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The Nova Trilogy

The Nova Trilogy was the last of Burroughs’s novels to make extensive use of the cut-up technique. Burroughs defended the style to critics who deemed his work inaccessible at best, and his publishers defended the legality of using texts of writers such as Henry Miller, James Joyce, and Vladimir Nabokov in his cut-ups. Between editions, Burroughs expanded and revised some of the installments. Hassan-i-Sabbah’s last words “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” provide philosophical and practical ammunition against the hostile takeover of the mind and the body’s urgent compulsions in a new age where human survival hangs in the balance.

It was this series that greatly influenced the science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk in the 1980s, popularized by authors like William Gibson. Gibson has said of Burroughs: “I saw this crazy outlaw character who seemed to have picked up [science fiction] and gone after society with it, the way some old guy might grab a rusty beer opener and start waving it around.”

The Soft Machine

The Soft Machine (1961, revised 1966) scrutinizes the desperate demands and hungers of the human body that turn us into the soft, unthinking machine: addiction, Burroughs said, is just another form of control. The novel’s graphic hanging scenes depict the ultimate expression of the pain and pleasure boundary.

Allen GinsbergThe Soft Machine
Introduction to The Soft Machine, Olympia, December 1961.
Signed by the author.
Robert A. Wilson collection

Ginsberg’s laudatory introduction to Burroughs’s first novel after Naked Lunch appeared in the Paris literary review Olympia, which published ten episodes from The Soft Machine in its December 1961 issue. The description of Burroughs’s cut-up technique bears striking resemblance to the effects of Gysin’s Dream Machine: “Stroboscopic flicker-lights playing on the Soft Machine of the eye create hallucinations, and even epilepsy. Recurrent flickering of Cut-Up opens up the arc of hallucination and makes a map for the human race to invade.”

The Soft MachineThe Soft MachineThe Soft Machine. Paris: Olympia Press, 1961.
First edition.
The dust jacket of this edition reproduces a calligraphic drawing by Brion Gysin.

The Soft Machine. New York: Grove Press, 1966.
The 1966 version represents Burroughs’s complete rewrite of the 1961 Olympia Press edition in response to criticism that the novel was inaccessible and difficult to read.

The Soft Machine. London : Calder and Boyars, 1968.
First British edition; signed by the author.
This edition represents the third version of The Soft Machine, in which Burroughs expanded and revised the text of the 1966 Grove Press edition.

The Streets of Chance. With drawings by Howard Buchwald. New York, New York: The Red Ozier Press, 1981.
Copy number 141 of 160; signed by the author and the artist.
The Streets of Chance is a complete story that appears only in the 1968 Calder and Boyars edition of The Soft Machine. In 1981, Burroughs supervised one final round of revisions to the 1968 text by James Grauerholz and Steve Miller. The colophon warns that the text is “frankly erotic,” as is demonstrated by this fold-out illustration of phalluses.

The Ticket That Exploded

The Ticket That Exploded (1962, revised and enlarged, 1967) explores linguistic and thought control through infection of lower life forms like centipedes, viruses, and insects. Burroughs employs the tape recorder to deconstruct and destroy language, effectively rubbing out the word.

The Ticket That Exploded

The Ticket That Exploded. New York: Grove Press, 1967.
The text of this edition rearranged, expanded, and made additions to the 1962 Olympia Press edition.

Nova Express

Nova Express (1964) presents a dystopian universe that operates on various modes of perception and political, sexual, medical, and linguistic agents of power, addiction, and control. The novel pits the Nova Police against the Nova Mob through a series of conspiracies in which there are no clear allies and no definitive victories.

Nova Express

Nova Express. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
First American edition.
This copy bears the ownership stamp of Beat writer John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988).

Nova Express. London: Cape, 1966.
First British edition.

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