topical the plot was: a government declaring war on an enemy which may simply not exist, and when it is clear that this is the case, creating an enemy that must be fought to sustain their control over society. And when the myth that sustains the war wrests control from the very individuals who created it, it's not long before the shit hits the fan, and what was a tottering empire comes crashing down. Was part of the original message of The Fall of the Towers a criticism U.S. policy in Vietnam? Or a comment upon the social and racial upheaval of early 60s America -- I'll leave those questions to those wiser in the ways of Samuel Delany than I.

While I thoroughly enjoyed it, by most accounts, The Fall of the Towers is one of Delany's lesser works, his Babel-17 and Dhalgren being cited amongst his most important works. And while I enjoyed Babel-17 which still maintained a bit of the pulp flavour of space-pirates, Dhalgren, which I read on an extended bicycle tour when I was 19, never particularly resonated with me, compared, say, to George R. Stewart's Earth Abides. But all things considered, The Fall of the Towers is much easier to approach than his later work. This isn't to say that it hasn't some problems: there is framing story of aliens cooperating with a select few Toromonese to defeat the extraterrestrial "Lord of the Flames" who is capable of possessing influential individuals. While the Toromonese-alien alliance does manage to keep him at bay for the first two books, this plot line, while it does recur in the last book is fairly minor there, and one wonders what the great "Lord of the Flames" was all about, and why in the end he wasn't really all that tough at all. Still, The Fall of the Towers more than makes up for any such perceived flaws in its fast pace and intriguing characters, making it a great summer read.

Copyright © 2004 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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