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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Chapter 8 | Summary



On his way to meet Lump at planet Tantamount, Comet Jo's spaceship collides with the Geodesic Survey Station. Its occupants are working on a compendium of all the knowledge in the universe. A man in a white smock asks Comet Jo what his specialty is, and Jo replies that he knows a lot about raising and storing plyasil. The man tells him that they are still working on the "Bs" and will not get to the "Ps" for another five or six hundred years. He then becomes hostile, informing Comet Jo that they are beginning preliminary research on "biology, human" and threatening to have Comet Jo sent off for dissection in retaliation for breathing their air. Jo flees back into his damaged ship and barely escapes.

He joins Lump in orbit around Tantamount. Lump is concerned about the state of Comet Jo's ship and invites him to abandon it and ride along with him in his organiform. Shaken by his experience at the Geodesic Survey Station, Comet Jo renews his insistence on abandoning his mission and returning to his simplex home on Rhys. Despite being singled out for an important mission, Comet Jo says, he does not believe he is special enough to function in a multiplex universe. Lump replies that Jo has already become more complex than he realizes. What's more, Lump tells Jo, "you're all you ever thought, all you ever hoped, and all you ever hated, too," adding, "Jo, you're you. And that's as important as you want to make it." Comet Jo agrees. Maybe that is the most important thing, "to know you're yourself and nobody else," Jo says.

As Comet Jo watches his damaged ship drift away, the organiform's speakers emit sounds of breathing and laughter. A craft that looks like a huge, partly polished chunk of rock comes to rest near them. Inside is poet Ni Ty Lee, who accepts Lump's invitation to board their ship. Ni Ty Lee, who has "sloping Oriental eyes," is on a constant quest for interesting things, about which he spontaneously composes poetry. He was, in fact, about to plunge into Tantamount's sun, to end his life, when he was distracted by the presence of Jo and Lump. Ni Ty is highly perceptive, grasping immediately that Lump is a linguistic ubiquitous multiplex with an Lll-based consciousness and that Jo was until recently a plyasil tender on Rhys. As they converse, it becomes apparent that Ni Ty has had experiences in his life identical to those of both Jo and Lump. In fact, Ni Ty was once mentored by an Lll writer named Muels Aranlyde, who is the same being Lump's mind is based on.

The conversation takes a literary turn, with Lump commenting that ancient science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon has written about every "flash of light on a window" and "leaf shadow on a screen door" that Lump has ever seen. Lump then praises Ni Ty as the same sort of writer and ascribes Ni Ty's intuitive creativity to an unfortunate incident involving Ni Ty and Muels Aranlyde. Ni Ty, it seems, once owned Muels Aranlyde and was forced by "economics" to sell him. Lump calls the incident typical of "a recurrent literary pattern ... An older writer, a younger writer ... and something tragic." He cites examples of the same dynamic involving "Oscar and Alfred," "Paul V. and Arthur R.," "Jean C. and Raymond R.," and "Willy and Colette." In each instance, he says, there is a sad event that separates the pair, and then "something wonderful is given to the world."

Ni Ty mentions a problem he has, which is that he writes "to make up for all the things [he] really can't do." Jewel, the narrator, comments that Ni Ty's words make him shiver because Jewel had said the exact same thing to Norn right before they crashed on Rhys. Then, as Ni Ty and Comet Jo speak, Comet Jo becomes increasingly upset by Ni Ty. Then overwhelmed by Ni Ty, Comet Jo screams, "Get out of here! ... It's my life ... not yours!" Ni Ty replies that he's leaving because he's "been through this too many times before." Jo, who says he's never been through this before, feels "raped and outraged." Again, he tells Ni Ty, "You can't steal my life!" Ni Ty asks Jo what makes Jo think it is his life that's been stolen and not Ni Ty's. Maybe Comet Jo's the one who has been "jerking [Ni Ty] away from what's his, picking up for [himself] the thousand beautiful lives [Ni Ty's] started." Further, Ni Ty adds that he's tired of repeating the same things over again: "always returning, always coming back." Ni Ty moves to leave the ship, but Comet Jo tries to block him. Over Comet Jo's protests, Ni Ty returns to his ship and resumes his trip toward Tantamount's sun, where he plans to laugh and then cry before he "sail[s] into the fires." After Ni Ty leaves, Comet Jo discovers that his devil-kitten, D'ik, has stolen several of Ni Ty's poems from the poet's ship. He comments that Ni Ty may be "the most multiplex consciousness I've encountered so far." Lump agrees, adding, "But then, so are you, now."

The conversation has left Jo with the awareness that everything he is experiencing "has all happened before." Lump does not address that comment but instead tells Jo, "You know you will have to make the last leg of the trip without me." Jo says that the prospect scares him, and Lump replies that it should not. After all, he reminds Jo, "you've got a crystallized Tritovian in your pouch."


Comet Jo's encounter with the balding man in a white smock at the Geodesic Survey Station has a crazed, satirical tone reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865), with the object of satire being the frenzied simplemindedness of accumulating knowledge for its own sake. The humorous episode also sets up Lump's brief revisitation of author Delany's simplex, complex, multiplex paradigm while allowing Delany to make fun of academia. Lump tells Jo that compiling all the knowledge of the universe, "while admirable, is ... well, the only word is simplex." His point is well articulated by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart's analysis of Delany's three-pronged concept in their 1997 book Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind. In this book, the coauthors describe the simplex mind as one that bases its outlook toward everything on a "single overriding goal." Delany is making the point (through Lump) that scope is not the same thing as complexity. There is also a bit of situational irony in the use of the term geodesic (the shortest line between two points on a surface), which subtly imputes a lack of complexity to a group that likely sees itself as highly intellectual.

In contrast, the encounter with poet Ni Ty Lee shifts the narrative to an in-depth examination of the nature of Empire Star's multiplex universe. Here, as elsewhere in Empire Star, Delany dips into his own extensive literary knowledge. By bringing writers and writing into the mix, he implies that literature is a useful tool for ordering experience multiplexually into an understanding of reality. This implication is particularly apparent in Lump's rather detailed and near-worshipful appraisal of science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. As is the case with Lump's Oscar, Alfred, Bosie allusion in Chapter 6, Delany again (through Lump) references real-life writers. "Paul V. and Arthur R." are Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. They, like Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred ("Bosie") Douglas, were noted literary figures and scandal-plagued gay lovers. "Jean C. and Raymond R." refers to Jean Cocteau and Raymond Radiguet, who were also writers and gay lovers until Radiguet's death from typhoid at age 20. "Willy and Colette" are Henri "Willy" Gauthier-Villars and Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who married in 1893. She left him in 1906, after Gauthier-Villars published four of her novels under his own name. All of these examples are cited to support Lump's assertion of the existence of "a recurrent literary pattern" in which a tragic event involving "an older writer, a younger writer" gives "something wonderful" to literature. Pondering the implications of including Ni Ty and Muels Aranlyde (as a couple) in this group is left entirely to the reader who uncovers the allusions.

Ny Ti's character likely represents religious and philosophical concepts found in Buddhism and Hinduism, particularly the concept of reincarnation. In Buddhism people reincarnate, returning to Earth again and again in a death/rebirth cycle called "samsara" until they reach Nirvana and move beyond the cycle. Samsara, in Buddhism, is equated with suffering. Reaching Nirvana means being free from suffering, which is the ultimate goal in Buddhism. Delany does not explicitly refer to Buddhist philosophy but leaves many hints that connect strongly to it. Ni Ty is described as Asian in his appearance. Through deep-meditation, Buddhists are known to become wise and joyful as well as sad and empathetic, which is how Ni Ty's character is depicted. His urge to sail into the sun while laughing and crying as well as his ability to "see" into Lump and Comet Jo and know things about their lives are all details that point to Eastern concepts. Ni Ty seems to be trapped in Delany's multiverse, bemoaning that he's "always returning, always coming back"; in contrast, Comet Jo is at the beginning of his journey, just now realizing that these events may have happened before. This ending/beginning dynamic between Ni Ty Lee and Comet Jo in Chapter 8 is a reflection of the novella's overall structure. In the last chapter of Empire Star Delany reveals that the end of the novella is also its beginning. The story, Jewel explains in Chapter 12, is "cyclic and self-illuminating." So, if Ni Ty is the most multiplex consciousness Comet Jo has ever met, then Delany is likely arguing that thinking cyclically, rather than linearly, brings the thinker closer to the true nature of things.

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