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Question on Burroughs' Nova trilogy
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mgkurilla
Posted 2021-06-19 9:37 AM (#23203)
Subject: Question on Burroughs' Nova trilogy



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I'm about to tackle William Burroughs' Nova trilogy and noticed a discrepancy between the listed order and the publication dates. Basically, some non-WWE sites flip 2 and 3. In addition, I noticed that the WWE #3, The Ticket that Exploded was published 3 years prior to Nova Express ('65 vs '62).

Is this merely a situation of publication order and story chronological order differing and does it make a difference in terms of reading the trilogy?
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Administrator
Posted 2021-06-19 7:47 PM (#23204 - in reply to #23203)
Subject: RE: Question on Burroughs' Nova trilogy



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mgkurilla - 2021-06-19 9:37 AM I'm about to tackle William Burroughs' Nova trilogy and noticed a discrepancy between the listed order and the publication dates. Basically, some non-WWE sites flip 2 and 3. In addition, I noticed that the WWE #3, The Ticket that Exploded was published 3 years prior to Nova Express ('65 vs '62). Is this merely a situation of publication order and story chronological order differing and does it make a difference in terms of reading the trilogy?

So I looked into this and it is a bit confusing. Publication order is Soft, Ticket, Nova but as you say various places have Ticket and Nova swapped. I can't find any legit reason that they should be swapped -- like author preference or internal chronology -- so I have changed ours to publication order as is our usual MO. There apparently were some re-writes/re-releases of the books along the way that played a part in the confusion.

I have not read them so I have no personal opinion to express about reading order for these books in particular but I would be interested in your opinion once you've read them through. Come back and tell us if you think we should swap 'em back or keep them in pub order.

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mgkurilla
Posted 2021-06-27 7:09 PM (#23216 - in reply to #23203)
Subject: Re: Question on Burroughs' Nova trilogy



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Well that was quite disappointing (perhaps under the influence of LSD, impressions would be different). Here's all the confusion in publication dates: For the Soft Machine, Burroughs released three different versions by three different publishers. Each versions had substantial differences (1st version - 182 pages; 2nd version - removed 82 pages, added 82 new pages and rearranged the remaining 100 pages). There's also another unpublished version between 1 & 2 that was intended for the the 1st publisher, but never used. The Ticket that Exploded has two distinct published versions with similar extensive changes. Nova Express has only one version and is the most linear of the bunch. I read the 'restored text' published version which came out about 10 years ago and is an attempt to reconcile all the variations. To further complicate matters, Nova Express was released in the US (which might explain the fascination for a Nebula nomination) before the other two, while in Europe, Soft Machine and The Ticket that Exploded had been out for several year already.

Honestly, I was not impressed. Burroughs employed his 'cut-up' technique which is to take text and cut it up into fragments and then piece it back together and then edit that. There's long sections that border on literary elegance and near poetry in phraseology, but make little sense (sorta like 'word salad' that schizophrenics will display). This is extensive in The Soft Machine. In The Ticket that Exploded, he employs his 'fold-in' technique which means taking two pages of text each folded in half and using the left hand side of one and the right hand side of the other and then editing that mess. Part of the original fascination may have been simply a Timothy Leary halo effect with the desire to believe Burroughs was a literary genius embarking on a wholly new direction for literature that few could appreciate. But appreciating it made you part of the 'in-crowd.'

In The Soft Machine, if you remove the phrase 'carbolic soap and rectal mucus' the total length is likely to go down by at least 10%. While there may be a plot buried in there somewhere it's hard to discern. There's also an excessive focus on sodomy throughout to the point of mind numbing. From a purely sci-fi perspective, it's on par with pre-50's pulp.

The set of three can be regarded as trilogy mostly because Burroughs used his experimental approach (cut-up and fold-in) in all three and the same characters appear throughout. Basically, the order doesn't really matter.
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