The novel describes a post-apocalyptic civilization a number of centuries after an atomic “big fire”. The action occurs on two islands or continents, one with a dark age civilization. Leptar, where the highest technology are sailing ships and swords; the other the radioactive island Aptor populated by mutant flora and fauna as well as humanoid ‘scientist’ populations who have kept or rediscovered the old knowledge and technology, two opposing groups forming priesthood like enclaves, keepers of tech and science. The Jewels of Aptor are high tech devices that give absolute power to their wielders. The story involves a group of fantasy like adventurers from Leptar tasked with collecting the jewels and figuring out what to do with them.
The theme of the novel is summed up, “And that’s what we saw, or the experience we had when we looked at the beach from the ship this morning; chaos caught in order, the order defining chaos.” The experience being a religious experience. The novel is a simplistic, brief exploration of Western dualistic thinking: dark vs light; knowledge vs innocence; good vs evil, order vs chaos, baji-naji, etc. The last few pages, explain this. The action tries to illustrate it.
Knowing other Delany work’s, I certainly have a compulsion to read between the lines looking for secrets, deep meanings and meta-fictional ideas. I don’t think they are to be found in this immature, 1st Delany novel.
It’s an easy read. The prose flows and in places is remarkable for an inexperienced writer. Be sure to read a later edition like this which is include much that Ace editors had cut and is revised by Delany.