Details: (c) 1968 Samuel R Delany; Pub Bantam Books 1975;
Verdict: Nova is a great read while also too clever for me.
Reasons for reading it: I absolutely passionately adored Triton, and that made me favourably disposed towards Delany. rysmiel said this one was worth having.
How it came into my hands: The fabled book shopping expedition in Montreal in summer 2005.
I am in love with Delany's world-building. Nova is doing what the very best of SF does, creating an entirely solid, detailed, plausible world and then exploring it. (Is it possible for mimetic fiction to do this? Very rarely indeed, the best of Iris Murdoch, and in some ways The book of Ebenezer Le Page come to mind, but the great majority just relies on shared assumptions about how the world works.) Somehow reading Nova felt almost intimate, as if Delany had created this whole fascinating, shiny world just for me to play in. I don't know where that idea came from because it's clearly not the case objectively!
With Babel-17, I was almost annoyed by the way the exquisitely detailed background was swamped by highly exciting action. Nova is equally exciting, but the balance is a lot better, and the reader is still learning about the fascinating imagined future while the adventure is taking place. If there's a weakness it's the tendency towards infodump, though that is justified at the character level and interesting enough that I didn't really mind it. Definitely, my inner 12-year-old boy can appreciate this book, because the adventure part is really adventurous, absolutely thrilling. In some ways, the plot is almost at the Star Trek level: a motley but humanoid crew make a crazy trip into an exploding star in order to fetch some
Apart from the world-building there's clearly something clever going on on a mythologizing level too, but I just didn't get it and gave up trying. I think I'm missing a key reference here, so there was a frustrating sense of being on the edge of understanding something significant and not quite making the connection.
My main criticism relates to the villain, Prince Red. He's just too much the melodramatic Evil Overlord. I particularly disliked the way the justification for his being gratuitously evil is the fact that he is bitter and twisted because he is missing an arm. Apart from the fact that that's a cliché it's offensively ableist. There's some attempt to cast him as ambiguous right at the end, but after an entire novel's worth of really blatant sadism that doesn't really fly. I'm also a bit uncomfortable with the Mouse as a "gypsy" (sic) character; the treatment seems disrespectful and exoticizing, though I'm not saying it's actually racist. Oh, and the representation of the "Pleiades dialect" is somewhat grating; it butchers phrasal verbs in a way that just doesn't seem linguistically plausible, and basing a whole dialect on a single verbal tic is unconvincing.
Still, very much worth reading in spite of those quibbles.