Dhalgren by Samuel R Delany

A man who has forgotten his name crosses a bridge at night and enters Bellona, a city where something undefined has happened, houses burn down spontaneously and at times there are two moons, one named after George Harrison – not the adorable moptop, but a large black man with a penchant for rape, who features in pornographic posters all over town. The man who has forgotten his name is known variously as the kid, The Kid, Kid and Kidd. With little effort he acquires a reputation as a poet, gang leader and saviour.  We are never sure if Bellona is a mental hospital, the afterlife, or a bad, bad trip. The novel is best in its evocation of a deserted town under cover of a heavy, oily smoke and the fabulous scorpions – gangs clothed in (and often only in) holograms:-

“Out on the path, sudden, luminous, and artificial, a seven-foot dragon swayed around the corner, followed by an equally tall mantis and a griffin.  Like elegant plastics, internally lit and misty, they wobbled forward.  When dragon and mantis swayed into each other, they – meshed!…His hand was on a tree trunk,  Twig shadows webbed his forearm, the back of his hand, the bark.  The figures neared; the web slid.  The figures passed; the web slid off.  They were, he realised, as eye-unsettling as pictures on a three-dimensional postcard – with the same striations hanging, like a screen, just before, or was it just behind them.  The griffin, further back, flickered:  A scrawny youngster, with pimply shoulders, in the middle of a cautious, bow-legged stride – then griffin again.  (A memory of spiky, yellow hair; hands held out from the freckled, pelvic blade). The mantis swings around to look back, went momentarily out):”

Kid wanders Bellona with the logic of a dream, wearing a body chain with lenses and prisms, a wrist weapon called an orchid, one shoe and filthy jeans. We don’t know why but his hands are hideous, scabbed and blunt. He falls in with a commune, falls in with a gang of scorpions, acquires a girlfriend and a boyfriend, sees a lot of violence and prays that he is not going mad – again.

Not this George

Delany’s language is gorgeous, rich and racy, but the sex scenes are juvenile and cringe-worthy, there are too many characters, the whole thing is repetitious, annoyingly enigmatic at times and way too long. If you dislike books with no real plot, or if you are offended by African Americans being called “niggers”, “spades’ and – yes, – “apes”, then this is not the book for you. But if you are able to see it as a work of beatnik rhythm, oneiric and utterly mad, it will delight you. Not quite science fiction, nothing but itself, fascinating and aweful.

Samuel R Delany


1 Comment

  1. Reply

    R Jeeve Stone

    August 18, 2021

    I love this book. It’s hard to find tho.

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