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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Chapter 11 | Summary



Comet Jo takes an immediate dislike to being in the Empire Army. Shortly after boarding the military spaceship with the other draftees, he meets Prince Nactor for the first time. The prince sees Comet Jo's devil-kitten, D'ik, and orders the animal removed from the ship. Jo says he will take care of it right away and—using the expanded vision he has gained from having his right eye replaced with Jewel—locates an empty room to safely hide his pet.

He executes his ruse barely in time to report to the ship's quartermaster to be issued his uniform and equipment. Afterward, he returns to the room where he has hidden D'ik and discovers a 16-year-old empire princess who has stowed away on the vessel. She is startled and nervous, but as the two converse, she begins to relax.

She tells Comet Jo that the ship is headed to Empire Star to find and kill her and that she must somehow get there first. Her father, she explains, is near death. Once he dies, she will "inherit the reins of the Empire" unless Prince Nactor beats her there. Comet Jo asks her why she should rule and not Nactor, and she tells him that she is "going to free the Lll" while Nactor intends to "keep them under his protection." She is to report to the "twenty-six richest men in the Empire," who wait in a council chamber for her to somehow best Prince Nactor and take over.

Comet Jo realizes that he is meant to deliver his message (and the princess) to those 26 men. He tells her so, and when she asks him what the message is, he says only that it "concerns the Lll." She offers to get him into the council chamber if he helps her defeat the prince. He asks her what kind of help she has had so far. She replies that she has been getting guidance from a small computer, a "linguistic ubiquitous multiplex" called Lump, who comes out of hiding at this point and joins in the conversation.

Comet Jo asks which of the Empire Star's planets they are headed for. Lump and the princess explain that there are no planets. They are going to a gravitational center somewhere within the space bordered by Aurigae (the Empire Star) and seven or so other stars. It is a place where the "temporal present joins the spatial past there with the possible future." That location gives the council access to all points in time and space and, in so doing, lets them maintain control of the empire. As the princess puts it, it is a place where "[o]ne is always arriving on Wednesday and coming out again on Thursday a hundred years ago."

Hearing all this, it dawns on Comet Jo that the girl is actually a young San Severina (and that the Lump accompanying her is a younger, less-developed form of the Lump who until recently traveled with and helped him). He tells her what he has learned from her older self, that there will be a great war and that she will be tasked with repairing the damage. Then Comet Jo tells them both that they will someday encounter a young member of a simplex culture (him) and that they must help him become multiplex. He gives the young San Severina his red comb (given to him by the older San Severina) and tells her to keep it until she meets that young man. She asks for his assurance that he will help her overcome Prince Nactor, and he tells her that he will.

The chapter concludes with an abstractly composed summary of the main characters and events of Empire Star. The passage is structured as a series of four-line (in one case, three-line) free-verse poems. Two of the groupings are titled "Jewel." Three are titled "Lump." Four are titled "San Severina," and six are titled "Comet Jo." Each line of each poem presents the reader with an image from the narrative.


In this chapter the reader at last learns the specifics of Comet Jo's mission—he is to help the young princess San Severina get to Empire Star in time to assume the throne and free the Lll. It is also apparent by now that not only is a war approaching, but it is the same war for which the adult San Severina purchased the enslaved Lll to repair the extensive damage. In other words, it has both already happened and about to occur. This apparent absurdity makes sense when the reader takes into account San Severina's description of Empire Star as a place where "[o]ne is always arriving on Wednesday and coming out again on Thursday a hundred years ago." Understanding that in author Delany's multiplex universe time is as traversable as space makes this paradox, along with the several others throughout Empire Star, comprehensible. On a side note, the reader might also see the all-enveloping nature of the conflict as a statement by Delany about the persistence and inescapability of war.

The upcoming/concluded war may be intended as an allegory for the U.S. Civil War—and America's civil rights movement in general. The princess San Severina bolsters her claim as the rightful ruler of the empire by staking out the moral high ground, pointing out that she intends to "free the Lll." That the powers that be—and her brother Prince Nactor in particular—take exception to her plan is evidenced by the fact that they want to kill her to keep her from taking power. The princess may be an Abraham Lincoln figure to Nactor's Jefferson Davis. There is also Delany's use of historically/politically charged words such as emancipation in Empire Star to describe the freeing of the Lll, as well as some characters' use of concepts such as "economics" and "keeping [the Lll] under protection" as justifications for maintaining the institution. On a larger scale, the character Elmer's observation in Chapter 6 that the entire Tritovian race (of which Jewel is a member) has long worked to free the Lll indicates that slavery is a socially divisive issue throughout the empire, as it is in the United States.

Comet Jo's conscription into the Empire Army echoes the involuntary drafting of young American men into the Vietnam War, a highly charged issue at the time Delany wrote Empire Star. In this respect, Prince Nactor symbolizes the establishment, putting the lives of young men at risk to maintain the empire's hold on the galaxy. Princess San Severina, on the other hand, is presented as every bit as determined in her humanity as Nactor is in his militarism. The contrast between the two stances is presented on a personality level by Nactor's harsh approach to others (banishing D'ik from the battleship, for instance) as opposed to the young San Severina's playfulness, gentle humor, and love of music—and, significantly, her determination to free the downtrodden.

The verses at the end of the chapter are unlike anything else in Empire Star. They seem enigmatic upon first read, touching upon the story's events and characters randomly. When examined through author Delany's multiplex lens, however, their significance becomes apparent. It seems likely that the verses are a final effort to guide the reader from a linear, simplex interpretation of the story into a multiplexual one, probably in preparation for Jewel's challengingly oblique conclusion of the tale in Chapter 12. The text's poetic structure also hints strongly that these verses, ostensibly presented by narrator/character Jewel, are actually the work of the poet Ni Ty Lee, a mysterious character introduced to the reader in Chapter 8, who is referenced at least once in each of the remaining chapters. That notion becomes even more plausible given the indications in that chapter that narrator Jewel and Ni Ty are possibly, in some multiplexual sense, one and the same being.

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