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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Quotes


Wha' madda?

Comet Jo, Chapter 1

These are the first words spoken by Comet Jo in Empire Star. Their barely literate nature is indicative of the simplex culture in which he was born and raised, on a satellite called Rhys, whose inhabitants tend plyasil fields for a living. Here and elsewhere in the story, author Delany uses language to signal distinctions between simplex, complex, and multiplex cultures.


Thou wouldst be lost as how to conduct thyself.

Charona, Chapter 3

Charona, who is of the complex culture, discourages Comet Jo from leaving his simplex culture on Rhys to pursue his mission to Empire Star. Her faux-Shakespearean speech seems likely to be a satirical jab by African American author Delany at America's racism and classism.


I will give you a comb, and I will give you diction lessons.

San Severina, Chapter 4

With these words, San Severina takes Comet Jo under her wing as a protégé. Neither Comet Jo nor the reader at this point suspects that she is a princess of the empire or that she is guiding Jo in his as-yet-unrevealed mission to help bring about the emancipation of the enslaved Lll. The inherent immorality of slavery is a significant theme in Empire Star.


Sixty-eight billion, five hundred thousand, two hundred and five people, reduced to twenty-seven.

San Severina, Chapter 5

San Severina recounts to Comet Jo the casualties of a great war. The devastation has necessitated her purchase of seven enslaved Lll, who are needed to rebuild the worlds. The war that emerges in Empire Star can be viewed as an allegory for the American Civil War, which was fought between forces wanting to preserve and control slavery and forces wanting to end it. Author Delany adds a paradoxical twist to the conflict, however, in that San Severina is using the enslaved Lll to repair damage from a war that has yet to be fought to free them.


'Excuse me,' he said. 'You've got a ticket for A. Douglas?'

Comet Jo, Chapter 6

Comet Jo has been instructed by "Oscar" (Lump in disguise) to retrieve a ticket to the moon that has been reserved in the name of Oscar's absent traveling companion, "Alfred." The aliases are an allusion to writer Oscar Wilde and his lover, poet Lord Alfred Douglas. Later in Empire Star Lump and the poet Ni Ty Lee will draw comparisons between the famous couple and other star-crossed romantic pairs whose tragic breakups fueled great literature.


'Jhup ya,' Jo grunted.

Comet Jo, Chapter 7

Comet Jo expresses frustration at Lump by using an expression that Jo's simplex culture considers obscene. "Jhup" is a vulgarism for plyasil, the sole export of Jo's satellite Rhys. The use of invented profanities is one way in which author Delany crafts language to signal distinctions among the simplex and multiplex cultures and social classes that inhabit the empire.


Cataloging all knowledge ... while admirable, is ... well, the only word is simplex.

Lump, Chapter 8

While the "simplex, complex, multiplex" paradigm is an integral thematic element of Empire Star, Delany at no point provides straightforward definitions of the terms. Instead, the reader is left to discern their meanings based on examples, such as this one, and elaborations given by various characters. Fortunately, there are enough of these that the implications of the concepts fall into place.


She bit into her tongue and collapsed shrieking ... her mouth awash with blood.

Jewel, Chapter 10

In his role as narrator, the crystallized Tritovian, Jewel, relates the wretched state of San Severina. Chained in a rebuilt basement that was destroyed during the war to free the Lll from slavery, San Severina has gone mad from the grief that accompanies the ownership of enslaved Lll. Delany presents this grief as a metaphor for the toxic immorality of the institution of slavery.


And you're San Severina.

Comet Jo, Chapter 11

Comet Jo realizes that the 16-year-old empire princess, who has stowed away on his battleship, is, in fact, San Severina at an earlier point in her life. This apparent impossibility signals the enigmatic nature of Empire Star's multiplex universe, where members of the empire government can travel through a "temporal and spatial gap" into the past and future and alter events to further the government's aims. As Jewel explains at the end of the tale, an understanding of the nature of the multiplex universe on the reader's part is necessary to understand the narrative fully.


Only order your perceptions multiplexually, and you will not miss the lacunae.

Jewel, Chapter 12

In his role as narrator, the crystallized Tritovian Jewel closes Empire Star by addressing the reader directly. It has been established by this point that the tale takes place in a "multiplex universe" in which characters travel time and space, change identities, and experience their own multiple lives and deaths from countless perspectives. To gain a full comprehension of the story, Jewel instructs, the reader must therefore abandon simplex assumptions and approach the novel's events in a multiplexual fashion. That is, after all, the way in which they transpired.

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