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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Chapter 3 | Summary



Comet Jo walks home from the spaceship crash, playing his ocarina, which is a wind instrument. Jewel is in a pouch on his waist, and D'ik, the devil-kitten, follows playfully. As Jo nears his cave, he sees his Uncle Clemence at its entrance. Clemence is annoyed, no doubt over the fact that Comet Jo has left his workstation.

Comet Jo's fourth cousin, Lilly, has been waiting nearby, watching for him. She tells him that "Unca' Clem is mad on y' an' how!" She is wearing Comet Jo's favorite gloves and boots, and he demands that she take them off. She does so and then vindictively yells to Clemence that Comet Jo has returned. Comet Jo runs off angrily and hides. A short time later, D'ik carries his gloves and boots to him. He decides to adopt the animal, giving it the name "D'ik," short for "Devil-kitty," at this point.

Comet Jo then dons the boots and gloves and pays a visit to Charona, the woman who gave him those items for his 12th birthday. She lives at the mining operation's Transport Area near the Brooklyn Bridge with her canine companion 3-Dog. Charona is the guardian of the gate. She has lived over 400 years and has traveled all over the galaxy. Comet Jo believes she can tell him where Empire Star is located—the place he has been assigned to deliver a message to. Charona is happy to see him. She tells him that Empire Star is "a great star, lad, that thy great-great-grandfathers on Earth called Aurigae." She also says that though he could hitch a ride on a transport, he cannot leave Rhys because "this is a simplex society here, Comet. Space travel is not a part of it." He would be corrupted and confused by the complex and multiplex creatures he would encounter if he were to leave Rhys, Charona says. During their conversation, Charona asks Comet Jo what he thinks is the most important "thing there is." Without hesitation Comet Jo says, "Jhup." Then he apologizes for using a dirty word. Charona explains that words don't matter. When Charona was young, she says, words for water—because it was scarce—and food that passes through the body were taboo. Charona tries to also explain to Comet Jo that it might be harmful for him, as a simplex, to travel and see how others view plyasil. On Rhys, plyasil provides the sole purpose for Rhys's inhabitants to exist. Elsewhere, it's worth "only forty credits a ton ... far less than derny, kibblepobs, clapper boxes, or boysh."

Comet Jo takes Jewel from his pouch and tells Charona that he must take "him " to Empire Star. Charona recognizes Jewel as a crystallized Tritovian and relents in her opposition to Comet Jo's plan. She remains concerned, however, that Comet Jo, as a simplex, will be unable to function among the complex and multiplex beings he will encounter once he leaves Rhys. To help Comet Jo understand her concerns for him, she teaches him to see that there is more structure and patterning to the Brooklyn Bridge than Comet Jo has even begun to perceive. While running beneath the bridge, Comet Jo can better perceive the structure of it, but he runs too fast and ends up falling, scraping his hands and knees beneath his boots and gloves. Charona tells him that what he saw "was the multiplex view" and that "the difficulties of the simplex mind attempting to encompass the multiplex" mean that a person usually "falls flat on thy face." Then it occurs to Comet Jo that he doesn't understand why the structure is called the Brooklyn Bridge. Charona explains to Comet Jo that it was named after a bridge on Earth that crosses a body of water. It dawns on Comet Jo that maybe he could visit Earth and see the Brooklyn Bridge, if it's still there, on his way to Empire Star.


This chapter is the only one in Empire Star that depicts Comet Jo's home life on Rhys. Delany presents Comet Jo's surroundings as somewhat impoverished and Rhys inhabitants as undereducated. Comet Jo lives in a cave, for example, and Jo's cousin Lilly speaks in the same simple, broken manner as Comet Jo. Learning to think and expanding one's consciousness will be discussed throughout the novella. By the end, readers will understand that this aspect of a person's life is perhaps most important of all since those intangible qualities exist eternally, while bodies come and go. At this point, however, Delany is just beginning to depict what the idea of simplex means. As Comet Jo grows intellectually, he will often look back and long to be simplex again. The cave, here, represents his narrow consciousness.

Delany further uses language to signal social level by having Charona speak in full, complex sentences using complete words. Readers may remember that Norn notes in Chapter 2 that Transport Area workers are the only "minds" on Rhys who have traveled beyond the star system. Her speech also contains expressions such as thou art, thee, 'tis, thine, seemst, and the like, which are reminiscent of the prose of Shakespeare and are intended to emphasize classism—a multiplex addressing a simplex. It is equally noteworthy that she—the Transport Area guard—has named her pet 3-Dog. This name is a likely reference to Cerberus, the three-headed dog that in Greek mythology guarded the entrance to Hades. All of these details suggest a level of literacy far higher than Comet Jo's. But the depiction goes beyond literacy and education. Delany is creating a connection between traveling and expanding the mind. Charona believes Comet Jo is better off being a simplex if he must live and work on Rhys. To broaden his mind will change him in irreversible ways. Once Comet Jo's consciousness expands, it will be impossible for him to be satisfied among people who are simplex. For this reason, though Comet Jo doesn't understand, Charona is worried about him leaving Rhys. She is also worried about the potential danger Comet Jo could be in as a simplex among those who understand more than he does. The Brooklyn Bridge episode helps the reader—and Comet Jo—understand the differences between the simplex, complex, and multiplex points of view, which comes down to widening the perception to see the big picture. Jo did not even realize there was a name for the structure or that it had a purpose. To him, always standing below, it was just a ceiling.

In this same vein, this chapter contains Jo's first use of the swearword jhup. Literally, this word refers to plyasil, the substance produced in the underground fields of Rhys. It is also, however, something of an all-purpose vulgarity in Jo's culture, comparable etymologically to certain profanities in the English language with both specific and general meanings. Delany provides a brief, interesting aside in this chapter, outlining the process by which his fictional cultures evolve their profanities. Here, as elsewhere in the story, Delany's obvious affection for and mastery of language and the conventions of literature are on full display. Charona gives examples of dirty words from her childhood that will later, in Chapter 11, signal her as a version of the young princess Comet Jo meets on his way to Empire Star. In Chapter 8 Comet Jo and the reader will learn the real reason Charona asked Jo what the most important thing in the world is. She is trying to determine his level of thinking. Only a simplex would give a "non-relative" answer to that question, which Jo gives in this chapter when he says "jhup." In Chapter 8 Comet Jo will remember this moment, understand, and be embarrassed by it.

This chapter is also the first in which Jewel is referred to as a "him" rather than "it." It is significant that Comet Jo is the one who calls Jewel a "him." Since Jewel is unable to directly communicate when in crystal form unless directly addressed, as will be revealed in Chapter 9, it may be that Comet Jo already senses on some level Jewel's conscious nature.

Comet Jo's tellurian (Earth-dweller) ancestry, hinted at in Chapter 2, is explicitly established here with Charona's reference to his great-great-grandfathers on Earth. While the reader at this point might justifiably assume that Charona's origins are similar, it will be later revealed that her lineage is that of Empire Star royalty. She will also appear—beginning in the next chapter—as the much-younger character San Severina and in Chapter 11 as that same character at age 16. The fact that she exists in three different life stages at the same point in time is yet another glimpse into the nature of the multiplex universe that Delany has visualized as the setting for Empire Star.

Charona identifies the Empire Star itself as the one that people on Earth once called Aurigae. Assuming that Delany means the same Aurigae that exists in real life, its full name is Epsilon Aurigae. It is a binary star (two stars in orbit around a common center of gravity) located in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. In Chapter 11 a character called Lump and a 16-year-old San Severina will explain that Aurigae is part of a group of at least seven stars that revolve around a point where "the fibers of reality are parted" and that is the center of the empire. This spot in the universe will be revealed as a gateway for temporal and spatial travel between the past, present, and future.

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