(Note: I was going to ask "Is Empire Star simplex, complex, or multiplex?" but thought better of it.)

After what must be the single most transportative hook in all of Science Fiction, Samuel R. Delaney's short novel Empire Star initially develops like a garden-variety bildungsroman: Comet Jo abandons his simplex lifestyle to deliver a message that he's been tasked with. He just doesn't know what that message is yet.

However, as the story progresses, a number of Delaney's experimental storytelling devices come to the fore and squeeze out the Hero's Quest, which gets compressed into a few paragraphs towards the end.

The most fundamental device is the cyclic nature of the story, where the events at the end of the text cause the events at the beginning to happen (in fact, there are several overlapping loops). Events in the middle of the text are part of the backstory we see at the beginning.

The same characters appear several times: They initially appear with different identities, but these identities are later mapped onto the same few characters.

I can't determine if this is a simple closed time loop or an iterative one, where each cycle develops a little differently. It's unclear if the Lll are ever freed, or just freed sometimes.

One of Delaney's other devices is the idea of "plexity" (simplex, complex, multiplex) as a level of thought development, both for cultures and individuals.

I think the answer must have some multiplex meaning, but if so, I can't see the pattern.

1 Answer 1


Empire Star is Delany’s concise meta-narrative about Delaney’s concept of plexity centered around the effect of gravitation on time being the specific action that shapes the plot.

In this manner, Comet Jo begins with a simplex mind, and his hero’s journey is to evolve through Delany’s stages of plexity, first achieving a complex mind, and then the realization of a multiplex mind as he travels through each of his cycles of reality.

In addition to Comet Jo, the denizens he encounters at any time would fall into one of Delany’s three categories: simplex, complex and multiplex cognition and as symbolized in the extreme by close-mindedness (where we initially find Comet Jo) to a state of open-mindedness (where Comet Jo evolves).

I have to dip into my opinion to answer the question, but hopefully it can assist understanding. I believe the experience is an iterative time-loop, with the characters changing roles to provide Comet Jo his necessary growth. Personally, it’s easier for me to accept the multiplex nature if the cyclical experiences change, which I believe they do. If the experiences do not change, then I would more view the narrative as a closed time loop, and I would question how the multiplex nature is served, although my idea of multiplex may not match Delany’s intent.

The way I see Delany’s plexity is this way: Simplex: a pathway forward; Complex: realization of the repeating cycle — the pathway forward is a loop; Multiplex: realization that the repeating cycles may be infinitely iterative

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    Just a very cool story, it blew my mind away fifty years ago when I first read it
    – Danny Mc G
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 18:52
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    Agreed. Besides the neat hook, it is just a very well done, compact, short story. Like I have questions I would like to understand better, but if Delany had added more to it, it might have just ended up weighing it down. Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 19:27

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