It has been a long time since a Samuel Delany novel appeared and fans have had to rely on reprints of his earlier novels while they waited for the sequel to Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. What has finally appeared is not this sequel but a new rewrite of Delany's second novel, They Fly at Ciron published by the new Incunabula Press.
When I first saw They Fly at Ciron I was impressed by the aesthetically pleasing hardback but cautious of the content: other authors have tried to rewrite their earlier novels with limited success - Orson Scott Card is particularly prone to this fiddling - and I did not know how well Delany would manage. His style and subject matter have changed drastically over the years and I doubted the worth of rehashing an old story. However, I found that They Fly at Ciron, while still retaining the outward simplicity of an early Delany novel has the depth and beauty of language and style that I have come to expect in his later work.
Put simply They Fly at Ciron is the tale of three cultures: the intransigent, martial Myetrans, the peaceful, communal Cironians and the winged ones of the mountains and the consequences on people of all three cultures when a war party from Myetra descends on Ciron.
It would be easy for a novellist to write from one point of view and side with the naturally more sympathetic Cironians, but Delany does not allow himself any sentimentality: this novel is woven from several viewpoints ‹ a Myetran officer, struggling with this conscience; a Myetran soldier, blanking out the horror; two Cironian men who resist; a wandering minstrel - with many other characters playing small but well written and significant roles. Delany lulls the reader into a false sense of security - they know who is in the right and who in the wrong ‹ for the briefest of moments and then smashes that knowledge; he lets us see all sides to the story; shows us that evil is a very subjective thing.
As in his other more recent novels, Delany uses language to play games with the reader and the reader¹s understanding of the situation: appearances can be deceptive and he illustrates this particularly with the burgeoning of relationships between the two male Cironians and two flyers.
Although They Fly at Ciron is a fantasy novel it is possible to see it as analogous to our own situation and our own difficulties coming to terms with other cultures and other beliefs but Delany does not (and cannot) give any answers: he simply asks us to think for ourselves.
They Fly at Ciron is a worthy addition to the Delany opus: it is literary, clever, thoughful and thought provoking. It drew me in and kept me enthralled: I only hope that we do not have to wait so long for his next novel.