Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones

Last updated
Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones
by Samuel R. Delany
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published in New Worlds
Publication typeMagazine
PublisherStonehart Publications
Publication dateDecember 1968

"Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" is a science fiction short story by American writer Samuel R. Delany, published in the December 1968 issue of New Worlds . [1] It won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story 1970, and the Nebula Award for Best Novelette in 1969.


Plot summary

Relationships change and reverse as a thief and impersonator, whose aliases all have the initials "HCE", rises up through the ranks to established semi-legit crime boss. The story is told in the first person.

HCE is a professional criminal, looking to improve his lot in life. He is an orphan, saddled with the name Harold Clancy Everet. As a youth he was sent to work on a highly automated dairy farm in the state of Vermont, although the "cows" were basically inert masses of tissue stacked in a barn and hooked up to tubes. He stole the farmer's helicopter, got drunk, and landed on the roof of the old Pan Am building. Sent to jail, he dedicated himself to avoiding such mistakes in future, and never went by the name Harold Clancy Everet again.

He becomes a chameleon, adopting alias after alias. As the story opens, he arrives in New York City on a space flight, carrying a number of small but extremely valuable objects, which he hopes to sell. It is stolen property, although its exact nature is not revealed. Shedding his travel identity, he enters a bar to contact a man who will buy his goods, only to be accosted by a woman who draws his attention to the stone she is wearing in a bracelet. The stone is jasper. Jasper also happens to be the current Word. In the underworld the Word is a kind of global password. Used properly, two criminals who may never have met can use it to communicate many shades of meaning, from a greeting to a warning. The Word changes every thirty days, and is always the name of a semi-precious stone. HCE feigns ignorance of the stone's importance.

The woman identifies herself as Special Services Agent Maud Hinkle, from a police bureau which tracks criminals who are changing their status quickly. These are the ones who cause the most problems in society, she claims. She also claims to use "holographic information storage" which can interrelate all the information on a criminal, and which allowed her to predict that HCE would enter the bar so she could intercept him. She then vanishes into the crowd. As HCE pursues her a full-scale brawl breaks out and he barely escapes injury. However, the man he had hoped to sell the stolen goods to is found dead in the street outside. He is left puzzling over Maud's prediction that there are "helicopters and hawks" in his future. She also mentioned that there were "helicopters and cows" in his past, which scares HCE because he did not believe there was any evidence connecting him to the dairy farm, the helicopter having been unregistered.

He hooks up with Hawk, a young poet living on the edge. Hawk is also a Singer, a kind of public poet with the ability to improvise a song to celebrate or memorialize a major event. Singers are highly prized in society. They are much sought after as guests at fashionable parties. Hawk offers to get HCE into one such party after seeing his "property", since some underworld characters are bound to be there.

Reaching the party in a swanky penthouse, HCE meets Arty the Hawk, an established crime boss who attracts no interest from Special Services. HCE tells him about meeting Maud, and Arty recognizes her but refuses to help. He tells HCE that she can hurt him, but he can learn to think like her and possibly advance his own career despite her efforts. Just after Arty buys the stolen goods from him, there is a commotion as the police raid the penthouse using helicopters. HCE stages an elaborate diversion involving two of his disguises (Henrietta, Countess of Effingham, and the Honorable Clement Effingham) to cover Arty's escape, and then flees with him and Hawk the Singer in the elevator. They arrive at ground level where the police have the exits sealed. Hawk is persuaded to Sing in order to create another diversion. He throws a large oil-burning lamp into a large ornamental pool, setting it ablaze, and then improvises a tale of the night's happenings. This draws a large crowd through which the other two can carefully leave the building.

Using his new money as a stake, HCE builds his career. The Word changes month to month, and occasionally he uses it, as in one case where he arranges the murder of a man. He eventually sets up the first ever ice cream parlor on a moon of Neptune, as an investment and a cover for his activities. He encounters Maud while taking a tourist trip. She is not there to arrest him, she explains, and in any case she is out of her jurisdiction. She is simply going about her life, and thanks to HCE's upward mobility, both move in social circles that are getting smaller. She explains that she mixes with the criminal fraternity to do her job, just as a narcotics cop mixes with drug users. It is inevitable that she and HCE will meet from time to time. Once he stops rising and settles down, she will have no professional interest in him. They might even become friends.

During their conversation, she tells him how Hawk the Singer had dived back into the blazing pool once his song was over, being near death when he was fished out. Hawk is severely emotionally disturbed, prone to self-injury, and not above asking others to inflict injury on him to satisfy his needs. HCE was one of those people, and he has deeply suppressed guilt about Hawk's situation.

Later HCE finds Arty the Hawk on his doorstep. Arty explains that he sought him out because their relationship was about to undergo a change. HCE is puzzled, but eventually realizes that Arty and he are about to become rivals. Arty will try to buy him out, then to kill him, because that is the way the world works. If he survives and prospers, he and Arty will eventually become friends because there will be more profit in cooperating than in competing. He tells Arty this, and Arty wholeheartedly agrees. He responds that HCE is starting to think holographically, just like Maud and Special Services. He departs, leaving HCE to contemplate his future.

List of aliases

All the aliases used by the narrator have the initials H.C.E., a reference to Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.

Semi-precious stones

The story appears to take place over a little more than a year, as shown by the list of stones which are used as the Word: opal, jasper, agate, malachite, tourmaline, beryl, porphyry, sapphire, cinnabar, turquoise, tiger's eye, garnet, topaz, taafite, and pyrite. The narrator celebrates his twenty-sixth birthday during "beryl", and buys the ice cream bar during "sapphire". He causes a murder to occur using "topaz". The final events take place just as pyrite replaces taafite. Though taafite is technically a semi-precious stone, it is actually so rare, it is more valuable than diamonds. The common name for Pyrite (or Iron Pyrite) is "Fools Gold;" it is probable that both these facts are relevant to the changes that are occurring to the narrator, HCE, over the year.

Related Research Articles

Carnelian Yellow-red chalcedony variety

Carnelian is a brownish-red mineral commonly used as a semi-precious gemstone. Similar to carnelian is sard, which is generally harder and darker. Both carnelian and sard are varieties of the silica mineral chalcedony colored by impurities of iron oxide. The color can vary greatly, ranging from pale orange to an intense almost-black coloration. Significant localities include Yanacodo, Peru; Ratnapura, Sri Lanka; and Thailand. It has been found in Indonesia, Brazil, India, Russia (Siberia), and Germany.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Penguin (character)</span> Supervillain appearing in DC Comics publications and related media

The Penguin is a supervillain appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics, commonly as an adversary of the superhero Batman. The character made his first appearance in Detective Comics #58 and was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. The Penguin is one of Batman's most enduring enemies and belongs to the collective of adversaries that make up Batman's rogues gallery.

<i>Alias</i> (comics)

Alias is a comic book series created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos. It was published by Marvel Comics under Marvel's MAX imprint for a total of 28 issues from 2001 to 2004.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cruella de Vil</span> Fictional character in One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Cruella de Vil is a fictional character in British author Dodie Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians. A pampered and glamorous London heiress and fashion designer, she appears in Walt Disney Productions' 17th animated feature film, 101 Dalmatians (1961), voiced by Betty Lou Gerson; in Disney's 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure (2002), voiced by Susanne Blakeslee; in Disney's live-action 101 Dalmatians (1996) and 102 Dalmatians (2000), portrayed by Glenn Close; as well as Cruella (2021), portrayed by Emma Stone; and in many other Disney sequels and spin-offs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fence (criminal)</span> Person who knowingly buys stolen goods in order to later resell them for profit

A fence, also known as a receiver, mover, or moving man, is an individual who knowingly buys stolen goods in order to later resell them for profit. The fence acts as a middleman between thieves and the eventual buyers of stolen goods who may not be aware that the goods are stolen.

<i>The Blue Castle</i>

The Blue Castle is a 1926 novel by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, best known for her novel Anne of Green Gables (1908).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Purple Man</span> Supervillain character from Marvel comics

The Purple Man is a supervillain appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by writer Stan Lee and artist Joe Orlando, he first appeared in Daredevil #4. His body produces pheromones which allow him to verbally control the actions of others, and occasionally break the fourth wall for sinister effect. His stories typically involve him brainwashing other characters. Initially a recurring enemy of Daredevil, he later emerged as the archenemy of Jessica Jones.

Shadow Thief is the name of three fictional supervillains published by DC Comics. The first is a recurring foe of Hawkman named Carl Sands.

<i>Hurricane Gold</i>

Hurricane Gold is the fourth novel in the Young Bond series depicting Ian Fleming's superspy James Bond as a teenager in the 1930s. The novel is set in Mexico and the Caribbean. It was first published in the UK in September 2007.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kelly Crabtree</span> British Actor

Kelly Crabtree is a fictional character from the British ITV soap opera Coronation Street. Portrayed by Tupele Dorgu, the character first appeared on-screen during the episode airing on 6 September 2004. On 6 November 2009, it was announced that Dorgu had decided not to renew her contract which meant that her character would depart the show in March 2010. She made her last appearance on 19 March 2010.

Selene (<i>Underworld</i>) Fictional character

Selene is a character and the main protagonist of the Underworld film franchise, in which she is portrayed by Kate Beckinsale. The character is introduced in the first film, Underworld, as an elite vampire assassin known as a "Death Dealer" who relentlessly hunts down the Lycans for allegedly murdering her family. She becomes attracted to a human named Michael Corvin and, upon discovering that her sire and adoptive father Viktor was actually responsible for the death of her family, defects from the vampire clan.

Gay Ghost Comics character

The Gay Ghost is a fictional superhero in the DC Comics universe whose first appearance was in Sensation Comics #1, published by one DC's predecessor companies, All-American Publications. He was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Howard Purcell.

Jimmie Dale

Jimmie Dale is a fictional character created by Frank L. Packard in 1914. Stories featuring the character were published in magazines including People's Magazine, collected in books, and adapted to film.

<i>Krodhi</i> 1981 Indian film

Krodhi is a 1981 Indian Hindi-language action thriller film was directed by Subhash Ghai and it stars huge cast such as, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini, Premnath, Pran in pivotal roles. The film is inspired by the movie Guns for San Sebastian. Kalyanji-Anandji's background score extensively used in Mahabharata of BR Chopra.

<i>Iqraar by Chance</i> 2006 Indian film

Iqraar By Chance is a 2006 Bollywood film directed by K. Ravi Shankar, starring Shilpa Anand and Amarjeet Shukla in lead roles.

<i>Trouble in Paradise</i> (Parker novel)

Trouble in Paradise is a crime novel by Robert B. Parker, the second in his Jesse Stone series.

Esmeraldas Barn

Esmeralda's Barn was a nightclub in Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London, that was owned by the Kray twins from 1960 until its closure in 1963. The Krays used the club as a way of expanding their criminal activities into London's West End.

"Something Stupid" is the seventh episode of the fourth season of the AMC television series Better Call Saul, a spin-off series of Breaking Bad. The episode aired on September 17, 2018, on AMC in the United States. Outside of the United States, the episode premiered on the streaming service Netflix in several countries.

Philip Gathers was lynched on June 21, 1920, in Effingham County, Georgia. He was alleged to have raped and murdered a 17-year old white girl named Anza Jaudon. After a week-long search, he was captured by law enforcement and given up to members of the search party. He was then shot, burned, and hanged by a mob of thousands. No one was ever convicted for the lynching.


  1. Nicholls, Peter (December 30, 2017). "Delany, Samuel R". sf-encyclopedia.com. Gollancz . Retrieved March 4, 2018.