The Ballad of Beta 2 and Empire Star — Samuel R. Delany (1965 & 1966)

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Publisher: Ace Books

First Ace Edition, 1975 (stories published previously in earlier editions, but this is the first published appearance of both in the same novel)

Cover Art: Davis Meltzer

Plot Synopsis (of cover): Brad and Tina Meltzer, eight and seven years old respectively, had a wonderful day. Their wonderful mommy had taken them to play miniature golf, followed it up with some ice cream, and even made them pancakes for dinner in a clear and whimsical violation of standing culinary precedent. It is the nature of all good things, however, to come to an end, and it was now time for Brad and Tina to go to bed. However, as is the hallmark of children replete with inappropriate late-night pancake syrup, the siblings were restlessly resisting the inevitable. Their mother, not missing a step, resorted to the traditional anodyne reserved for these situations. “Okay kids,” she said without an ounce of weariness touching her voice. “What kind of story would you like tonight?” Tina spoke up first, begging, “Oh! I want a story about a handsome prince!” Her brother, not to be outdone, appended, “A prince from Mars! And he’s only got a floating head!” Tina continued, “And he’s got the prettiest collection of gems in the whole world!” Brad chimed, “Yeah, but Mars is a desolate wasteland, so it’s not that great. It’s only the one. And he accidentally glued it to his giant floating face.” Tina, undeterred, “And he has a beautiful palace with spires and towers and domes!” Then Brad again, “Yeah! And it’s floating in the vacuum of space, and keeps shooting out random globes!” Tina concluded, “And he has a beautiful tiger, like in Aladdin!” Brad concluded, “Sure! A demon tiger with horns and bat wings that was born with a developmental disorder!” Brad’s mother stared at him. “Brad, I swear to fucking God, you get this shit from your father.”

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: I’d been meaning to do this one for a while, mostly because it’s downright impossible to look at the cat face on the front and not giggle like a nitwit. It’s also kinda cool, because it falls into the category of Ace Double novels, but isn’t in the usual back-to-back format (also, it contains my favorite thing ever—the mid-novel cigarette advert). Luckily, in this case, both stories are equally deserving of praise, and there’s no need to split a rating. Delany explores similar themes across the two, challenging cultural perception and extolling the value of a multitude of viewpoints to one’s perspective. Fuckin’ yawnsville, right? Well, the number of space battles is less than the number of songs, so I suppose that depends on where Yawnsville is located in your state of mind. However, those seeking a couple of well-crafted tales with some authentic beauty in their execution… well, jeez, why don’t you put on your tutu and do a little dance for us, sissy?

Rating: 9.5 Third Person Omniscient Secondary Characters

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • When did Ace Publishing become majority shareholders of Random Semiopaque Ovals, L.L.C.?
  • Does this cover come from the “I Paint What I See During My Post-Pizza-And-Beer Nap” school of design?
  • Did somebody just open the alien equivalent of a can of Fancy Feast?

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