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Dhalgren (1975)

by Samuel R. Delany

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,985653,154 (3.81)158
Nebula Award Finalist: Reality has come unglued and a mad civilization takes root in Bellona, in this science fiction classic.   A young half-Native American known as the Kid has hitchhiked from Mexico to the midwestern city Bellona--only something is wrong there . . . In Bellona, the shattered city, a nameless cataclysm has left reality unhinged. Into this desperate metropolis steps the Kid, his fist wrapped in razor-sharp knives, to write, to love, to wound.   So begins Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany's masterwork, which in 1975 opened a new door for what science fiction could mean. A labyrinth of a novel, it raises questions about race, sexuality, identity, and art, but gives no easy answers, in a city that reshapes itself with each step you take . . .   This ebook features an illustrated biography of Samuel R. Delany including rare images from his early career.  … (more)
  1. 20
    Lanark by Alasdair Gray (fugitive)
    fugitive: Surreal, bizarre, pretentious, weighty, confusing. Those are good things. I think.
  2. 10
    Little, Big by John Crowley (TheSpecialistsCat)
  3. 10
    Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (thesmellofbooks)
    thesmellofbooks: A very different dystopia written by a very different African-American science fiction writer. Yet the intensity and humanity of Parable of the Sower are present as well in this much older book.
  4. 00
    Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand (kraaivrouw)
  5. 00
    Moonwise by Greer Ilene Gilman (TheSpecialistsCat)
    TheSpecialistsCat: Another uncompromising and difficult but rewarding novel nominally in the SF&F genre. Also Joycian, though in a different sense than Dhalgren.
  6. 00
    Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (aaronius)
    aaronius: Another dystopian dream-city to get lost in with weird sex and fantastic writing.
  7. 00
    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (aaronius)
    aaronius: Similarly fragile boundaries between metaphor, reality, author and reader.
  8. 01
    Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (TomWaitsTables)

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» See also 158 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
This took me exactly two months? It felt longer, which I suppose is appropriate.

I *loved* this book. The style and the pacing are perfect. I’ll read this again some day, I’m sure. ( )
  matthewmcvickar | Jun 21, 2020 |
I'm sure this has been said before, but this is a very difficult book to review. So much is happening and very little of it has a straight-line plot unless you tackle this in seven sections and treat it as a mystery rite each time in the full awareness that Delaney is messing with us heavily.

In what way, you ask?

Ignore the fact that this reads more like a heavily-invested tome of mythic allusions in the style of the greats of traditional fiction and focus instead on the topics that Delaney holds closest to his heart: Sex and Literary Criticism. :)


Well, this is a porn book. No doubt about it. Every other page has Kid getting it on with women, men, women and men, and the variety of perversions never made any single act the same as before. Kid loves his sex. Polyamory? You betcha. This novel is considered to be one of the quintessential classics of the sixties, but don't let that fool you. Delaney doesn't just go for the raunch, he's also bypassing class issues by the magical realism setting and tackling race issues instead. This takes up a lot of the novel and he has a lot to say.

The second big part of this novel, in my opinion, has everything to do with Art and Criticism. Kid is a poet, but beyond that, he lives a magical life like Peter Pan, always looking young and acting young and not giving a crap about anything other than his pleasure for the most part... however, this is tempered by his craft in his poetry and the way he appears to grow up when he sets aside his words.

This is kinda scary, actually, since Delaney himself gave up writing even though he is so well-beloved in the field. He, as Kid, grew up and didn't care when "his poetry was burned", no matter how many people wanted to be outraged and demanded that he produce more. Ignore the long "reasons" for writing and the heavy lit-crit terms that Delaney has his main character use to meta his way through the creation process within this novel. Even Kid says that it'll dissolve in your stomach after you eat it. :)

These are serious themes throughout, but let's not forget that this is SF and Fantasy in the biggest sense of the word. What's fantasy about it? Patchwork society, for one. There's always enough food, there's no law and order, big population pressure is out of the picture, and then there's a few unexplained weirdnesses usual with magical realism, too. The SF if mind-blowingly weird and it, too, is never explained. The sun is expanding and going red? What of the second moon? The unexplained time-effects? The disappearance of the biggest part of the population when they observed the initial event, leaving only those who missed it behind? Pretty fun stuff. We've even got ourselves an astronaut. :)

And then, of course, it's a dystopia, but it's more an anarchic state that lets everyone toss the rules and do whatever they want rather than a focus on violence, which is kinda refreshing on that level for any kind of dystopia, however unrealistic.

But is this novel unrealistic? No. Never in the writing. It's always down-to-earth and full of detail. It's easy to ignore the glaring plot holes or universe-holes or whatever is going on because someone is always getting off or trying to make sense of social issues. No one ever talks about what's happening in the big picture, or if they do, it's always, always incomplete.

I think this novel is meant to be an experience rather than something to parse out. There's no grand design or plot to latch on to. It's all about the journey, and not always about the character journey, either, but rather an exploration of social mores when morals are thrown out the door, discovering what is left.

It's very ambitious. So why don't I give it a 5 star? Because it also annoys me. I appreciate everything he's done in the novel, and yet it feels a bit too alien, a bit too disjointed. I couldn't get over the inconsistencies of the world or of human nature. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
There is some wonderful writing in this novel. The descriptions are often amazing and poetic. However, it is a rambling mess of a plot, if you could even say it has a plot. It goes on and on and on about mundane things. This definitely falls into the literary realm and was really not what I was expecting after seeing so many good reviews of this work. After deeper inspection, I found just as many reviews that didn't have nice things to say about it. It's too long and lacks focus, but I will keep this book for the good parts. There are some really wonderful examples of description that almost make it worth reading. If you don't like rambling literary fiction avoid this. ( )
  Kardaen | Apr 24, 2020 |
*static* Kind of like *krssshhh* and just smearing it all over your brain. There was a strange, deep level of immersion in Dhalgren that's left me exhausted and I cannot measure the worth of the journey. I can say it's epic.
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
This is a strange one, and it's very possible that I missed what it was trying to do. Parts of it are beautifully written, and others are tedious. Nothing wraps up. I like the circularity, how it makes you wonder whether there really is something wrong with space and time or if it's the narrator's mind playing tricks on him. But so many things feel like they ought to tie in and don't--which may also be the point, the narrator is also trying to find patterns where there aren't any, but it bugs me. The meta bit at the end with multiple layers of rewriting, correction, and interleaved narratives particularly threw me off. ( )
  haloedrain | Aug 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel R. Delanyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gibson, WilliamForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"You have confused the true and the real."

GEORGE STANLEY/In conversation
This book about many things
must be for many people.

Some of them are
Joseph Cox, Bill Brodecky, David Hartwell,
Liz Landry, Joseph Manfredini, Patrick Muir, 
John Herbert McDowell, Jean Sullivan, Janis Schmidt,
Charles Naylor, Ann O'Neil, Baird Searles,
Martin Last, Bob & Joan Thurston, Richard Vriali,
Susan Schweers, Judy Ratner, Oliver Shank

Thomas M. Disch, Judith Merril, Michael Perkins, Joanna Russ,Judith Johnson, & Marilyn Hacker
First words
to wound the autumnal city.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description

a protrait of a city called Bellona which has suffered a disaster so cataclysmic that the very fabric of the space-time continuum has been distorted ...
buildings burn endlessly but are not consumed,
Radio and television broadcasts cannot enter or leave the city.
the sky is sealed with thick haze.
When it clears, strange portents are seen: two moons, a grotesquely swollen sun ...
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