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“The triplex, sir, is a good tripping measure;”

I’m reading Neveryóna, which is not, I hasten to add, in any way, shape, fashion, or form, a sword-and-sorcery story; it isn’t even a fantasy—it’s wholly, cheerfully, entirely SF: it’s just that the novum that estranges us past a conceptual breakthrough into a topia isn’t so much cybernetics or ballistics, but the very act of reading (in its expansive, semantic screwdriver sense) and its turn in turn to writing

(Yes, I know there are dragons in it. That doesn’t make it a fantasy. I mean, there are dragons in Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand, and you wouldn’t call Pocket a fantasy, now, would you?

(Actually… Now that I think about it…

(Oh, for God’s sake, the Nevèrÿon books are [mostly, somewhat] explicitly part of the Informal Remarks toward the Modular Calculus! Which include Trouble on Triton! Which is the largest moon of the planet Neptune! And they include the Harbin-Y lectures of Ashima Slade! Who died when the gravity was cut to the city of Lux, on Iapetus! The third largest moon of Saturn! It’s SF!)

—But I digress.

I’ve been (re)reading Neveryóna, and I’ve gotten to what I remember having been one of my more favorite bits (after the Tale of Old Venn, anyway, which is a tour-de-something-or-other), when the dragon-rider, Pryn (née pryn), a “loud brown fifteen-year-old with bushy hair,” is invited to the house (castle) (cavern) (palace) (compound) of the Earl Jue-Grutn, and begins to see (as we begin to see) how intimate and implacable is the power that rules this fantastic and philosophical empire. —The earl invites her to see his collection of different kinds of writing systems, which includes on a shelf on a wall a collection of painted statuettes—

“—three cows, followed by two women bent over three pots, followed by those pyramids stippled all over; I have it on authority they represent heaps of grain—”

“And those are trees there!” Pryn pointed. “Five, six… seven of them.”

“The same authority informed me that each tree should be read as an entire orchard. The barrels at the end are most likely lined with resinated wax and filled with beer, much like the brews you help Old Rorkar produce.”

To either side of this display is a picture in a frame. The one—

“—there to the right, is inked on a vegetable fiber unrolled from a species of swamp reed.”

Pryn looked more closely: simple strokes portrayed three four-legged animals. From the curves at their heads, clearly they were intended to be cattle—no doubt the same cows that the statuettes represented; for next to them were more marks most certainly indicating two schematic, sexless figures bending over three triangular blotches—the pots.

And the other:

Left of the sculptures, in the other frame some dry, brownish stuff was stretched. On it were blackened marks, edged with a nimbus that suggested burning. “What’s this?” Asking, she recognized the even clumsier markings as even more schematic animals, people, pots, trees, barrels, grain…

“The same authority assured me it was flesh once flayed from his own horridly scarred body—he was a successful traveling merchant when I knew him, which lent its own dubiously commercial reading to the three pieces he sold me. Myself, I’m more inclined to suppose it is the branded skin of some slave’s thigh, stripped from the living leg; all too often—five times? six times? seven?—I saw my father oversee the commission of such atrocities on the bodies of the criminals among our own blond, blue-eyed chattels. From even further north than you, that scarred black man had, no doubt, as many reasons for speaking truth as he had for lying. But consider all three—”

Yes, let’s. —Delany (the earl) (Pryn) (we) rather immediately ascribe the three as art (concerned with representation, yes, but also the exercise of craft required to wring that representation from the materials chosen, or available), as writing (smooth, dispassionate, a meaning apart from the context that gives it meaning), and as pure ideological imposition, as terror, as violation, as revelation, as (?) POWER; but then rather immediately moves past these simple descriptions to a (much) more interesting question: which came first?

“Which one of the three inspired, which one of the three contaminated, which one of the three first valorized the subsequent two in our cultural market of common conceptions?”

And those of you who’ve been paying attention over the years, or who noticed the title, or can count at least to three, you’re maybe already thinking you know where I’m going with this, the maid-mother-crone, the creator-sustainer-redeemer, the Cluthian Triskelion of fantastika, the model I’ve been borrowing, the argument of the thing-that-argues, the prick against which the sermon kicks—

“Again, the initial apprehension of beauty, in an entirely different way from the initial apprehension of disinterest, redeems both modes of later inhumanity it engenders on the grounds that they are, still, misreadings—one an underreading, one an overreading certainly, but nevertheless both misguided, because impoverished, because unappreciative of the mystical, beautiful, originary apprehension which a more generous reader can always reinscribe over what the misguided two chose to inflict in terms of pain or boredom.”

—but I’m not saying that Delany’s saying (Pryn is saying) (the earl is saying) that one of these things is fantasy, and one SF, and one is horror (no)—

“Observe the three, girl. One of these is at the beginning of writing—the archetrace: but we will never know which. The unanswered and unanswerable question—that undismissible ignorance—signs my authority’s failure. And I foresee the trialogue, now with one voice silenced, now with another overweeningly shrill, now with the three in harmony, now with all in cacophony, continuing as long as people cease to speak—and all speech is, after all, about what is absent in the world, if not to the senses—before the wonder, the mystery, the confusing, enciphered presence of a written text. But certainly you have seen these..?”

—what I’m saying is, is one of these (fantasy) is trying, Ringo, is trying real hard, to recapture (recover, receive, to understand) what has been lost, by trying to represent what is in what’s available, what’s been chosen; and one of these (SF) coolly abstracts what might well could be possible from what undoubtedly is, breaking through to a brave new world; and one of these (horror) is—is—is—

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