Science fiction can be used as an effective tool, an avenue to take otherworldly experiences and point them inward. Sometimes, a journey through space is not a literal journey through space, but rather an exercise in exploring the human psyche. A truly skilled science fiction author can write of something past the realm of human possibility, but rather than write of it, writes on the aftermath alone. Delany is more than capable of this, and offers much insight on what makes prose powerful, in science fiction and otherwise. In “Aye, and Gomorrah…”, humans have reached space, and go so frequently that there is an entire subset of humans that are modified from childhood to better suit space. However, the story does not focus on those people in space, but rather how they are othered on Earth. As a black gay man raised in 1950s America, Delany would be well-familiar with being othered.
“Aye, and Gomorrah…” was written and published during this lavender marriage with writer Marilyn Hacker. It is immensely aware of sexuality that is othered by society, but also specifically the pain of being othered by society for existing. “Spacers” are humans that are groomed from a young age to be sent to space, stunting their puberty which results in purely androgynous looking adults. Due to this they have no sexual desire of their own, but are heavily fetishized. The fetishists of these spacers are called “frelks”, and will pay for sexual services from the spacers.
Spacers are only sexually and physiological deviant due to society’s production and perception of them. Truly, society makes spacers, truly in the sense due to the puberty blocking in adolescence. I have heard many times from my gay friends, my trans friends, and my friends of color that one of the most exhausting parts of activism is their existence being a point of contention. Many of these people cannot afford to not be an activist in some way, and many cannot avoid being seen as an activist, whether they are or not, simply for living as they are. “Spacers” are not so much the deviants, or rather not so much othered by society, as the frelks force them to be by othering them. Exoticization and fetishization is not acceptance, it furthers the idea that a person can be taboo.
“Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” too questions the reality of identity, focusing on an up-and-coming con artist who switches between many identities with the initials HCE. The identity is as real as others perceive it. From Harold Clancy Evert, to Henrietta, Countess of Effingham, to Hector Calhoun Eisenhower, HCE knows that none of them are “real” labels for him, and in such all of them become real.
"The Star Pit", too, focuses on the concept of othering. This time, however, the idea of othering with the othered group as privileged. The Golden are a very small percentage of humans who are able to withstand the psychological torture that comes with crossing between galaxies. It follows the anguish felt by those who wished to travel space but could not due to birth circumstances through the men Vyme, Sandy, and then the younger Ratlit. Each wish to go to space, and each understands that they cannot. Sometimes it translates into a reverence of the Golden, and sometimes it translates into a hatred.
While some authors try very hard to distance themselves from Earth and Earth culture, Delany embraces the idea that the working-class everyman would still have a life in the spectacular sci-fi. Each of these stories described can quite easily be attributed to several different human issues. Namely, for one, racism. Black people have been historically unfairly fetishized by many different cultures. Tropes surrounding black promiscuity still exist and hinder people today, such as the jezebel. It is not the fault of the fetishized for being fetishized, for to be fetishized is directly a consequence of the action of the fetishizer. Spacers, while not a separate race, have differences that they cannot help. They are a minority, and people stare when they see them in public. Similarly, people today who are othered by society feel these same affects.
The class divide of "The Star Pit" remains effective and is perhaps scarily no longer too far in the realm of science fiction! While the original publication of The Star Pit most likely was exercising frustration at just who would have access to the moon now that man had stepped on it, reading it now feels eerily like many conversations being held surrounding Space X. When asked what his motivations are, owner Elon Musk constantly talks about humans on Mars. But when asked more details upon who would be able to go there, of course, an issue of class appears. He suggested, once, that indentured servitude would be available to those who could not afford a ticket, not unlike many immigrants coming to America in the 1600s and beyond.
Delany’s stories do not need complex thought experiments or fantasy environments to function. He can explore very human struggles through fantastic situations—his metaphors are easy to grasp, and can be applied to a plethora of different scenarios. If I had a friend who told me that they did not enjoy science fiction, I feel that I might suggest them Delany’s Driftglass. For even if they do not enjoy traveling to different planets, Delany is particularly talented at writing many things at once.