Samuel R. Delany's science-fiction novel Dhalgren is powerfully poetic, artfully erotic, a literary giant of a book — but is it ultimately meaningless? Wikipedia offers a lengthy synopsis of "plot" and major themes, so no need to repeat that. As for the feel of the book, some snippets from the first few pages are typical, as nameless protagonist is introduced via nighttime wilderness encounter:

A whole minute he squatted, pebbles clutched with his left foot (the bare one), listening to his breath sound tumble down the ledges.

Beyond a leafy arras, reflected moonlight flittered.

He rubbed his palms against denim. Where he was, was still. Somewhere else, wind whined.

The leaves winked.

What had been wind was a motion in brush below. His hand went to the rock behind.

She stood up, two dozen feet down and away, wearing only shadows the moon dropped from the viney maple; moved, and the shadows moved on her.


She stepped.

Motion rearranged the shadows, baring one breast. There was a lozenge of light over one eye. Calf and ankle were luminous before leaves.

Down her lower leg was a scratch.

His hair tugged back from his forehead. He watched hers flung forward. She moved with her hair, stepping over leaves, toes spread on stone, in a tip-toe pause, to quit the darker shadows.


She passed another, nearer tree. The moon flung gold coins at her breasts. ...

... and on and on, to far more explicitly sexual and violent passages not suitable for quoting here. A few other memorable samples of Delany's art:

Lovely language — but what's the point? If existence is meaningless, why write (or read) 800 pages about it? If atmospheric metaphor is the measure then yes, Delany wins in a walk. But when key criteria include human characters and ideas, conflict and resolution, challenge and change? Roger Zelazny (cf. Lord of Light) and others do it better. So does Delany himself, notably in his superb sf novel Nova.

^z - 2011-07-23