And he's used speculative fiction to brilliantly explore various social topics - including homosexuality - during a time when such explorations were unwelcome.
But to his detriment, he seem to be quite a. . . well, a pervert, in the most classical sense. I actually think that Delany delights in shocking his readers with detailed depictions of disgusting acts.
Reading his novel Hogg quickly becomes a kind of self-inflicted endurance test. It's just a non-stop description of graphic descriptions of murder, child molestation, incest, coprophilia, coprophagia, urolagnia, anal-oral contact, necrophilia, and rape. It's not that there's any one scene or act that's mind-blowingly horrible. It's more just the staggering quantity, and the unrelenting pace. There is literally not a single page in the book that does not describe some sexual or violent act. I found myself exhausted after each sitting, and extremely relieved when I finally reached the end of the book.
Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, his most recent major novel, is more of the same. (With the addition, I suppose, of sexualized booger-eating.)
The Tides of Lust is a study in pedophilia and sadomasochism.
A recent long essay of his in a major online publication (I can't seem to find it now) has Delany intimately describing his attendance at geriatric sex parties in random hotels. He lingers on the scene where he kisses a toothless man, describes the taste of his semen. etc. It's not educational or poetic. Again and again his desire seems to be to shock the reader.
And he has a record of defending NAMBLA.
He's a genius, no doubt - but my totally non-professional opinion is that he has something like histrionic personality disorder. And I certainly wouldn't trust my kids around him.
I got maybe 50pp into Nest of Spiders and was done. Every few months I try to read a few more pages, and always put the book down again.
However, I think that Delaney did not fail this reader. If anything, what he wrote in Spiders made me realize that I wasn't as open-minded as I thought I was. I don't care to expand those particular limits, the subject matter is definitely not my cup of tea. But I'm happy we live in a society where he can publish that work, and I'm happy to at least try to read it, and happy to do my bit to support him doing it.
I really don't understand this use of the phrase "open-minded". Open-mindedness, to me, means being willing to question deeply-held opinions and beliefs. And being okay with other humans freely making very different decisions with regards to religion, sexuality, occupation, etc.
None of that has the slightest thing to do with trying to quell instinctive reactions of disgust to pedophilia and booger-eating.
Eat all the boogers and ---- all the ----- that you want, I won't bother you and I'll even help protect your right to do it. I just don't want to know details.
I don't believe that disgust with either of those things are instincts, they seem like examples of things that are learned and vary by culture. Instincts are more like being startled by loud noises, or things unexpectedly touching your head.
It's elicited typically by potential biological contaminants, like bodily fluids, spoiled foods, vermin, bodily violations (blood, gore, etc.), and infection.
Don't open it too wide, unhygienic stuff might fall in.
On a related note: why is it that people understand basic food hygiene (don't eat rotten meat, wash your vegetables, spoiled milk is bad, etc.), but can't seem to grasp that the same basic concept applies to mental food too?
You are what you eat, and that applies to what you read and consume in media too.
Don't worry, the worst perverts, as evident by court documents and surprised neighbors when a case explodes, are usually prudes. Heck, some are even catholic priests!
Delany was not the only science fiction author doing this during the 60s and 70s, but Nova was so magical and effective. It even stands up today -- I reread it every few years, and it doesn't seem dated (although that comment maybe dates me!)
I have to say, however, that his big novels of the 1970s -- Dhalgren and Triton -- were hard reads. As TFA notes, he kept pushing the boundaries of science fiction, but the boundaries went too far "out there" for me to appreciate. They were long and abstract, and it made me feel bad that I was too obtuse to really get into them.
"That said, was it Analog or F&SF where a winning entry in a contest for SF-related jokes was:
Q: What do the speed of light, absolute zero, and page 60 of Dhalgren have in common?
A: No one will ever get past them."
Once I plugged into the Internet in the 90s, I subscribed to a Gene Wolfe usenet group but otherwise didn't seek out my "tribe." From time to time I get to catch up on these debates when someone mentions/links to them on HN, so thank you!
For anyone in the Bay Area, check out a Friends if the San Francisco Library book sale in Fort Mason and trawl through the SF tables for some classics.
You need to click on each novel to see them all..
Neither is easy. Both reward re-reading.
The man is a treasure!
Dhalgren was really great and a true post-modern classic. When I'm done reading some more classic fantasy I'll give Neveryon #1 a try.
Delaney's shtick was showing that pulp and smut weren't low art, often taking those genres to their academic or weird ends.
For instance in the second Neveryon story (first book) he just up and creates a page long info dump about a character we never see again -- seemingly just to flex. I loved it and I love his writing.
At the same time he is very much a pervert who makes it known he absolutely loved being a Times Square twink through various interviews and talks. It's weird, and he's a weird dude. But I adore his work.
Also I feel like if any science fiction author was gonna have their sins brought to light during the me too stuff it would have been him, but thankfully there hasn't been signs of him being a predator. I hope that remains case
I am not sure the same case about "a lack of advocacy" can be made for Delany or his oeuvre.