Nova Express

Last updated
Nova Express
First edition
Author William S. Burroughs
Cover artist Roy Kuhlman
CountryUnited States
Series The Nova Trilogy
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Grove Press
Publication date
November 9, 1964 [1]
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
LC Class 64-10597

Nova Express is a 1964 novel by American author William S. Burroughs. It was written using the 'fold-in' method, a version of the cut-up method, developed by Burroughs with Brion Gysin, of enfolding snippets of different texts into the novel. It is part of The Nova Trilogy, or "Cut-Up Trilogy,' together with The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded . Burroughs considered the trilogy a "sequel" or "mathematical" continuation of Naked Lunch .

William S. Burroughs American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer

William Seward Burroughs II was an American writer and visual artist. Burroughs was a primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author whose influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films. He was also briefly known by the pen name William Lee. Burroughs created and exhibited thousands of paintings and other visual art works, including his celebrated 'Gunshot Paintings'.

The cut-up technique is an aleatory literary technique in which a written text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The concept can be traced to at least the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writer William S. Burroughs, and has since been used in a wide variety of contexts.

Brion Gysin Canadian artist

Brion Gysin was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire.


Nova Express was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965. It is listed in David Pringle's 1985 book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels .

Nebula Award literature prize for science fiction and fantasy works from the United States

The Nebula Awards annually recognize the best works of science fiction or fantasy published in the United States. The awards are organized and awarded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), a nonprofit association of professional science fiction and fantasy writers. They were first given in 1966 at a ceremony created for the awards, and are given in four categories for different lengths of literary works. A fifth category for film and television episode scripts was given 1974–78 and 2000–09, and a sixth category for game writing was begun in 2018. The rules governing the Nebula Awards have changed several times during the awards' history, most recently in 2010. The SFWA Nebula Conference, at which the awards are announced and presented, is held each spring in the United States. Locations vary from year to year.

Nebula Award for Best Novel literary award

The Nebula Award for Best Novel is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) for science fiction or fantasy novels. A work of fiction is defined by the organization as a novel if it is 40,000 words or longer; awards are also given out for pieces of shorter lengths in the categories of short story, novelette, and novella. To be eligible for Nebula Award consideration a novel must be published in English in the United States. Works published in English elsewhere in the world are also eligible provided they are released on either a website or in an electronic edition. The Nebula Award for Best Novel has been awarded annually since 1966. Novels which were expanded forms of previously published short stories are eligible, as are novellas published by themselves if the author requests them to be considered as a novel. The award has been described as one of "the most important of the American science fiction awards" and "the science-fiction and fantasy equivalent" of the Emmy Awards.

David Pringle is a Scottish science fiction editor.

In 2014, Grove Press published a "Restored Text" edition, edited by Oliver Harris, which included a number of corrections and added an introduction and extensive notes. The introduction argued for the care with which Burroughs used his methods and established the text's complex manuscript histories.

Grove Press is an American publishing imprint that was founded in 1947. Imprints include: Black Cat, Evergreen, Venus Library, and Zebra. Barney Rosset purchased the company in 1951 and turned it into an alternative book press in the United States. He partnered with Richard Seaver to bring French literature to the United States. The Atlantic Monthly Press, under the aegis of its publisher, Morgan Entrekin, merged with Grove Press in 1991. Grove later became an imprint of the publisher Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

Oliver Harris is a British academic and Professor of American Literature at Keele University. He is the author and editor of ten books, including eight editions of works by William S. Burroughs: Letters, 1945–1959 (1993), Junky: the definitive text of Junk (2003), The Yage Letters Redux (2006), Queer (2010), and The Cut-Up Trilogy, The Soft Machine, Nova Express, and The Ticket That Exploded (2014). He is President of the European Beat Studies Network.


Nova Express is a social commentary on human and machine control of life. The Nova MobSammy the Butcher, Green Tony, Iron Claws, The Brown Artist, Jacky Blue Note, Limestone John, Izzy the Push, Hamburger Mary, Paddy The Sting, The Subliminal Kid, Blue Dinosaur, Mr. and Mrs. D are viruses, "defined as the three-dimensional coordinate point of a controller." [2] "which invade the human body and in the process produce language." [3] These Nova Criminals represent society, culture, and government, and have taken control by the use of word and image. Inspector Lee and the rest of the Nova Police are left fighting for the rest of humanity in the power struggle. "The Nova Police can be compared to apomorphine, a regulating instance that need not continue and has no intention of continuing after its work is done." [4] The police are focused on "first-order addictions of junkies, homosexuals, dissidents, and criminals; if these criminals vanish, the police must create more in order to justify their own survival." [5] The Nova Police depend upon the Nova Criminals for existence; if the criminals cease to exist, so do the police. "They act like apomorphine, the nonaddictive cure for morphine addiction that Burroughs used and then promoted for many years." [6]

Apomorphine chemical compound

Apomorphine (brand names Apokyn, Ixense, Spontane, Uprima) is a type of aporphine having activity as a non-selective dopamine agonist which activates both D2-like and, to a much lesser extent, D1-like receptors. It also acts as an antagonist of 5-HT2 and α-adrenergic receptors with high affinity. The compound is historically a morphine decomposition product made by boiling morphine with concentrated acid, hence the -morphine suffix. Contrary to its name, apomorphine does not actually contain morphine or its skeleton, nor does it bind to opioid receptors. The apo- prefix relates to it being a morphine derivative ("[comes] from morphine").

Control is the main theme of the novel, and Burroughs attempts to use language to break down the walls of culture, the biggest control machine. He uses inspector Lee to express his own thoughts about the world. "The purpose of my writing is to expose and arrest Nova Criminals. In Naked Lunch, Soft Machine and Nova Express I show who they are and what they are doing and what they will do if they are not arrested. [...] With your help we can occupy The Reality Studio and retake their universe of Fear Death and Monopoly." [7] As Burroughs battles with the self, what is human, and what is "reality", he finds that language is the only way to maintain dominance over the "powerful instruments of control," which are the most prevalent enemies of human society.


While Naked Lunch was an initial shock to the literary community, Nova Express was considered the end of Burroughs's stylistic experiment and of the Nova Trilogy. The novel received more praise on its own, as it was often compared to the other books in the trilogy and Naked Lunch. Eric Mottram stated that although "Burroughs's repetitive narcotic and homoerotic fantasies become tedious in sections of his third novel ... it is from these obsessions that his most powerful work develops." [8]

Eric Mottram was a teacher, critic, editor and poet who was one of the central figures in the British Poetry Revival.

Reviewing the novel for a genre audience, Judith Merril compared Nova Express to "the surreality of certain dreams, or the intense fascination of a confusion of new impressions in real life." [9]

Related Research Articles

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Naked Lunch is a 1991 drama film co-written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, and Roy Scheider. It is an adaptation of William S. Burroughs' 1959 novel of the same name, and an international co-production of Canada, Britain and Japan.

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The Ticket That Exploded is a 1962 novel by American author William S. Burroughs, published by Olympia Press and later by Grove Press in 1967. Together with The Soft Machine and Nova Express it is part of a trilogy, referred to as The Nova Trilogy, created using the cut-up technique, although for this book Burroughs used a variant called 'the fold-in' method. The novel is an anarchic tale concerning mind control by psychic, electronic, sexual, pharmaceutical, subliminal, and other means. Passages from the other two books and even from this book show up in rearranged form and are often repeated. This work is significant for fans of Burroughs, in that it describes his idea of language as a virus and his philosophy of the cut-up technique. Also, it features the cut-up technique being used by characters within the story. The Ticket That Exploded lays the groundwork for Burroughs' ideas of social revolution through technology, which he would later detail in his book-length essay The Electronic Revolution.

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Ali's Smile: Naked Scientology is a collection of essays and a short story by American Beat writer William S. Burroughs (1914–97). First published in 1971 as the short story "Ali's Smile", the book eventually contained a group of previously published newspaper articles as well, all of which address Scientology. Burroughs had been interested in Scientology throughout the 1960s, believing that its methods might help combat a controlling society. He joined the Church of Scientology later in the decade. However, he became disenchanted with the authoritarian nature of the organization. In 1970 Burroughs had published a "considered statement" on Scientology's methods because he felt they were significant enough to warrant commentary. These pieces were later gathered together into Ali's Smile: Naked Scientology, which religious studies scholar Hugh B. Urban describes as a "nonscholarly popular exposé of Scientology". Burroughs's texts argue that while some of Scientology's therapies are worthwhile, the dogmatic nature of the group and its secrecy are harmful.

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  1. Elliott, George P. (November 8, 1964). "Speaking of Books: Nihilism". The New York Times : BR2. With the novel 'Nova Express,' published tomorrow...
  2. Burroughs, William S. Nova Express. New York: Grove, 1992. p. 68
  3. Murphy, Timothy S. Wising Up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs. New York: University of California, 1998. p. 110
  4. Burroughs. Nova Express. p. 51
  5. Murphy. p. 131
  6. Murphy, ibid
  7. Burroughs. Nova Express. p. 14
  8. Hibbard, Allen, ed. Conversations with William S. Burroughs. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1999. p. 12
  9. "Books", F&SF , May 1965, p.74