Book Review: Tales of Neveryon

When I saw that Samuel Delany’s Tales of Neveryon was described as a “post-modern sword and sorcery,” the nerd in me jumped for joy twice over. I’m not even a particular fan of post-modern literature–more a fan of anything that combines two seemingly opposing areas/genres/what-have-you. A sword and sorcery that quotes from literary criticism in the epigraphs?

Apparently that’s a “Yes!”

Delany breaks all the rules. His characters sit around thinking for pages on end, or jabber about the (heavy) themes of the book. He tells instead of shows all the time. So what? It’s a slim book that dances with huge ideas–not exactly new, since the book is from 1979, but ideas that were new for me. Ideas about slavery and feminism and economy, and some absolutely geektacular thoughts on storytelling as a reflection of real events, reflected again with each subsequent retelling. (Tales of Neveryon is presented as a reflection of a partial translation of a “real” text written in numerous ancient languages…) I ate it all up.

There’s a story in there too. Stories, actually, as the book is five novellas or stories that only truly unite at the very end, bringing together Gorgik the ex-slave, Small Sarg the barbarian, Raven the swordswoman, and Norema the fisherwoman/businesswoman. Loosely speaking, it’s the story of Gorgik and the events leading up to a slave uprising; but more generally it’s a story of a world in the middle of transition, on the cusp of civilization as we understand but not quite there yet.

To tell you any more than that would be cheating. This is a fascinating, unique book that I wish someone had handed to me years ago when I first started wondering at the supposed gap between “genre” and “literary.” After finishing Tales of Neveryon, all I can say is, “What gap?”

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