STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, then DUNE and now, the major novel of love and terror at the end of time: DHALGREN, by Samuel Delany, four-time Nebula award winner (ilx book club #Y8554)

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Almost exactly halfway through now, and my main question is - what's a Dhalgren?

Ward Fowler, Tuesday, 9 April 2019 11:29 (one year ago) link

For one thing, the children run by, calling Grendal Grendal Grendal Grendal

dow, Tuesday, 9 April 2019 15:23 (one year ago) link

Thanks dow, don't think I've got to that bit yet - but one thing I'm noticing more and more is how Delany's storytelling mirrors the idea of the shifting city, as experienced by someone with memory loss and a history of mental illness; the book is deliberately repetitive, contradictory, opaque, circular, without event, filled with acres and acres of slangy, discursive, abbreviated, random chatter, so the overall effect is of a 'story' where narrative detail/coherence, the order (never mind meaning) of events constantly slip through yr reading mind - if you can even be sure that 'story' is happening at all. Parts of it are very bad just at the level of the sentence - yes, most ruinously in the many sexual encounters in the book - but the overall effect is - something. It really isn't like any other novel I've read, for good and bad, and as you go on there is this very powerful, cumulative feeling that things are happening deep in the book's subtextual undergrowth - and as of page 430 we haven't even gone underground in Bellona yet. I like what Henry James said about reading Proust - “inconceivable boredom associated with the most extreme ecstasy which it is possible to imagine”.

Ward Fowler, Tuesday, 9 April 2019 18:11 (one year ago) link

I'm going to have to start marking up my copy with sticky tabs or something -- I looked for a crucial scene that addresses Ward's question last night for 20 minutes but the damn thing is so long I couldn't find it. Kid's haywireness with time is forced onto the reader -- the last time I read the book in full, I was especially keen on getting to a particular scene, which I remembered being about halfway through. Turns out it was in the last 60 pages.

ILX Halftime Shows Ranked — Which Was the Best? (WmC), Tuesday, 9 April 2019 21:46 (one year ago) link

Hah this morning I'd reached page 549 and was feeling p good abt myself for doing so, when I moved from left to right page and found that approx the next 50 pages were simply missing from my copy of this UK paperback edition:

At first, without noticing the page numbers, I genuinely thought Delany had just abruptly time-shifted between one segment and another, but no, this was a printing error, an extreme example of the editorial carelessness which seems to attend a lot of these mammoth modernist novels - it's perhaps Dhalgren's strongest link to Ulysses.

For me, reading these huge things is all about momentum - no stopping! - so this evening I bought a replacement copy of the most recent UK edition. It's bigger, and better presented on the page, but I really hate the cover on this one:,204,203,200_.jpg

Ward Fowler, Monday, 15 April 2019 20:29 (one year ago) link

The Right Rev. T-Bone Burnett! Looking resentful, as usual. How the Hell did the artist make this connection?

dow, Monday, 15 April 2019 22:22 (one year ago) link

uggghhhh, every single one of those Gollancz SF Masterworks covers is a crime against their author.

The Carjackers Quickly Dumped ILX Once They Saw What Was Inside (WmC), Monday, 15 April 2019 23:10 (one year ago) link

I'm still surprised at how readable this book is; aside from the odd bad sentence ('bare breasts joggling jingling links' is currently my favourite), and the sex scenes (pretty matter-of-fact but way too long), the prose is very easygoing, and even though it's not exactly narratively compelling there's something pulling me along. And every now and then there'll be something startlingly quotidian and human, even amusing, like the bit i've just read where Lanya visits The Kid's new nest and lightheartedly tells him what a shithole it is, then Bunny turns up and does an amazing camp turn.

It also reminds me of Ishiguro's The Unconsoled. Stylistically they're completely different, but both are about someone with a memory problem entering a strange city with dreamlike shifts in space and time, on some kind of quest or mission that's never defined, where they seem to get pulled along by events out of their control.

what if bod was one of us (ledge), Tuesday, 16 April 2019 07:52 (one year ago) link

The Right Rev. T-Bone Burnett! Looking resentful, as usual. How the Hell did the artist make this connection?


Theory of Every Zing (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 16 April 2019 09:17 (one year ago) link

The Gollancz Masterworks covers for Stapledon's Star Maker are really nice. One exception I've found so far.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 19 April 2019 18:26 (one year ago) link


Dude certainly thinks long and hard about (amongst other things) interpersonal relationships and group dynamics, it almost becomes an essay at certain points.

Anyone else get a strong autobiographical vibe? Saw a comment online that the meeting with Newboy was very like an anecdote of his about a time he crashed a book launch party.

I bookmarked some pages towards the end but I might have forgotten why. I was reading an e-book, not sure if the formatting was up to scratch, the only differences in the different sections at the end were in padding and occasional italics. I'll look for a hard copy if I can find one with a decent cover, I think it's a book worth having even if I never read it again.

what if bod was one of us (ledge), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 09:17 (one year ago) link

it's a puzzle without a solution in the same way as a box full of random jigsaw pieces.

what if bod was one of us (ledge), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 10:24 (one year ago) link

I’m 18% done per my Kindle. As with other Delany I’ve read, yes it’s challenging but he is so great with the evocation of moment to moment consciousness that I’m stuck to the page. This is not hugely more difficult than Triton et al - though maybe I haven’t gotten to the really gnarly bits yet lol.

valet doberman (Jon not Jon), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 11:58 (one year ago) link

it can take awhile to get to the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it. iirc you have to map the folds that fall, wetly out, with your tongue

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 15:20 (one year ago) link


the late great, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 15:33 (one year ago) link

according to delany:

“I wrote out hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of sentences at the top of notebook pages,” he remembers. “Then I would work my way down the page, revising the sentence, again and again. When I got to the bottom I’d copy the sentence out to see if I wanted it. Then I’d put them back together again. It was a very long, slow process.”

and after all that we get a grisly nut in a folded vortex :/

what if bod was one of us (ledge), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 15:38 (one year ago) link

I get a strong autobiographical vibe from just about everything of his. I loved Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand enormously and couldn't wait for the sequel. Eventually came to learn that much of the autobiographical part of that book was his relationship with Frank Romeo, which broke up I think in the mid 80s. Delany has written enough about Romeo's problems that I'm not surprised and don't blame him for never wanting to go back to Marq and Rat.

The Mod Who Banned Liberty Valance (WmC), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 16:15 (one year ago) link

"stars in my pocket ..." is really his masterpiece, isn't it

i read that he didn't want to go back to it because he'd based many characters on real life acquaintances who later died during the AIDS epidemic

the late great, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 16:39 (one year ago) link

is it OOP?

... and the crowd said DESELECT THEM (||||||||), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 16:52 (one year ago) link

"My life here more and more resembles a book whose opening chapters, whose title even, suggest mysteries to be resolved only at closing. But as one reads along, one becomes more and more suspicious that the author has lost the thread of his argument, that the questions will never be resolved, or more upsetting, that the position of the characters will have so changed by the book's end that the answers to the initial questions will have become trivial." (page 755 of the Burnett edition)

- and finished on this bus this morning.

Making the last section a series of texts that have been recovered long after the fact casts a retrospectively melancholy air over the whole book - a sense of times passed, people long gone, a way of being that can no longer be accessed, or even imagined outside science fiction. I often experience a sense of loss when finishing a very long novel, and this was no exception. The vividness of feeling that Delany has for people and places is clearly autobiographical, which gives the book a lot of its cumulative power, and makes it an affecting memorial for an era that no longer exists, if it ever did.

Ward Fowler, Wednesday, 24 April 2019 09:05 (one year ago) link

Something of an ambivalent memorial though, for the culture if not the people. If Bellona is meant to represent the revolution triumphant, it's certainly no utopia. The squares (the Richards) are terrified; the elites (Calkins et al) are comfortable but isolated and also scared; It's not entirely clear what happens to the commune but it's not good; even the scorpions, free to do what they want to do, apparently want to mostly sit around being bored and having petty fights - and ultimately Bellona chews them up and spits them out.

what if bod was one of us (ledge), Thursday, 25 April 2019 08:40 (one year ago) link

Yes, interesting to compare it to Le Guin's The Dispossessed, published round about the same time and also concerned with an imperfect 'free' society, and what happens after revolution.

Ward Fowler, Thursday, 25 April 2019 09:17 (one year ago) link

I do need to read that again, given that Le Guin is in my all time top 5 authors & it's one of her most famous, but it had little impact on me. I suspect it's a grower.

I found an expansion of the book's Wiki page that provided a partial key. I won't link to it unless asked because SPOILERS.

link plz!

what if bod was one of us (ledge), Thursday, 25 April 2019 09:41 (one year ago) link

(ppl looking for other things by delany to read shd also consider his non-fiction!)

mark s, Thursday, 25 April 2019 09:45 (one year ago) link

( yeah, kind of prefer that tbh)

Theory of Every Zing (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 25 April 2019 09:57 (one year ago) link

Would def like to read that Wiki link that WmC mentions - and also Delany's own critical essay on Dhalgren, written under the pseudonym 'K. Leslie Steiner'.

Ward Fowler, Thursday, 25 April 2019 10:01 (one year ago) link

Some of yall's recent responses go much deeper than my dimly recalled take, from the early 80s---one of the specifics in residue is when the clouds part and the citizens, inhabitants, are like oh wow, two moons---my thoughts were: city has moved to Mars/was always on Mars, but they've forgotten that they are descendants of Earth, have no sense of historical time or place, just a foggy notion, habitual expectation, of things as they are, didja see that, so here's this.

dow, Thursday, 25 April 2019 18:56 (one year ago) link

But the author and the Kid are walking around and around the declivities of the surface, tour guides and not--hey Virgil, Beatrice, sorry bout that let it all hang in.

dow, Thursday, 25 April 2019 18:59 (one year ago) link

Famous long ago

dow, Thursday, 25 April 2019 19:03 (one year ago) link

Well I guess the oh wow two moons would be a jolted stump sense of historical etc but it's in that fog of expectations, one of them little breadcrumb kicks for characters and readers (and author, who said he wrote the book intermittently, over a long period of time: was no surprise to read this comment.)

dow, Thursday, 25 April 2019 19:22 (one year ago) link

Yeah, it has this note at the end of the text:

San Francisco, Abaqil, Toronto, Clarion, Milford, New Orleans, Seattle, Vancouver, Middletown, East Lansing, New York, London
January 1969/September 1973

Of course, that could finally be one of The Kid's poems, or

Ward Fowler, Thursday, 25 April 2019 19:58 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

He mapped the folds that fell, wetly out, with his tongue; and the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it.

He saw a man lying in his tracks, and a little girl standing in the snow. And he heard a man cry.

He saw one body after another, so many that his imagination did not rest upon his own sight; and he did not hesitate but to place everything on the spot where they lay. A man was still alive, with a terrible wound above the right shoulder of his breast, and a gaping wound on the left of his back; a young girl was lying face downwards to the ground, her body half buried; with her lifeless breast she wore a long black nightgown, torn from a girl's dress, which she was so proud of that she was about to cover her face with it, but which she was already covering.

At last he saw her faint and go on her hands and knees, while a soldier, leaning toward her, stood behind her, his mouth open, his fingers still holding one finger from her left wrist. Then another, with one arm, raised a rifle. With such a sound the girl's face split open. "Oh, it was the one with the gun," said her mother, "the one with the gun that shot her! And

He mapped the folds that fell, wetly out, with his tongue; and the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it. 'What do you know of it?' the woman asked, frowning suddenly.

'I've been looking at it for years, actually,' he said. 'I've got a map that they use. I've found the whole back ground on it.' He opened the map again in his hand, showing what appeared to be a valley, with a flat plain beside it.

'Oh, they put it in before they got it into place,' the woman said, looking at the hand in front of her, 'a few years ago. They knew it had to be made, I bet.'

As the woman shook her head slightly, Harry saw her eyes narrow a little.

'I bet it was,' he said.

'They had to have, I think they got rid of the others. But don't think they put it together on purpose, because there are some things where the surface of the earth isn't in line. The lines don't exactly line up. I just can't figure out how they got it done. I've found it's got traces. It's a very old thing - ' He paused. 'All of it - ' He shook

He mapped the folds that fell, wetly out, with his tongue; and the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it. For it was all to him, and he knew, he knew what he could do by it, he could do everything, he could see it coming all night by the faint shadows on the rocks, with everything else that was there before him in the dark—there and behind and across him by the darkness, so much, so much, was there already, waiting for him in that tiny spot, as if there had been another person there with them, one who should get it all, who should get it, who would feel it, and make a thing out of it all. And yet he knew it would come. He knew in the dark he had something to hold him back; in the glow, just as he wanted it, with this dimly perceptible light, if he could hold it. He had made no head way when that thing crawled to his knee. He knew it was coming, as he said. So did every man who had ever seen those things. They came, they crawled. And it would not come. He had found that the dark had to come again from some other time, but it would not come at night, as in the daytime, for it was far more than that.

He mapped the folds that fell, wetly out, with his tongue; and the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it. He could see from the distance the hollow of a hole, in the middle; and the dark-green surface, that fell, as far in front of him as the hollow it encompassed. A dark-brown cloud rose into the sky behind him, and it touched his eyes. He took out one of the pailfuls that held his food. It was an old tin can, with a flat top, and another in the hollow in the middle. He put a teaspoon into the can in the socket, and dropped the can upon the floor, just as he had done it on the second occasion. When the food floated, he placed the can in the hole behind to take it with him. He was not entirely sure that it did not come away with the can; in part, it drifted down to the surface above. His companion, the one who had been waiting for him, looked at him with wonder. And the cat, after the first time, seemed to have forgotten all about him in all his years of living. All things went back to their old state. No one had changed. It was the old animal that was suddenly changed; and the cat that had been waiting for the can must have

He mapped the folds that fell, wetly out, with his tongue; and the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it. He was sure it lay inside a body, that the brain was still there at the bottom of an ocean, and perhaps some of that ocean had been sunk by the sea and by the river and the riverbank and that the brain was there, as the man had said.

He wondered at the way it had been shaped. It had been built to a strange shape, and then it had broken at least three times. The cracks had been deep enough to hide anything. One morning, when he went to use the elevator and found his way shut off inside the structure, the structure did not shut off again. In fact, it kept on shutting down with one of the crackings. After a while, if the machinery stopped there as it must be because it had begun to work in an altered state, the structure would take again, and it would take again until it fell apart, until some strange little worm-like creature moved inside it. The worms, in turn, would eat off the brain and, eventually, all the brain. And then, suddenly, the whole thing would collapse, collapse in an incredible heap about three thousand feet tall. He saw it again and again—and each time, like a

He mapped the folds that fell, wetly out, with his tongue; and the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it. The dark greyish fluid filled the small hole in the wall of the basement with the dark greyish fluid.

"You must not enter, but you must not exit. You are now under curfew. You have done wrong. Now come back to the kitchen by eleven at lunchtime unless you wish to remain there tonight, in which case you will have to do so immediately." The words were still on the air from the speaker. He waited and watched to see if he heard any change, but nothing.

"And you are to continue to talk to those in charge while I take a moment to examine the machine and the apparatus that holds the people down in here," said the voice. He listened quietly and waited. He knew what it meant, but did not know whether to react. In fact there was nothing for it. No idea, then, what to do. He waited.

"Well," said the voice, on cue, "you are a boy." The words were still on the air, and he heard his own voice behind him saying, "You are a boy, sir."

The man's voice stopped again. He was sitting up in bed, watching with a slight

He mapped the folds that fell, wetly out, with his tongue; and the grisly nut in the folded vortex, and the soft granular trough behind it. The wind was up and he had the wind. And then, on to the rest. He traced it, in the dark, as if to feel.

They grew, he counted, to three thousand. A thousand and seven years and two hundred and sixty-six seconds. He felt his fingers twitching in their sockets. It had come to an end.

"What do you think?" someone asked him.

"The cat's dead," he said. "No more. And the dragon has vanished, too."

"That was good."

"Not yet," another said. "And the cat and the dragon both die."

And he felt things rise again--the air was cold, even.

And then he felt the sun rising again. And then it set.

"You're right," he said. "Now the dragon's here to pick up what you left here. And the cat has gone as far as it can go. It'll be nice to get back to this."

He got out of his seat and walked to the desk. He felt his shoes slide. He opened his hand to the book, sat with his feet

The Pingularity (ledge), Monday, 3 June 2019 09:33 (eleven months ago) link

a collection of terribly composed sentences

Οὖτις, Monday, 3 June 2019 15:06 (eleven months ago) link

what do we need Delany for when we have ridiculous AIs

Οὖτις, Monday, 3 June 2019 15:07 (eleven months ago) link

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