01/12/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Wesleyan University Press. 254 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $27.95 (US), £23.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-8195-6883-0.
check out website: www.wesleyan/edu/wespress
'The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes On The Language Of Science Fiction', to give its full name, by Samuel Delany is a non-fiction book known of by reputation more than ownership and over the years I'd yet to go after a copy, mostly because of its elusiveness. When I discovered it was being re-issued this year and then turned up on a review list, the decision was finally made for me.
Delany is one of those authors whose fiction you love or hate. I liked his 'The Einstein Intersection' even though it borrowed liberally from ancient myths but mostly for a few trigger words that gave the strongest clue I was becoming a Type 1 diabetic some thirty years ago now. When a book particularly impresses me I tend to be wary of other books by the same author because it might not live up to the first one so haven't read much more of his fiction other than the occasional short story. These show that Delany has a love for the written word more than the more, shall we say, grounded Science Fiction, something he also points out in the introduction in this book. As such, the material here also reflects this. If love language more than ideas then you'll be on home territory. From a personal perspective, I tend to play a middle ground between them both.
If you're coming to this book looking for some great revelation on Science Fiction then you might be disappointed. If you've read Joanna Russ' 'Alyx' and Ursula K. LeGuin's 'The Dispossessed' then you get a dissection and appreciation of these books. I should point out that both topics are done in the form of university lectures and as such are more interested in the form and presentation than the ideas. The revisions are mostly changing or adding the odd chapter from the previous editions. None of the material is written currently which is a shame as it would be interesting to have a Delany insight of the present.
In the appendix there's a look at how SF writers were the lowest of the pay scale writers back in the 60s-70s called 'Letter To A Critic' which gives a superb picture of the times. A comparison to what it's like today would have been truly welcome. The examination is interesting in that it shows how much the early SF writers had to work to pay their way and how many had writer's block and stress problems when they could no longer churn the material out. It probably also explains why Delany himself switched to being a university professor.
As commented above, much of the material in this book is however the kind of lectures you would get about style and prose technique. I know there are some readers out there who get off on such things so this will be right up their streets. If you are after more about Science Fiction ideas per se then you probably won't find what you want in this book. Saying that, I do wish Delany would release a book of this sort with more up-to-date material simply because I would like to see more of his thoughts based on what we have out there today.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA