The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
Published : Ace Books, 1967
Awards Won : Nebula Award
Awards Nominated : Hugo Award
The Book :
“There are an infinite number of true things in the world with no way of ascertaining their truth.” p.111-112
“Humanity is gone, but they have left the ruins of their civilization behind them. The new tenants of the Earth are an alien species, one with great respect for those that had come before. They try to mold their bodies to be human, as they also try to shape their souls to fit our leftover mythology. In both cases, the fit is not perfect, leading to confusion and suffering.
Lo Lobey is a herder who frequently plays music on his machete. One day, the girl he loves, Friza, is mysteriously killed. In an echo of Orpheus saving his Euridice, Lobey is determined to go on a journey to recover his Friza. With no direction toward the underworld, however, there is no telling where Lobey’s journey will take him.” ~Allie
I’d never read anything by Delany before, but I’d heard he wrote very weird books. There were things about The Einstein Intersection that were very interesting, but I think that the story was just not to my taste.
The Einstein Intersection is both a very familiar story and a very confusing one. The basic structure, a young man from a small town going on an epic journey after his lover gets murdered, is reminiscent of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. This type of story is basically a cliché now, but that is likely the reason it features in the novel. The story is bound together by mythology; the old Greek/Roman variety, the more modern variety (at least as current as the sixties), and the jumble they make together. For instance, early on in the story, someone recounts the 'legend of the Beatles':
“You remember the Beatle Ringo left his love Maureen even though she treated him tender. He was the one Beatle who did not sing, so the earliest parts of the legend go. After a hard day’s night, he and the rest of the Beatles were torn apart by screaming girls, and he and the other Beatles returned, finally at one, with the great rock and the great roll.” ~p. 11
That is the sort of delirious hodgepodge of allusions to pop culture and legend that seems characteristic of the novel. I’m certain I missed some 60’s references, but that excerpt, at least, was one I was able to parse.
Lo Lobey may be acting out a very familiar story, but what is within that story, both in his world and in himself, does not fit the familiar mold. His world is obsessed with normality and functionality, and has kages full of ‘non-functional’ children. It also has dragon-herders, computer ‘labyrinths’, and more. Despite his vague but strong desire to rescue Friza from death, Lobey does not have all that much direction. He often seems to float with the story, allowing circumstance to choose his path.
The story seems fairly straightforward at first, but it becomes more and more opaque as it continues, and as more avatars trapped by their mythologies make their entrance. As Delany wrote in one of the excerpts from his Writer’s Journals, which head chapters alongside various quotes, “Endings to be useful must be inconclusive“ (p.120). I think the ending lives up this ideal, and I can’t claim that I fully understood the significance of the conclusion. In the end, it remains a very enigmatic book, but maybe not one I will tackle again anytime soon.
My Rating: 3/5
The Einstein Intersection is a very strange and intricate novel, but it is not one that ultimately engaged me. It definitely requires an active reader, one who is willing to re-read pages and tease meaning out of mixed allusions and references. Lobey is a sort of Orpheus, but also not, just as he is almost, but not quite, human. While the surface story is pretty simple, I felt like the sense and meaning of it was pretty hard to follow. Things become increasingly confusing as the story progresses, and the ending is difficult to puzzle out. I think I can see why this is a book that is remembered, but it is also not really one I enjoyed.