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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Chapter 2 | Summary



Chapter 2's events happen concurrently with the events in Chapter 1, recounting the spaceship crash on Rhys that Comet Jo encounters in the first chapter. Chapter 2 is told from Jewel's point of view. He is the crystallized Tritovian who narrates the novella. Jewel, along with shipmates Norn, Ki, and Marbika, had been on his way to Empire Star with a "burden of good news and bad," a "chronicle of success and defeat." As the crew passed the red giant star Tau Ceti, however, the crust of their vessel began to dissolve. This mishap leads to the ship's forced landing and rapid disintegration. Further, their ship, which is an Organiform Cruiser, is angry, blaming the passengers for the crash, and has decided to kill them and then self-destruct.

Ki and Marbika die immediately. As the craft liquefies and burns, Norn and Jewel perform a "preceptor scan" of the area. They find that the local Terrans (humans) comprise, as Norn puts it, "as simplex a community as I've ever run into that you could still call intelligent." There are only 10 minds he can identify that have traveled to another star system, and they work at the Transport Area. They detect the nearby presence of Comet Jo, who Norn concedes is "rather bright" for someone "so simplex." With him is a devil-kitten (who will come to be called D'ik) who is "complex, at least, and so could at least carry the message" they are trying to bring to Empire Star.

Jewel agrees to crystallize—a move that will save his life but reduce him to a state of total passivity—and try to help Comet Jo and D'ik complete the mission they are about to be assigned. Jewel telepathically summons Comet Jo and D'ik. When they arrive, Norn declares, "I don't like dying" and catches fire as he struggles through the ship's boiling-jelly wall—a type of protoplasm that is becoming increasingly hotter—to speak to Comet Jo. Jewel again telepathically calls D'ik, and as the animal approaches, Jewel crystallizes, turning into something much like a rock that can do nothing but think and send thoughts.


This chapter clarifies that the message given to Comet Jo to take to Empire Star is being passed along by the crew of the doomed spacecraft that crashes on Rhys. A comparison of this chapter with Chapter 1 illustrates narrator Jewel's capacity to assume both the omniscient and first-person points of view. This dual perspective will expand from being a device used for narrative function into becoming part of the plot itself, in Chapter 9, where Jewel's powers will be imparted to Comet Jo. It is one of many devices, some quite subtle, that author Delany utilizes to create multiplexity for the universe in which Empire Star is set.

The nature and appearance of the organiform spaceship in which Jewel and his crewmates travel is, like much in Empire Star, only obliquely described. However, Delany does provide the reader with enough information to conclude that the craft is some sort of living creature. Apart from the name itself—and Jewel's regret that they did not use a "nonorganic, reliable" ship—there is the fact that its "primitive intelligence" responds emotionally to the crash, placing the blame on its passengers. Its reaction is not coldly logical, as might be expected of a computer-based intelligence. It is one of irrational rage, a sort of murder/suicide response that leads it to destroy itself and attempt to kill Jewel and Norn. The weird description of the disintegrating ship as a flaming geyser of "green slop" in Chapter 1 and of its walls as sagging "boiling jelly" in Chapter 2 also implies that it is organic in nature.

Norn's unflattering appraisal of the inhabitants of Rhys—taken along with, as noted in Chapter 1, Comet Jo's barely literate speech—communicates to the reader that the Rhys colonists/plyasil miners occupy the bottom (simplex) level of the cosmic class system. The colonists of Rhys are referred to as "Terrans." Terra being the Latin word for "Earth," it would seem that the culture of Rhys can trace its origins to the reader's own planet of Earth or at least, given the nature of the multiverse in which Empire Star is set, a planet with the same name.

A similar ambiguity arises from the fact that Norn assumes the shape of Comet Jo when he confronts the young man. In Chapter 12 it will be revealed—though cryptically—that at some point in his existence, Comet Jo is also called "Norn." Whether that is before or after the spaceship's crash on Rhys is not stated, however. The fact that Norn makes no reference to ever having lived on Rhys or to being the person he is about to confront, hints that Norn may be Comet Jo from the past. Or, in Delany's multiplex universe, it may be that this Norn is not the same one who was or will be called Comet Jo. As with most questions raised in Empire Star's narrative, no clear answer is ever presented. However, it will be possible to conclude that there are multiple versions of the same person and that minds and personalities can be placed in other bodies.

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