‘The Tale of Old Venn’ by Samuel Delany

Written in November 1976, this is a compelling meditation on the ways in which money changes ideas of gender in the genre of Fantasy. But perhaps it is better described as a parable, or a philosophical disquisition draped in dialogue and faux-anthropology. Delany is the kind of author who sets himself investigative tasks and works them out through story. ‘The Tale of old Venn’ describes the education of the girl Norema. Norema comes up with little theories about gender and gender roles, and Old Venn critiques them. Venn describes her experience of living with the Rulvyn, and their “rults” (worn only by men) and the ways in which theories and ideas about rults alter people’s behaviour, especially after one man develops a theory of rult-envy. Norema grows up, and in one of the most powerful sequences, a red ship with an all-female crew and an allegedly male captain (or is he some kind of pet? the narrative suggests as much) is burned down by heteronormative townsfolk who cannot accept or even conceptualize the ships presence as anything other than an abomination.

Adulthood is that time in which we see all human actions follow forms, whether well or badly, and it is the perseverance of the forms that is, whether for better or worse, their meaning.

In Tales of Nevèrÿona, Wesleyan University Press, 1993

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