Trouble On Triton

July 13, 2011

Okay, I think I told you this story before, but Smoot was like “Who’s your favorite author? I want to read him or her!” and I was like “Kathy Acker, who is yours? Me too!” and she was like “Samuel Delany!” and then we each bought books by the other’s favorite author and then the next time we saw each other we were both like “Well, I couldn’t get into it, so I gave up.” It was pretty good.

Anyway, I read some stuff about Delany, including a recent interview he did with the Paris Review (which said, on its cover, “SAMUEL DELANY AND WILLIAM GIBSON INTERVIEW”- or at least, that’s what I thought it said, so I thought it would be the two of them in conversation, but actually it was two separate interviews. I still haven’t read the Gibson one ’cause I kinda don’t care), and I think getting to know him a little better gave me the context I needed to get over the “I already know what I like. Nobody can recommend anything to me because I am so smart that if it was any good I would already have read it” automatic reflex in my nervous system, eg the hipster system. But I did! I got over it and I read this and I’m super stoked that I did and then I went out and bought two more of his books but I haven’t read them yet.

So Samuel Delany: the blurb goes “gay black science fiction writer whose struggle with dyslexia informs/informed the way he makes sense,” I guess. Which is interesting! I’m not gonna lie, if you’re not a woman writer but you want me to read you (unless you write total trash that somehow I can’t resist, ROBOPOCALYPSE YOU FUCK), it’s not going to hurt for you to be a person of color or a homo or to experience some other kind of oppression. And I will tell you this, Trouble on Triton reads to me as queer literature.

“Oh but Imogen you say that about everything you like: ‘check out this queer subtext!'”

Fine, whatever.

Uh

My point is that just, okay. (Here are spoilers.) It took me a long time to understand that the main character, Bron, totally sucks, and I wasn’t supposed to like him. He basically spends all of his time justifying everything he does and writing off everything everybody else does; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as the embodiment of a lot of kinds of privilege, even in the context of heterotopia (y’know, Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Obviously), Delany chooses to make Bron tall white and blond.

So it took me a while to get that, and also the writing is a little bit knotty and it took me a long while to figure out the rhythm of it and, like, get with it. That happened maybe a hundred and fifty or a hundred and seventy-five pages in? Right around the time that the person Bron has a desperate, all-consuming, boundary disrespecting, selfish love obsession with sends him a letter saying “here are all the ways that you are a fucking dick.” THAT was what hooked me. Bron isn’t even an antihero- just a jerk.

See how studiously I’m avoiding pronouns? In order to justify, uh, something, or prove himself right about something- it’s not super clear, or maybe it is, but all I have is the impression that it’s extremely self-serving- Bron goes in to have his sex changed. And his sexuality surgically altered. Though there were points of language that I’d quibble with, the conversation between Bron and the sex-change surgeon was pretty interesting and for the most part pretty right on, in terms of a culture where there’s no stigma to pretty much any kind of social thing; the surgeon is like “sure, y’know, whatever,” and Bron is like “I NEED YOU TO MAKE ME A GIRL IN THE BRAIN,” and the surgeon is like “well, most of the folks whose sex we change here already feel like they kind of are girls. In their brains. You don’t?” Which again points to the way that Bron is more interested in being right than pretty much anything else- I know people like that!- which sets up a pretty interesting context for this instance of transsexuality.

I mean, Bron changes sexes, without actually being trans, right? There are shades of (what reads to me as) a kind of seventies feminist, like, if culture weren’t so busted there would be no trans people, which maybe Delany was putting there and maybe he wasn’t; I mean, maybe it’s true, and my point is just that well who knows, that’s not the most productive thing even to talk about. So anyway Bron becomes a lady and it doesn’t make her any less of a jerk and then the ending- again I am spoiling this for you- is this fantastic scene of Bron aaaaalmost realizing that she is a jerk and her problem isn’t with everyone and everything else, but is instead her own bull-headed conviction that she deserves everything good in the world and the fact that she doesn’t get it is this massive cosmic injustice… but then she can’t quite get it, so she just lets it go, implying that she’s just gonna keep putting coping mechanisms in place, instead of dealing with her shit. Ha! Fuck yes! Fuck a happy ending!

Right after I finished this I got out my copy of the Passion of New Eve, by Angela Carter, which I’d been meaning to read for forever because it’s another story of a man who’s forced to become a woman even though he’s not trans. And it’s from roughly the same time period, too- and Angela Carter, also, was totally a wingnut (not to mention a phenomenal writer), so I’ve read the first sixty pages of her novel. I mean, other stuff than the gender thing happened in Trouble on Triton, but maybe predictably that was what was most interesting for me. I dunno. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far the epicness and the way settings are established, deepened and then left behind is reminding me of Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, which was a pretty awesome book. Fuck Yeah Angela Carter. Mira said it was like a long fictionmania fantasy, except written by a sadistic feminist cis woman instead of a… well, I don’t want to say anything mean.

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3 Responses to “Trouble On Triton”

  1. jess s Says:

    It’s so funny that you wrote this. One of my friends loves LOVES *loves* really loves Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand & demanded that I read it. I tried. Oh goodness, I must have started and given up that book three times.

    Now, I feel like I have to try again. Thanks a lot.

  2. Andreia Blue Says:

    Whoa! Delany was my favorite writer in Middle school! He was writing science fiction adventure paperbacks then. He wrote the earliest, The Jewels of Aptor, when he was nineteen! The next three were retconned into a trilogy , The Fall of the Towers. The best are Babel-17, when he was about 24, and The Einstein Intersection (which may now exist under the author’s title, A Fabulous, Formless Darkness), written when he was bumming around the world, a gypsy with a guitar, at the peak of the ’60s. They sparkle and leap with youthful inspiration, and even lesser works from the period, like Empire Star and Ballad of Beta 12 glitter in the same spirit And then there’s Dhalgren, a subject in itself. A landmark of alternate culture.I once knew someone who reread it every year. I expect you’ll love it, though you may take exception to it in an interesting way that makes people think differently about it, who knows? There was also a sf-literary-multicultural paperback quarterly around 1970 called Quark, co-edited by Marilyn Hacker, that’s hit and miss but full of fascinating stuff. And the ’60s short story collection Driftglass. Triton (as it was called) was received with respect but little enthusiasm as an interesting effort but not great Delany. If you got through that okay, there’s no stopping you from the classics

    I’ve met “Chip” Delany casually at several science fiction conventions, and he’s really the nicest author I’ve ever met.See him if you ever get a chance.

    The later, more Texty (you know what I mean) “Critial Fictions” and “Silent Interviews” are of great interest, too. I particularly liked Wagner/Artaud.

    I’ve had a copy of Stars in my Pocket since in came out in paper, but I’ve been giving it the side eye. I wait for encouraging reports.


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