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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Chapter 7 | Summary



Comet Jo has been on Earth's moon with Lump—a linguistic ubiquitous multiplex—for three weeks. He is frustrated because his attempts to discuss his mission are met with lengthy discussions about things Comet Jo does not understand. Putting himself down, Jo calls himself a "dark-sided noplex." Lump reassures him, "your view of things is quite complex by now." Jo is just clinging to "a good deal of understandable nostalgia" for his "old simplex perceptions," Lump says. Comet Jo misses the simplex culture on Rhys, realizing now that he did not really appreciate his uncomplicated life there.

Lump comments that if they are going to be friends, Comet Jo must learn more about him. Jo asks Lump where he comes from, and Lump explains that he is half Lll and half machine. He was built by an Lll who was dying and wanted to preserve his "disassociating consciousness." Lump has an Lll mind, he says. Comet Jo wonders why it is, then, that Lump doesn't make him feel sad. As a free Lll, the government does not protect Lump, so Lump does not evoke the sadness those who meet enslaved Lll feel. Comet Jo tells Lump that his being a machine and Lll hybrid doesn't bother Comet Jo. Suddenly, it occurs to Comet Jo to ask Lump to accompany him on his mission. Lump agrees to do so, mentioning that the empire territory where they are going is hostile to free Llls. Further, those who are hostile have been known to do "atrocious" things to free Llls. "Just say you're a computer," Comet Jo suggests. "I do not intend to pass," Lump responds emphatically. Then he tells Jo to "take the tube to Journal Square." He will meet him there, he says, in 40 minutes.

Comet Jo takes a small spaceship through the tube—an "artificial stasis current"—to the specified location, a city built on a large slab of floating plastic out beyond Pluto. Empire soldiers are performing military drills there. As Comet Jo asks questions of a curt, uninformative trooper, a huge spinning cube-like structure descends from the sky. The cube topples a building on its way down. Sirens go off, and chaos ensues. Comet Jo runs to the object, realizing the craft contains Lump.

Lump explains that he has traveled there in an organiform because, he says, "they're much more comfortable for inanimate objects like me." Comet Jo realizes that Lump's ship is the same type that crashed on Rhys, the one that contained his double—who gave Jo his mission—and Jewel. Lump and Comet Jo overhear a few soldiers talking about all the damage from Lump's ship. They say they wish they had an Lll to clean it up and rebuild it, which angers Lump. Comet Jo tells Lump to "shut up ... or I won't let you marry my daughter." When Lump asks what that is supposed to mean, Comet Jo responds, "it's an allusion."

Lump decides to take off again, worried about wreaking havoc on the town square, which Jo calls "bloody but unbowed" from Lump's landing. They agree to meet at a planet called Tantamount. Comet Jo gets into his ship and takes off, but as he slips into hyperstasis, the ship lurches unpleasantly, and he smashes into the craft's dashboard. His devil-kitten, D'ik, is likewise shaken.


With the departure of San Severina and her enslaved Lll in the previous chapter, Lump has taken over the task of preparing Comet Jo for his message-delivering mission. A key part of this training involves developing Jo's simplex worldview to a complex or multiplex one through education. It is a process that Comet Jo finds intimidating, as shown by his frustrated reference to himself as a "dark-sided noplex." The accuracy of Lump's dismissal of this self-doubt, "your view of things is quite complex by now," is supported by the fact that Comet Jo's speech has progressed from barely literate to thoughtful and coherent.

In this light, it is significant that Jo has acquired some knowledge of literature, as evidenced by his allusion, "bloody but unbowed," which comes from William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus." Delany's choice of this particular poem is meaningful in that that work is about bolstering one's will to survive and overcome great challenge. The word invictus itself is Latin for "unconquerable." To some degree, then, it signals Jo's desire to persevere in his mission to carry his message to Empire Star. Yet, at the same time, as Lump points out, Jo retains "a good deal of understandable nostalgia" for his "old simplex perceptions." So while he is cognizant of both his personal growth and what type of person he wants to be, he retains a longing to return to his life on Rhys that remains, at this point, a formidable obstacle to the accomplishment of his task.

In his 1994 essay "Black to the Future," journalism professor and cultural critic Mark Dery coined the term Afrofuturism. The word describes science fiction arising from what Georgia Tech Professor of Science Fiction Studies Lisa Yaszek labels the "African diaspora"—the dispersion of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade. Empire Star is arguably a milestone of this literary movement, with African American author Delany weaving racial analogies throughout its text. In this chapter Lump's revelation that he is half Lll and half machine is meant to evoke the construct of biracialism. As Lump and Jo plan to travel on together, Lump expresses concern that his hybrid nature will be discovered and that something "atrocious" will befall him as a result. When Jo comments that nobody will be able to tell that Lump is something other than completely computer, an affronted Lump replies, "I do not intend to pass." This comment is a clear reference to the practice of racial passing, where light-skinned African Americans conduct themselves in ways that encourage others to assume they are white.

As is standard in futuristic science fiction, Delany peppers Empire Star with speculative technology far more advanced than that of the present. Here, he invents the word hyperstasis to name a mode of interstellar travel. Delany gives no particulars of the process, using the term as though the reader should know its meaning. However, breaking it down into its affix hyper-, which means "excessive," and its root stasis, which means "unmoving" or "unchanging," indicates that the word means "an excessive lack of motion." This being an apparent absurdity, it seems likely that Delany is imagining not only a technologically advanced mode of travel but also an as-yet-undiscovered principle of quantum physics.

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