DHALGREN by Samuel R. Delany


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The prolific Delany enjoys two audiences: the hard-core SF crowd and admirers of his more literary efforts, such as this humongous novel first published in 1975 as a mass market paperback, reprinted in cloth in 1977, then again by an academic press in 1996. Through all these lives, it’s sold well—more than a million copies, supposedly—despite the demands it makes on readers, especially those expecting the more conventional SF that Delany published until Dhalgren’s appearance. A futuristic, postapocalyptic narrative, Delany’s circular and heavily allusive fiction surveys the American “autumnal” city of Bellona, where some sort of disaster has taken place, altering not just the social structure but the nature of the space-time continuum. An anarchist community evolves, prominently featuring Delany’s protagonist, “the Kid,” a pansexual gang leader and poet. Fellow hypermodernist William Gibson provides an introduction (written for the 1996 edition) in which he admits he “never understood” the book, that it’s a riddle not meant to be solved. Yet he admires the “sustained conceptual daring,” probably more suited to today’s audience, with its taste for transgressive ideas about sex, race, and gender. Ultimately, a study in identity and illusion, Delany’s huge and difficult novel will interest admirers of Ballard, Pynchon, and the like, though one suspects there’s many an unread copy of the original mass market edition floating around.

Pub Date: May 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-70668-2
Page count: 832pp
Publisher: Vintage
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2001


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