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Empire Star | Study Guide

Samuel R. Delany

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Empire Star | Symbols


The Plyasil Fields

At the onset of Empire Star, Comet Jo is a barely literate 18-year-old who tends underground fields of plyasil. Plyasil is a fictional crop of minor industrial use, which is grown only on Jo's home satellite, Rhys. Jo's sole purpose in the empire's scheme of things is to help produce it. The culture of plyasil workers to which he belongs is depicted as "simplex," uncomplicated by outside concerns or outside knowledge. In many ways, Jo's life mirrors that of coal miners, or possibly—given author Delany's frequent use of racial subtext—plantation workers. The fields Jo tends serve as a symbol, then, of what Delany in Empire Star calls a "simplex" culture, both on Jo's world and our own.

The Transport Area

The only complex intelligences on Comet Jo's home world Rhys work in the Transport Area, where they coordinate the distribution of plyasil to the rest of the empire. The Transport Area itself symbolizes the "gate" between the simplex plyasil workers and the empire's complex and multiplex societies, while at the same time letting through the fruits of workers' labors.

In Chapter 3 Jo must obtain the permission of his complex friend Charona to pass through the Transport Area and leave Rhys. She is reluctant to give her consent because, as she tells Jo, "thou wouldst be lost as how to conduct thyself." Her well-meaning condescension signals the tight social structure the empire government maintains, with a myriad of rules and regulations in place to keep the lower class and the higher classes from "corrupting" one another.

On a side note, gatekeeper Charona's canine companion 3-Dog is meant to evoke Cerberus, the three-headed dog that in Greek mythology guards the entrance to Hades. It may be that author Delany is making some passing statement about the "Hell" the lower classes encounter when they "forget their place" and go where they are not supposed to.

The Empire Star

The Empire Star is the seat of the empire's government. As the stowaway empire princess (a young San Severina) explains in Chapter 11, it is located at a "temporal and spatial gap" through which the government maintains its rule by going into the past and future and altering events to its liking. As such, it symbolizes both the possession of absolute power and the porous nature of time and space in author Delany's "multiplex universe."

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