Asturias (Northern Spain) — javi2541997
I was curious so I googled it. It looks incredible. I don’t know how I managed to live in Spain and not know anything about the region. I must go some day.
PS. I’ve read 1Q84, the only Murakami I’ve read. I have things to say about it but I won’t while praxis is enjoying it.
by Samuel R. Delany — Pantagruel
What do you think? Here’s what I thought (but I’d avoid reading this review if you haven’t finished it)…
First I liked it, then I disliked it, and finally I liked it a lot. It’s a really odd book, not in a “weird fiction” way or because it’s unconventional, but in the way it manages to (or attempts to) be both conventional and unconventional, to be pulpy Golden Age SF while at the same time transcending or parodying that genre. Or maybe the word is appropriating
: it appropriates SF tropes to explore wider questions about storytelling, art, language, and culture, and also to take the genre away from its white American traditions (Delany is American but his Earth locations and future cultures are not—only the antagonists represent the WASP aristocracy).
But if you focus mainly on the plot it sometimes feels like a contrived, hokey pulp adventure, with shallow characters, bad dialogue, and a dash of made-up physics. I think that’s why I was in two minds about it, until the metanarrative came to the fore in the last act. Which is not to say that the last act is the best or that the preceding stuff is all bad, just that it made me reassess the whole book following my hasty negative assessment when I was in the middle.
In its far-future world-building, it has some great ideas. Some of the most interesting:
- Tarot card reading is respectable, and it’s the scepticism about it that’s regarded as simplistic, superstitious, and a relic of the ignorant past.
- Personal cleanliness is a thing of the past now that contagious infection has been wiped out.
- The vast majority of people are cyborgs with sockets that enable them to plug into various tech like spaceships, production lines, and drilling machines. (This idea has been very influential, though whether it was entirely original I’m not sure).
- This allows Delany to imagine a society that, while still capitalist and socially stratified, has banished alienation and to some extent the division of labour, giving everyone job-satisfaction and self-respect by restoring craftsmanship to the individual.
- But he presents conservative arguments against this state of affairs, which now seem prescient, viz., that the freedom and mobility of workers leaves them unmoored from tradition and community (arguments that he proceeds to knock down).
- Earth and its sphere of influence are reactionary and still ethnically divided, while the breakaway colonies of the Pleiades are revolutionary (though in the bourgeois rather than socialist sense), liberal, and ethnically mixed.
Beyond those purely science fiction ideas, Delany also uses his characters to comment on the novel itself (that is, Nova
) and to explore his own artistic personality. The battle between the hero and villain is paralleled by a metanarrative conflict between two other characters, one, Katin, who is writing a novel, and another, “the Mouse”, who is a kind of musician or multisensory entertainer. Katin is an intellectual concerned with permanent artistic legacy, and the Mouse is only interested in moving people sensually and in the moment. This has the effect of creating a two-sided novel, with action on one side and commentary on the other, formally revolving around the idea of the Grail narrative and themes of revolution and rebirth.
The writing itself, I was again in two minds about. It’s slapdash and yet full of energy, confusing yet sometimes stunningly effective and original. The flashback sections set in Istanbul, Paris, and Athens, are immensely involving and evocative, but at other times I couldn’t keep track of exactly what was happening, who was standing where, what kind of place the characters were in, why he just said that, etc. I put this down to Delany’s youthful exuberance (he wrote it in his twenties) and sloppiness rather than my inability to read experimental literature, but I could be wrong—or it could be both.
Some of the dialogue seems awkward, the subject-object-verb dialect of the Pleiades can be annoying and unconvincing (and unfortunately now brings to mind Yoda), the antagonist is an unrealistic camp villain, and exposition is dumped on the reader in an unsubtle way. But focusing on these criticisms is probably to miss the point: it’s not a realist novel (although it does have excellent realist sections, such as the party in Paris) so much as a playful meta-romp. I particularly appreciated the way that the metanarrative aspect of the novel, rather than dropping away in the final denouement as you might expect from the shape of the plot and the conventions of popular fiction, actually ramps up towards the end.
Close to the end, the character Katin says something that might be straight from young Delany himself:
Right now I’m just a bright guy with a lot to say and nothing to say it about.
In summary: :100: :confused: :starstruck: :nerd: :cool:
Currently reading Triton
by Samuel R. Delany.