In this week's issue, we are delighted to reprint "Aye, and Gomorrah . . ." by Samuel R. Delany, first published in 1967, and selected and introduced for us by Geoff Ryman. After you have read his introduction, you can read the story here.
Bad fiction is behind the times; good fiction is ahead of them; great fiction creates the times.
I first read "Aye, and Gomorrah . . ." when I was 16 years old. My dear folks had signed me up for the Science Fiction Book Club and Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison was one of the two free books. What luck. Dangerous Visions introduced rock and roll sixties-style to SF.
Which meant that it was irredeemably sexist from our current point of view. Of the 33 authors, only three were female. One of those started her wild radical story with a detailed description of the sexual murder of an eight-year-old girl. "Riders of the Purple Wage" was another swinger in which the hero superglues shut his girlfriend's vagina because she won't bear his child. It won a Hugo—shared ironically with the first woman to win a Hugo for fiction, Anne McCaffrey.
And right at the end, this story by Samuel R. Delany.
You have to remember that in 1966, when the story was written, there was no gay movement. Most people assumed transvestites were just a kind of gay. Admitting you were gay would get a reaction rather like admitting now that you're a paedophile. You could lose your friends, lose your job, or be arrested simply for existing.
Imagine, then, a story that is effectively a post-gay, queer sensibility story being published in 1967—a story so prophetic that it leapfrogs all of the slog of gay and gender politics, AIDS, and queer and gender theory to simply show us that in the future there will be new genders and new kinds of sex.
Look also at the confidence of the form . . . the leaping up and coming down again in Paris, in Houston, in Istanbul. It was clear from the detail that Delany had travelled there; clear that he was able to imagine a Turkish woman well outside any stereotypes of gender or nation. It rains in Istanbul—a lesser writer would have had it be hot and sunny in Turkey. Look at the way a sentence opens up in the middle to insert a quote from a couple in a pick-up truck—and then goes back to the rest of the sentence. That would be startling now. The confidence of form and style also means the story could be published now and still feel fresh.
As E. M. Forster said, a good writer must also be a prophet.