Monday, January 9, 2017
Short Fiction Month: Aye, and Gomorrah . . . - Samuel R. Delany
Some time in the future a group of astronauts - or spacers as they are referred to in the story - is living a kind of life most people can only look at in awe. They travel the solar system to work on the grandest projects. It comes at a price however. They receive such a large dose of radiation in space, that rather than to try and shield them from it, their bodies have been adapted. It isolates them from the rest of humanity in ways that are not always easy to deal with.
This story is about human sexuality. A topic close to Delany's heart. Delany is gay and was, at the time this story was written, in the middle of a complicated marriage with the poet Marilyn Hacker. The sexual revolution may have been washing over the US at that moment, it can't have been an easy life. Although the main character's position is different, some of Delany's personal experience as someone not conforming to the sexual norm must have made their way into the story. The main character is a Spacer and asexual. He, that is how he started out, never went through puberty, has an androgynous appearance and no sexual desires. That doesn't stop other people from wanting him though.
What the story also does is explore human sexual preferences that do not fit in the norm of sex within matrimony for reproductive purposes, or even more widely accepted ideas of romantic love. Sex and desire are described as urges that will not be denied, even if it makes the person experiencing them unhappy. What the situation the main character ends up in implies, there is no actual explicit scene in the story, is sex as one way traffic. The motivations of the various characters to go along with it will make a lot of readers uncomfortable fifty years after the story was published. Which should give you an idea of how 'dangerous' this story really was.
The way Delany uses loneliness, the desire for companionship and sexual fetishes in this story make it groundbreaking. It is one of those stories you really should read to understand the development of the genre. If Ellison was looking for controversy, then that is exactly what he got with this story. I'm not surprised at all he made it the parting shot of the anthology. It is, there is no other way to put it, a brilliant piece of work.
Title: Aye, and Gomorrah . . .
Author: Samuel R. Delany
Originally published: Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison (1967)
Read in: Dangerous Visions, Gollancz SF Masterworks edition (2011)
Story length: Short Story, approximately 3,700 words
Awards: Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominated
Available online: Strange Horizons