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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Chapter 12 | Summary



In this final chapter of Empire Star the narrator Jewel—a Tritovian in crystallized form—directly addresses "the multiplex reader." He describes the story he is concluding as a "mosaic" that is "cyclic and self-illuminating" and cautions that he "must leave out a great deal." To understand the denouement, he advises, you the reader must "order your perceptions multiplexually."

Cryptically, he notes that the tale's end happens "at the same time as the very beginning." He reveals that the Lll were indeed finally emancipated. San Severina ruled the empire for 100 years before taking the name Charona and retiring to Rhys. There, she spent the next 500 years guarding the gate of that rocky satellite's Transport Area, befriending 18-year-old Comet Jo sometime during that period. Prince Nactor's war laid waste to eight worlds, their civilizations, and their ethical systems, but he was ultimately defeated and the empire continued on. At some point, Nactor met his end in Central Park when Comet Jo's devil-kitten, D'ik, "having gained by then his adult size of fifty feet," accidentally stepped on him.

Jewel also shares that Comet Jo died on the planet Tantamount. There his body was burned by Prince Nactor, which "freed Jo to be able to use many other bodies, many other names." One of these identities was a man called Norn, who—after crashing on Rhys with shipmates Jewel, Ki, and Marbika—passed on to "someone else" (a young Comet Jo, one assumes) an important message to be delivered (with the help of a crystallized Jewel) to Empire Star.

Jewel closes with a reminder that the universe is vast and multiplex and leaves to the reader the "problem of ordering [their] perceptions and making the journey" from the story's beginning to its end.


The epilogue-like conclusion of Empire Star does not wrap up the narrative in anything like a standard literary manner. It does, however, present the reader with a chance to explore what the now-multiplex Comet Jo has come to understand. The universe in which the story is set operates in a far different manner than either Jo or the reader originally assumed. In author Delany's cosmos, sentient beings experience events chronologically even as the universe swirls around them in a symphony of nonlinear multiplexity.

While this does not, as Jewel makes plain, make Comet Jo's story incomprehensible, Empire Star's complex setting makes it a work that is almost certainly impossible to fully take in through a single reading. The presentation of Delany's multiplex universe—and his use of the final chapter as a repository of clues for interpretation of the narrative—draws the reader into examining it more fully by adopting a Jewel-like point of view—that of, in Jewel's words in Chapter 1, "the omniscient observer."

Jewel the narrator presents the story's clues as tiles in a narrative mosaic, to be assembled by the multiplex-thinking reader. The malleability of time means that all the story's events—and by implication all events in the universe—that have ever happened or will happen, happen forever. It is all "cyclic and self-illuminating," with the tale's beginning and its end the same. A war has been won that has yet to be fought. The enslaved Lll have been emancipated, yet they remain in perpetual bondage. As Delany presents things, actions result in outcomes that shape not only the present but also the past and future. This makes every human act vitally important because every choice and every outcome is woven into the fabric of the universe.

There is also significance in Delany's presentation of sentient beings at different points in their lives existing simultaneously at the same point in time. The fact that his multiplex universe allows (or maybe even requires) this is a startlingly direct illustration of the idea that people are intricately connected not only to one another but to themselves. Actions performed at any point of someone's life can harm or help the actor at another point; choices made by one version of oneself result in joy and freedom—or pain and imprisonment—for another version.

The myriad ways in which people are linked in Empire Star's multiverse, along with time's nonlinear, weblike nature, might be seen as endowing individuals with a sort of immortality that comes from being part of a larger whole. At the same time, beings maintain their individuality in some respect. As Lump tells Comet Jo in Chapter 8, "You're you ... all you ever ... thought ... hoped ... all you've learned." Some form of reincarnation seems to play into all of this, although it is one that goes well beyond the usual conception of souls transmigrating. Here, as in so much of Empire Star, Delany leaves the working out of details to the "multiplex reader," with the acquisition of that multiplexity of perspective being, as Jo has discovered, a process of observation and education.

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