These excerpts where come from


page 1


1963-65 The Fall of the Towers

Out of the Dead City

The Towers of Toron

City of a Thousand Suns


1966 Babel-17


page 2


1976 Triton



Out of the Dead City


Clea held up a slide rule and notebook. "I'm travelling light."

"What's that?" He pointed to a picture stuck between the rule and the book cover.

"Oh, this." She handed him the folded paper. On the cover was the picture. Tomar frowned, trying to interpret the shapes and their meaning. Inside was a poem. That made him frown more. "I don't know much about this sort of---"

"Look at it," she insisted. "Read it. The poem was written by a boy at school, Vol Nonik. I didn't know him, but he printed a few poems up like this. Someone told me the picture was done by his girlfriend. Her name was---"

"Renna . . . something," Tomar read the signature at the corner. "I can't make out the last name." He looked at the poem again, read it slowly. Then he shrugged. "I just don't understand it," he said, "stuff like this. But it's---strange. The thing about the eye in the boy's tongue, that made me feel funny."

Clea nodded. "Me too. That's why I like it."

Tomar looked at the drawing again. He was looking at a strange landscape, but from behind the teeth and contorted lips of a scream. "I don't . . . understand it," he repeated uneasily and handed it back quickly. And realized he very much wanted to look at the picture again, to re-read the words.



The Towers of Toron

Curly pulled back into the pit. "Just to see if anybody's real close." His voice was suddenly grave. "Hey, I . . . I wanted to explain something, well, I meant something about me. To you."

"Huh?" said Tel.

"I felt sort of funny with that business about your eyes today. So, I got to thinking. And I figured I might as well tell this to you, about me; like an apology."

Tel's first surprise now turned over in his belly, and though unsure of what was on the other side, he said, "Yeah, I see."

Curly smeared a muddy hand across his forehead. "Damn," he said, with an embarrassed laugh. "There used to this guy, in this mali gang I ran with back in Toron. He wrote these strange poems. His name was Vol Nonik, a sort of funny guy. Anyway, I wish I was showing this to him, because then he'd make a poem out of it. But he couldn't get into the army because there was something funny with his back. So I guess you'll have to do . . ." He laughed again, then looked down at his hands. "You've never seen anybody do this before, have you?"

"Do what?"

"Look," Curly said. "At my hands. Look."

"I don't under---"

"We may not get out of this thing alive," Curly said. "So look at my hands."

Tel gazed at the soldier's cupped palms.

They began to glow.

They were bluish at first through the fog, but then the blue became red, a red fire flickering in his hands, a ball of red fire glittering just above his palms, shot with green, suddenly yellow. "Look," Curly breathed. "You see . . ." The ball of light lengthened, became slender, bifurcating at the bottom and top. The waist thinned, the head raised, fingers articulated themselves at the ends of tiny, flaming hands. She bent, miniature, and swayed on tip-toe, wavering on his palms. Blue, copper, and gold flames like pinpoints raced her body. A breeze (Tel felt it on the back of his neck) and her hair, a bell of sparks, shimmered behind her. She raised her arms and whispered (a voice like the whisper of water over sand): "Curly, I love you. I love you, Curly, I love you . . ."

"Isn't she . . . beautiful . . ." Curly's own whisper came like two rasps against one another over the voice of the miniscule homuncula. Curly breathed deeply now, and she faded.

When Tel looked up from the muddy fingers, Curly was staring at him. "You ever seen anyone do that before?"

Tel shook his head. "How . . . how do you do it?"

"I don't know," Curly said. "I . . . just do. I used to dream about her, before I came to the army. But once, I thought: what would happen if I just made her happen. And there she was, like you saw, in my hands. I never showed anyone else. But with all this . . ." He made a motion around them. ". . . I thought I ought to show it to someone. That's all." Suddenly he seemed embarrassed. "Well," he grunted.



City of a Thousand Suns

Order these desperate strokes to single lines, separate and tangible, beautiful and real; fish-bones throw their shadows on the wall, portending the ideal.

Arkor stood in the laboratory tower in the west wing of the royal palace of Toron. At the end of the metal band was a crystal sphere, fifteen feet in diameter, which hovered above the receiving platform. A dozen small tetron units of varying sizes sat about the room. The viewing screens were dead. On a control panel by one ornate window a band of forty-nine scarlet-knobbed switches pointed to off. Arkor was walking slowly across the catwalk above the stage. He reached the balcony and paused before the night. A breeze combed through his hair.

He glanced back into the room. Across the catwalks, the platform, and the sphere fell the long shadows from the super-structure of conversion equipment that had turned the transit ribbon into a matter projector for use in the war. It had never been used. He looked out again into the City.

Normally the giant's telepathic receptivity was only a few hundred feet, but recently he had found his range expanding, sometimes for an hour or more, to cover miles. As he stepped on to the balcony, he felt the subsensory tingling that announced one of these attacks. Suddenly the City, as though a veil were pulled away, was revealed to him as a vast matrix of minds, clashing, jarring one another, yet each isolate. I am alone, he thought, adding the millionth repeat to a million-fold echo. The few other telepaths in the City, as well as the non-telepathic guards, flashed on the web of dimmer minds. But even trying to contact them was at best like touching through glass. There was only the image, without warmth or texture. Isolate, he thought, letting the pattern fill him, alone in the palace tower, in the tower of my own perceptions, as a brute neanderthal guilty at the City's rim, as King and Duchess beside me, minds circled and alone, standing together as the drunken doctor and grieving mother part a mile away.

Somewhere a man and woman sat---Jon and Alter, but he identified them only after he picked them out---together in a room, shoulder to shoulder, heads bent together, reading a poem from a crumpled paper, now stopping to ask each other what this line meant, now going back to look at another page. The patterns growing in their minds were not the same, but as they tried to explain what they thought to each other, or bent to read or reread the lines, the images the poem made upon their thoughts were like flames dancing orderly about one another, contrasting or similar, still a single experience, an awareness of unity, unaware of their isolation. Delusion? thought Arkor. No. The now brittle, now flexible, bending and quivering lights danced orderly together. Arkor smiled, alone, as the two bent closer to the paper. Jon held the page, while Alter unfolded a corner that had been bent down across the last stanza:

Bring me to a city gold and grey where the human and the wild can mesh, not where I am gutter-bound by fish-bones.




Amused, Rydra glanced at her hostess, but there was a smile, much more the proper size, winding through her fleshy features. "I hope you like them."

Calli swallowed. "I do." Then he screwed up his face, set his teeth, opened his lips, and shook his head. "Except those real salty ones with the fish. I didn't like those at all, ma'am. But the rest are O.K."

"I'll tell you"---the Baroness leaned forward, the smile crumbling into a chesty chuckle---"I never really liked the salty ones either!"

She looked from Rydra to the Baron with a shrug of mock surrender. "But one is so tyrannized by one's caterer nowadays, what can one do?"

"If I didn't like them," Calli said, jerking his head aside in determination, "I'd tell him don't bring none!"

The Baronness looked back with raised eyebrows. "You know, you're perfectly right! That's exactly what I'm going to do!" She peered across Rydra to her husband. "That's just what I'm going to do, Felix, next time."

A waiter with a tray of glasses said, "Would you care for a drink?"

"She don't want one of them little tiny ones," Calli said, gesturing toward Rydra. "Get her a big one like I got."

Rydra laughed. "I'm afraid I have to be a lady tonight, Calli."

"Nonsense!" cried the Baroness. "I want a big one, too. Now let's see, I put the bar somewhere over there, didn't I?"

"That's where it was when I saw it last," Calli said.

"We're here to have fun this evening, and nobody is going to have fun with one of those." She seized Rydra's arm and called back to her husband, "Felix, be sociable," and led Rydra away. "That's Dr. Keebling. The woman with the bleached hair is Dr. Crane, and that's my brother-in-law, Albert. I'll introduce you on the way back. They're all my husband's colleagues. They work with him on those dreadful things he was showing you in the cellar. I wish he wouldn't keep his private collection in the house. It's gruesome. I'm always afraid one of them will crawl up here in the middle of the night and chop our heads off. I think he's trying to make up for his son. You know we lost our little boy, Nyles---I think it's been eight years. Felix has thrown himself totally into his work since. But that's a terribly glib explanation, isn't it? Captain Wong, do you find us dreadfully provincial?"

"Not at all."

"You should. But then, you don't know any of us well, do you. Oh, the bright young people who come here, with their bright, lively imaginations. They do nothing all day long but think of ways to kill. It's a terribly placid society, really. But, why shouldn't it be? All its aggressions are vented from nine to five. Still, I think it does something to our minds. Imagination should be used for something other than pondering murder, don't you think?"

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