Friday, May 25, 2012

Strangerside Scholar: Tales of the Gorgeous Liberator

The Slave Trade: an ugly topic for any day, let alone the first day of The Convening. But after all, this is a holiday where critical thinking is appreciated - even when intense family arguments break out. So, let's talk about the slave trade in Everway. 

Most people have heard the story of how the gods possessed their priests and ended slavery in Everway's Court of Fools. They descended on the Slave Market (now known as the Court of Fools), broke the slaves' chains, and changed the city forever. Thanks to the beloved Sage Sits-beneath-a-tree, we all know this story with its promise that "A slave who breathes the air here is free." Every Everwayan today knows that story - from the newest escaped slave fleeing the realm of The Market and arriving in Strangerside ("Strangerside, no need to Hide") to the oldest Mother, now being cared for by her children.

But there is another story to tell. It is the story of the barbarian known as The Gorgeous Liberator. He came from the realm of Never Yonder, taken as a youth to be a slave in the Diggers' mines. He escaped, and had many adventures. And he changed history.
In ancient times - perhaps long before the Priests' Rising - The Gorgeous Liberator led the greatest slave revolt in the history of Everway. The Liberator deposed King Grasping Emerald. The Convening commemorates that day when the Crows took flight from the City Walls, and the slaves' army took over the King's Palace, the Council House, and the Emerald Family House. The Liberator abolished slavery and made many reforms. He even chose a Mother to lead the Council, which the high families have never forgotten.

It is said that if you go into the Palace on the first day of The Convening, you can still hear the The Liberator's bare feet  slapping their way down the Palace's numerous floors and galleries. Or hear the click as he re-positions his iron slave collar - in truth, he was overly fond of it. Or hear rummaging sounds as he searches The Palace for edible food - for when the Emerald's household slaves ran away, they took everything, and went off in search of their own families.

Yes, The Convening commemorates the inaugural Council meeting of The Brief and Pitiless Reign of the Forgotten Regent, as The Liberator's reign is described in Molt Snakering's unremarkable thousand-page history of the Council. The Liberator was indeed pitiless: to the Stonebreakers' taskmasters, to the un-calloused Diggers, and to the envious Emeralds. Thanks to this holiday, the poor remember an army that truly fought for them. The Convening gives the poor hope, and the high-born pause.

Yes, slavery by custom is forbidden in Everway, but always and ever it returns in new forms. Even the scholar Brief Message Scratch himself noted its continued existence in Everway in the First Little Book of  his triptych. Of the Stonebreakers, he wrote: "In the same family, there are members who work side by side with slaves and convicts in the quarries" (p. 12, emphasis added).

One also notes the existence of the Ape Trade. The Council continues to turn its eyes away from that trade. The Mankines, they argue,are animals.

More on the Ape Trade and The Mankines next week.

Happy WisCon, Everyone! 

This post is for Samuel R. Delaney, the creator of Gorgik the Liberator and 
Tales of Neveryon.


  1. If you know who painted the cover of the first edition of Tales of Neveryon, please let me know. I remember being embarrassed to purchase the book when it first came out because of its delightfully lurid cover. Kind of like one of the painters in the French academy was hired to do pulp covers, no?

  2. One can almost hear the words of Spartacus, in the timeless form of Kirk Douglas, reverberating through this. Every Revolution carries the seeds of it's destruction right there at the core. This revolt seems to have been more successful than most, and more effective in instituting reforms that have stuck ever since.

    Haven't read the Tales of Neveryon. Might have to add that to the reading list...

  3. I was exposed to Delaney at an impressionable age. I think Babel-17 may have been the third SF book I read as a kid in the late 60s, right after "Spock Must Die!" and "Orphans of the Stars".

    One of the novels in the Neveryon series was the first AIDS novel published by a major U.S. publisher. Pretty interesting that it came out of this field, rather than mainstream gay lit.

    His recent novel "Phallos" returns him to antiquity, playing academic games with ancient texts in ways that are reminiscent of Mary Gentle's "Ash" series.

    Finally,this year Delaney has returned to the SF genre with the massive,luridly-titled, SF-raunch novel "Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders."


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