The Nebula voters really loved Sam Delany in the late ‘60s, as a novel of his wins for the second year in a row. The Einstein Intersection takes place on a distant-future Earth inhabited by a constantly mutating populace. Functional mutants get the honorific Lo, La, or Le appended to the their name, depending on if they are male, female, or hermaphroditic, respectively. Some of these mutants have developed “differences” which are basically psychic abilities.
The protagonist and narrator, Lo Lobey, herds goats in a quiet village. He falls in love with a mute girl named Friza, but she soon dies mysteriously. Then, Lo Lobey must reenact the descent of Orpheus into Hades to regain his lost love (in this distant future, the myth has been rewritten, now it concerns Ringo Starr’s quest to reunite the Beatles). He journeys across a misshapen Earth, using his herding skills to sign on to a “dragon drive,” all the while looking to confront the mysterious Kid Death.
This is a very short, very psychedelic novel. Delany’s prose is quite lyrical, and I found this to be an easier, more engaging read than Babel-17, despite its being more ambiguous and just weirder all around. Again, like Babel-17, it has a very promising first few chapters, but as metaphor gets heaped on mythological allusion gets heaped on metaphor again, the book begins to sag under the weight of its own oddball symbolism. The Einstein Intersection is a quick, fun read if you don’t mind the very strange, but I still feel that Delany’s incredible originality would come across better if he could rein it in just a little bit.