In A Story As Exciting As Any Science Fiction Adventure Written, Samuel R Delany S SF Novel, Originally Published As Triton, Takes Us On A Tour Of A Utopian Society At War With Our Own Earth High Wit In This Future Comedy Of Manners Allows Delany To Question Gender Roles And Sexual Expectations At A Level That, Years After It Was Written, Still Make It A Coruscating Portrait Of The Happily Reasonable Man, Bron Helstrom An Immigrant To The Embattled World Of Triton, Whose Troubles Become And Complex, Till There Is Nothing Left For Him To Do But Become A Woman Against A Background Of High Adventure, This Minuet Of A Novel Dances From The Farthest Limits Of The Solar System To Earth S Own Outer Mongolia Alternately Funny And Moving, It Is A Wide Ranging Tale In Which Character After Character Turns Out Not To Be What He Or She Seems It s been almost five weeks since I did this, so let s hope my skills haven t atrophied too much My student teaching practicum was awesome, but it left me little time for reading and no time for reviewing Now I need to catch up So please forgive me if the details in this review are sparser than ordinary there is a very good reason why I write reviews as soon as possible after finishing a book Fortunately, Triton is a very memorable book, which one might have expected coming from Samuel R Delany I love the edition I have, another Bantam 1976 yellowing reprint, similar to my edition of Dhalgren, that I picked up at a used bookstore for 1.05 The cover alone makes me feel much connected to the zeitgeist in which Delany was immersed when he wrote this, and that s crucial to an understanding of this book If you allow me to get reader response on you for a moment, Triton is a book that will affect you differently depending on your generation I know I say this a lot you can call it a recurring theme of my reviews, if you like but it s true in this case Politics runs through Triton like its lifeblood Sexual politics, gender politics, even military politics all play a role The characters themselves are like puppets in an intricate stage play of the human psyche, in which they are battling for the one, best way to express themselves to the outside world Hence the generational meanings someone raised in the 1960s is going to interpret the politics and Delany s themes differently than I do in 2011 However, that doesn t depreciate the book s relevance.Triton is the story of Bron Helstrom s struggle to redefine his identity in order to make his life less miserable After running into a travelling actor known as the Spike and sparking up a brief affair, Bron s own checkered and conflicted views on sexuality take front and centre Bron was once a prostitute on Mars, where, unlike Earth, male prostitution is legal He had sex with both men and women for business Now he lives on Triton, where people live in communes or co ops that are often divided by sex or sexuality He has chosen to live in an all male commune His next door neighbour is a homosexual man whom Bron views alternatively with respect and derision, for Lawrence refuses the rejuvenation treatments that keep most people healthy and youthful Bron is much less comfortable with homosexuality, with unconventional gender performance in general, now that this is no longer his profession.Bron is also selfish He wants and wants and will often do things to get what he wants that he only perceives as harmful in hindsight mildly sociopathic would be a good term, perhaps This proves, ultimately, to be detrimental to his relationship with the Spike, a fact that becomes apparent when they run into each other while Bron is part of a political delegation to the antagonistic Earth The Spike leaves Bron with a heartfelt, dictated letter that tells him in detail why she cannot like him, and this acts as the catalyst for the decision that offsets the last part of Triton from everything that comes before.I would probably have to provide a play by play summary of the entire book to describe in detail the episodes that cause Bron to make his final decision Suffice it to say, Triton is an intricate book Delany really does manage to create this amazing microcosm of a possible future society, one where advances in technology make it practical to alter one s sexual orientation and sexual and gender identities on fundamental biological and genetic levels Many science fiction authors create such societies in order to explore the implications of those technologies and there is nothing wrong with that but Delany elevates this exploration to another level, creating the technologies to explore the issues they uncover These issues are already present, simmering beneath the surface of society and occasionally bursting forth The technology of Triton makes them accessible for discussion and the quality of that discussion is what makes Triton so memorable.The subtitle of this book is An Ambiguous Heterotopia, alluding to The Dispossessed , by Ursula K Le Guin I can see the similarities, and this does make a good companion read Both books present competing governments whose politics are in flux, with individuals undergoing moments of intense personal crisis against the backdrop of this larger conflict I admit to preferring The Dispossessed though, and that might entirely be due to the portrayals of Bron versus Shevek Bron is a jerk There I said it I am even intrigued, however, by the connection to Foucault s ideas of a heterotopia as a type of privileged other space I suppose Delany sets up Triton itself as a heterotopia separate from the warring planets of Earth and Mars Triton is physically distant from the other two planets, and the inhabitants of Triton consider people from worlds laughably different Our view of life on Earth and Mars is heavily biased, of course, but it seems like the moons are refuges from authoritarian regimes on the worlds For all its advantages, however, life on Triton is not without its hardships and its disadvantages hence the ambiguity Bron confronts this at the same time that he confronts his dissatisfaction with his own life.I confess I didn t see the ending coming, and it altered my opinion of the entire book It creates this very distinct division between what came before and what comes after I suppose the question, which Delany of necessity leaves unanswered, is whether Bron s decision will actually have the desired effect Will this dramatic alteration to his life and lifestyle change him for the better I think it was very drastic hence why I found it unexpected , but it also makes a kind of odd sense.Like Dhalgren, Triton is another difficult book I didn t find it nearly so difficult as Dhalgren to read, but it raises difficult issues and stretches the mould of the conventional plot driven narrative I m coming to see this as typical Delany , and while not every writer can get away with that kind of intense devotion to themes, he can Because Delany doesn t back down, and the result are books that are still relevant thirty five years later He raises questions about sex and sexuality, gender identity and performance And while Triton is without question a science fiction novel, Delany makes that seem unimportant compared to the story he s telling through his characters He makes offhand references to technology and science we don t have, and sometimes it doesn t always seem plausible but it S always to a purpose Triton is a well constructed, thoughtful, thought provoking piece of literature. I suspect I m not clever enough for it but, you know, I hear Dhalgren is very clever, but similar to this I remembered while reading it I thought pockets of its description and arguments were interesting and highly original, but the rest was bland and I m always in a state of perpetual unease about who s going to sleep with whom and what I m supposed to think of it, even although I m not engaged in the lives of any of the characters perhaps the underlying structure of either book is fascinating and rich and genius and masterful, but I don t care to dig deep in frozen soil.And I don t know if this counts as narrow mindedness, but I like men, not women, and I don t consider any kind of future where everyone s asking everyone to frick, then everyone fricking each other and then they both change gender and frick again, that sounds like an identity seeking nightmare to me than a utopia It took thirteen year old me so much effort to get to the point where he was able to identify as gay that, now twice the age, I m fairly sure I don t have the energy to identify or even to try anything else I m married anyways so fuck, Delany, call me traditional Even fictionally, it s exhausting to keep track of I m seeing and that my perception of what is a novel and what isn t is much limited than I expected I think this is a response to reading the beautiful crafts that can come from writing like a tennis player with the net taut, rather than have it sagging and letting all kinds of balls get past and long, oblique philosophical discussions that only happen to take place on other planets or moons for reasons unclear neither seems to me to be a novel, nor really sci fi.Still, Delany is capable of greatness, and when I m feeling adventurous, I ll return to his intellectuo ethno sexual ballpits again Delany is one of my favourite writers, but it has taken me a long time to get round to reading this one In fact, Triton has been on my bookshelves since 1993 I think I was intimidated by the appendix on metalogic It looks like a difficult novel, but that s really an illusion It s a beautifully written, complex but totally accessible and engaging work.The main character, Bron Helstrom, is simultaneously likeable and infuriating, perceptive and unaware, an authentic personality on the page The background events of his life in an ambiguous heteropotia include a devastating war between the inner worlds and the outer satellites that is presented slightly obliquely and very convincingly And the society in which Bron has chosen to make his home is constructed with brilliant imagination and attention to detail It s a sort of utopia of choice, not quite the perfect society but hugely preferrable to our own.Delany is a thought provoking writer but there is a lot of positive emotional energy in his work too Triton is the best novel I have read all year Without question. i m not sure how i feel about this at all the main character is absolutely UNBEARABLE, but he is supposed to be, it s the book s whole point but he really is so utterly unlikeable and horrifying that reading this book was a slog the entire way through he gets his comeuppance several times throughout the story but he never learns anything another point of the book, i think which is almost satisfying i don t know if i simply read this book at the wrong time in my life, or in the wrong context, or if there was something i was just missing, or if i didn t get it, or if maybe there actually wasn t that much there TO get and it was all just a lot of set dressing and cobbled together sf sociological ideas experiments flung one after the other at the reader and never examined, never interrogated, except through the context of knowing who this author is, and what his other works are like, and that therefore his presentation of such ideas SHOULD have been thoughtful and interesting so perhaps it is just not the place to start with delany and perhaps there is a reason that the dispossessed by le guin is still spoken about so often, and this book a self designated response to le guin s book is not i don t know i am utterly baffled.i feel frustrated because i WANTED to get this book but reading this felt like reading certain books in high school books with points and meanings you knew were there, and could sort of recognize, but they were just utterly meaningless to you and your life, or you thought that they were insufficiently analyzed, or that they showed a poor or distasteful understanding of life and the meaning of being a person, and so you just didn t care to get them, and you just read the book and took the test and moved on because there just really was not much there in the text for you at all despite the fact that it is a literary quote unquote classic.also i feel like the way this book addresses gender and gender confirmation surgery though that is not what it is in the book, not really, which is part of the problem is just unbelievably irresponsible and crude lmao coming from a gay author i expected but then again delany is not trans, and that is a whole other issue, the way cis gay people feel entitled to telling understanding trans stories or ideas when cis gay people often really do not understand those things at all and really the point of this book has nothing to do with transness, nothing at all, but the unfortunate implications ARE there by nature of the book s content and i just did not care for it there is a great deal of depth to gender and transness that can be explored in a book, in thought, in life this book attempted to plumb that depth, and seemed to think that it had done quite an interesting and valuable job, but really it was excruciatingly superficial and flippant and boring.the writing style and syntax were worth reading, though, which is why i will continue with other works by delany also because i am fairly certain that this book is an outlier among delany s work and the issues i have with it are specific to this book in particular, and i really shouldn t have started here after all, because i do find delany in general to seem like he should be a thoughtful and interesting person and writer whose ideas and writing i am still interested in experiencing of, BECAUSE he is known in sf literature for being different, thoughtful, incisive, wordy, conceptually novel think i ll finally read dhalgren next but not until this summer, maybe. In some ways, Triton is as much about science fiction as it is about social and political models.The infodump or exposition is a vital part of the SF genre it helps ground us in the imagined world of the story at hand and to contextualise those uniquely science fictional sentences Delany is so fond of, formations like Heinlein s the door dilated or a statement like her world exploded , which could have a much literal meaning in a science fiction novel than in a mundane novel.Infodumps give us the necessary context to understand things that do not gel with our everyday experience, they help understand social, political, cultural and technological elements of a story s background that are taken for granted when reading a book about our own times and our own people.But an infodump is not necessarily informative in the strict sense there are endless examples of SF infodumps that offer an explanation for things that we know cannot be explained because they have not happened further, the explanation probably does not have much practical value, because except in very rare cases no one has gone and done those things in the manner suggested therein although the device or technique described may since have been developed in some different way Instead, it is a sort of gesture, a string of words with enough familiar terms to reassure the average SF reader defined by Delany as having the equivalent of a bright 13 year old s knowledge of science that this is proper science mixed in with enough plausible sounding esoterica to convince that reader that something fairly authoritative has been said.One of the first proper infodumps in this book happens when an attack has just been made on Triton, and a government official is trying to tell his companions in a men s cooperative housing building that the brief gravity failure that took place is nothing to worry about He gives an explanation that starts by referring to things that seem to relate to real science, and rapidly becomes esoteric Them he is asked to tone it down so that a mentally deficient person present can understand He gives a simpler explanation that his person can understand and even this version makes no sense on our terms if looked at closely Just as the government agent does not really know quite what has happened, but is asserting his authority by seeming knowledgeable, Delany is giving his made up explanation authority by showing how even a mentally deficient member of his future society can understand what flied over our own head This is a very clever device, and a way to both demonstrate and practice one of the chief uses of the SF infodump.But there are many other infodumps in this book Some relate to a made up discipline of metalogics something which again has no relation to any real system of logic we might be able to conceive of, some are in the form of descriptions of dramatic pieces couched in the jargon of academic cultural studies, some relate to genetics and medicine Others are personal.All the infodumps that relate to disciplines of this future world start in terms that seem to make sense, then move into or less incomprehensible realms for a very long time most of the mental context of these people is way, way ahead of our own, Delany seems to be implying.And then there are the personal infodumps These are much comprehensible, even as they tell us things about society and politics on the different planets and sattelites of the solar system that are quite fantastic by today s standards But on the human level, once we adjust a little, they are perfectly comprehensible.Except that the main character of this novel, Bron Hellstrom, seems to see very different things in these personal revelations than we do We begin by trying to empathise with what seems to be the main character and hence hero of this story And yet, we slowly find that the people he resents are among the most integral, self actualised and compassionate individuals he encounters, and the society he hates is a sort of libertarian utopia that in many ways seems to superior to any current earth society This brings us to the commonly discussed aspects of this novel how it belongs to a dialogue on ambiguous utopias with novels like Ursula K Le Guin s The Disposessed , how different societies offer different kinds of liberties and privileges, how much of this is governed by factors like resources and space and may not be possible or even desirable in other circumstances, and what means are justifiable to preserve a desirable way of life There s also a commentary on gender relations and roles that is worth investigating.Just as interestingly, Triton is a fascinating study of a completely dysfunctional individual, but one that is told almost entirely via a closely focused third person narrative that gives us this individual s thoughts and perspectives rather than anyone else s It s easy to fall into subjectivity here, like the people who are seduced by the prose in Lolita and forget that the narrator is a deeply sick sexual predator Delany s achievement is that Bron s anomie is made clear to us despite immersion in his viewpoint.I haven t even begun to scratch the surface of what there is to enjoy and think about in this novel there is a passage in one of the appendices where Delany offers a comparison of the difficulty of understanding SF versus its potential range of expression as compared to mundane fiction that evokes similar dichotomies between tonal and atonal music, representational and abstract art This alone is a point that deserves being engaged with in detail that odd second appendix opens up even ideas The whole narrative is a mine field seeded with explosive ideas and concepts This is a science fiction novel that does it all engages in a dialogue with its genre, offers deep, thought provoking world building and gives us total character immersion It isn t so much that they don t write them like this any as that they hardly ever did. Triton is one of those books that lingers in the penumbra at the edges of my understanding like a jungle cat stalking prey, carefully choosing the perfect moment to pounce And yet and yet I couldn t put it down Delany s prose is irresistible and his ideas are tantalizing even if I m not entirely sure I walked away with a clear understanding Triton is also an example of a particular type of sci fi that skips past the distraction of identity politics such as race, gender, and sexuality to get at larger issues, which is not to say these things aren t discussed Quite the contrary In fact, the main thing that s widely known, relatively speaking, about this book is how the protagonist switches gender and sexuality Rather, what I mean is that these categories that are so often divisive today cease to have the same impact in and of themselves in the larger world of the novel.A post identity politics is by no means a Utopia, nor is Delany interested in crafting a portrait of a would be Utopia He calls the novel a Heterotopia, which is a term from Foucault that describes a space of otherness that, in part, functions to allow a Utopia elsewhere That s where Delany s real interest lies in the space of otherness Neptune s moon Triton is that space in the novel It s a place of radical individuality where nearly anything is permissible and in the unlicensed sector whatever scant regulations do exist are waived The basic needs of all residents are met and people can choose to work or not to earn credits if they re interested in elevating their standard of living But while Triton and the other outer satellites presumably play a vital role as Heterotopia for Terran and Martian societies though the novel briefly visits Earth and it s hardly a Utopia they remain targets for a cataclysmic war raging across the solar system We re never told the reason for the war, only that Triton has managed to stay out of it for now Delany uses the tension of the war to propel the plot forward, but that s not really the focus He s interested in examining erudite ideas, like metalogic.Brom Helstrom, the novel s protagonist, struggles to find happiness amid a backdrop of war and identity fluidity He spends his days playing board games and philosophizing with his co op neighbors, and earns extra credits working as a metalogics specialist in the hegemony Metalogic being defined at one point early on in a manner that went largely over my head What I gleaned, however, was that humans rarely employ pure logic, rather we rely on shifting parameters within discourse to approximate logic for any given circumstance to say that the Taj Mahal is white is, in pure logic, to deny that it is any other color But what is the Taj Mahal Is it the building alone or also the grounds, with it s green grass and blue water and yellow sand, etc And if it s just the building then what of the shades of brown in the grout, or the veins of various colors in the marble, etc Delany is stabbing right at the heart of narrative here Triton is a book about reading, about knowledge, or, broadly, human discourse, and in that way it ties in nicely with the surface plot What is a Utopia or a Heterotopia without it s other, and where is the distinction between the two drawn When Bron s friend Sam reveals he used to be a different race, gender, and sexuality and when Bron himself undergoes a similar transformation , Delany is offering a radical perhaps so in the 70s when the novel was published than today vision of personal freedom, but he s also gesturing at the fragile nature of social, historic, political, etc discourses, which are held together like a complicated web of tension rods, each balanced by the others in a stable metalogical way A place like Triton where nothing is immutable of course will represent a danger to that balance And so the war between the planets and the satellites rages And so Bron s affections continue to orbit the mercurial actress known as the Spike I think I ll return to this book down the line A single read is far from sufficient.If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for reviews sppoilerzzz I feel very weird about this book I love a lot of it, but in the end it felt just too terrible to spend this much time with bron i kind of would have been elated with the book just ending after the spike s letter arrives and a Big Event happens in the war the subsequent gender stuff is very gratifying to me on one level and very depressing on another i appreciate that pains were taken to establish that bron s Gender Journey is not typical, but that also kind of grosses me out and I feel like I m missing a key thing somewhere the street sign letters everyone is wearing the deeper ironies of Bron being into metalogics the meaning of the vlet Gods that, were I to understand it, would make the whole thing come clear to me but I did not find it i think I was just a lot interested in the spike than in bron s gross ways, and something about the book s ironic ending being like the transsexual sits in her bar, and many wish to love her, but she can let no one in hit pretty hard I appreciate this book a lot it was extremely gratifying to see how swiftly society responds to bron s transition, and there are multiple models of cis desire for trans t4t that are pretty magical for like 1973 like no joke that is great but i feel like the book kind of wants it both ways trans ppl are both Very Normal and Somehow Unseemly and something about its final specter of transsexuality as Eternal Punishment again, if you re an evil trans who does it for evil reasons, not a true trans who will be happy felt sad.I love the elemental restaurant very much Everyone talks about how this is a political or cultural or social exploration novel, and that s all true, but what fascinates me about it is how incredibly PSYCHOLOGICAL it is The cultural and social stuff is pretty simple Samuel Delany has created here an honest to goodness utopia, a world in which everyone can essentially be anyone they want to be You re a woman who wants to be a male homosexual No problem There s a community for you You want to have scales and a tail No problem There s a community for you You re white, and you want to be black, or orange No problem There s a community for you There seems to be a complete acceptance of others in this world in regards to race, sex, gender, sexuality, profession.even theater artists are accepted But then what s the story Ah, that s the masterstroke The thing of it is, the novel is narrated by a man who hates the place He is or less a 20th century guy He could be any guy from today, perhaps on the slightly conservative side And Delany places this very modern seeming man into the far future and into a world where problems of personal identity have been or less eliminated, and then tells the story of how that modern man of today just can t find his place in it He doesn t fit in he doesn t get it It is the contrast between this utopia of malleable and universally accepted identities and this man s hatred of it that serves as the spine of this novel And I found it riveting The guy s impossible, and yetand yet I sort of see where he s coming from Because I, too, am a man of today, and perhaps I share some of the insecurities and prejudices of this asshole Frightening But that s why this book is so good As a reader, I had to ask myself, would I have been happy in this utopia Would I be okay with anyone being able and encouraged to be absolutely whatever they want to be Isn t that a bit childish This is particularly topical in today s world, isn t it, what with people all being encouraged to embrace their true selves, whatever that may be We applaud every person who comes out of whatever dark closet they had hidden their true identities The only person today, evidently, who has any right to say just who and what you are is YOU This is a very new phenomenon, and I know a lot of people have an instinctive and visceral reaction against it So, could I enjoy a world just like that, a world without stability of identity, without structure and limitations and labels Or would I also be a miserable curmudgeon, just like this guy The novel invites self introspection, and that is a rare feat And to anyone who fears they won t enjoy the novel because they won t sympathize with the narrator protagonist, just know that you aren t meant to sympathize with him He s an unreliable narrator, and if you were to sympathize with him, you would misunderstand the themes and purpose of the novel Feel free to hate him It s what Delany intended Even as I saw where his discomforts came from, I hated him He was a joy to hate This novel is about how, even in a utopia, some people just couldn t be happy, and that s why I say the novel is so splendidly psychological It s about how stuck we get in our own patterns, how resistant to change we are, how obtuse we can be about other people s feelings, about how we rationalize damaging other people It doesn t deliver any pat answers this isn t Dr Phil But it does present, to my mind, an extremely convincing portrait of the kind of human being who is all too common today, even perhaps in parts of ourselves, as social and cultural barriers to happiness start falling away one by one.Read it as a psychological examination of the character s misery and attitudes and inability to adapt to a world without boundaries, and I believe you will get a great deal out of it Strongly recommended. I feel like of all the books that made up Radical Utopias, this one took the longest for me to read I don t know if that s realistic or not, but it was definitely the longest, and at times, driest Which is hard to admit since I felt the first book in the anthology, Walk to the End of the World, was plenty dry.I read Dhalgren a few years ago and it blew my mind I have slowly been collecting Delany s novels, but went through the process realizing his other books might not touch me as deeply Now that I ve read Triton later published as Trouble on Triton , I see that I was correct.There are some connections to Dhalgren, primarily in that the protagonist here, Bron, used to leave in a Martian city, Bellona, which is where Dhalgren took place It almost makes me want to re read Dhalgren, but I m so worried I won t like it upon a second reading that I probably will never do that I understand there are some elements here connected to other Delany books, so I look forward to making my way through them all since I love shit like that if done well.The particular utopia indicated here takes place on Triton, or Neptune s moon Bron came from Mars, and Triton is different And Bron spends a lot of his time kind of dealing with that and basically having really shitty relationships with other people because Bron has no social skills.There are some interesting elements to this utopia, such as technology has provided that folks can change ones gender and sexual orientation at will In that sense I was reminded of the second book in this anthology, The Female Man, though I felt Joanna Russ wrote a compelling and influential story along those lines.This is science fiction, and as I find with a lot of traditional science fiction what I think real readers call hard sci fi is that so much of it is boring to me It s just not my preference, though I know many people who would be into that than myself I was there for the utopia, and it was fine Bron is sort of a dick, which doesn t necessarily make the book itself bad, but makes me wonder what Delany s point was in writing Bron There s discussion somewhere towards the end of the book about women, and perceptions of them, and it made me a little grumpy I feel Delany is in a pretty good position to write about minorities as he is an African American gay man, but at least in 1976 when Triton was first published, I m not sure I felt confident that he viewed women very highly.This could entirely be my faulty reading of the story, and I do agree that Delany s characterizations in this book were lacking across the board.Fun fact At the end of the novel are a couple appendices that seem sort of a strange inclusion But apparently they come up later as well which come up later in his Nev r on series, so I look forward to seeing that as well as any other connections.I really want to like Delany, but so far Dhalgren is the best I ve read I ll be curious to see how his other books work for me.
Samuel Ray Delany, also known as Chip, is an award winning American science fiction author He was born to a prominent black family on April 1, 1942, and raised in Harlem His mother, Margaret Carey Boyd Delany, was a library clerk in the New York Public Library system His father, Samuel Ray Delany, Senior, ran a successful Harlem undertaking establishment, Levy Delany Funeral Home, on 7t
- 384 pages
- Samuel R. Delany
- 13 August 2017 Samuel R. Delany