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Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren (1975)

by Samuel R. Delany

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,709613,134 (3.82)137
  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 137 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
“Really? Samuel Delany has written "unreadable garbage"? Would you care to share with us the precise nature of the stories or novels which qualify as such, or have you not, as I strongly suspect, actually read any of his work? I presume this is the same Samuel Delany who has been a professor of English and writing at numerous American universities, who was named a GrandMaster of the field? The author of "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones", “Babel-17” and “Nova”? That Samuel Delany? Or is it instead the case, as I suspect, that you have allowed yourself to fall foul of the cliché that if it's SF, then by its very nature, some of his work must be bad?”

That’s, more or less, how I answered someone who commented on the novel’s review back then.

When I was in diapers (if i was even alive at all), SF was the province of those who could not get published elsewhere. Writers like Moorcock and Wolfe and Ursula K. Le Guin and Thomas M. Disch and Harlan Ellison and Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany and Philip K. Dick and James Tiptree Jr. all possessed cultural erudition, but their fierce talent and their determination to embrace the alien or the outsider pushed them into genre. The notion that they wrote swiftly out of some relentless ego-boosting is a foolish misunderstanding of the pulp markets of the time, which paid penuriously and often demanded a quick turnaround. That Moorcock wrote as marvelously as he did, often writing trilogies over the course of a week or two that didn't skimp on moral probing OR adventure, is a testament to how many of these marginalized writers triumphed. Fan culture is one thing, but it is a gross insult to suggest that most of the readers of these giants were pimply-faced teens or that they didn't read widely or possess brains. Blithe disregard for the comfort zone of the reader? What do you want? A hot chocolate and a warm bath? Literature, whether it be the classics or genre, exists to provide us with perspectives that are not our own, to get us confronting bold questions on how to live and what are effects and responsibilities to others may be. That some cannot cite specific qualities of the story-lines to uphold her claims, playing the "I quoted a random passage to uphold my tenuous thesis" parlor game in the nursery school, suggests very strongly that some readers should take her own childish notions of "spoiler alerts" and Pollyanna principles to an online forum populated by twee troglodytes.

Each is entitled to their opinion. Norman Mailer has turned out works of genius (“The Naked” and the “Out of the Dead City”, and “Executioner's Song”) as well as the occasional mind-numbingly portentous dross (“Harlot's Ghost” anyone? Narcolepsy in book form). The fact that Hogg's not SF is neither here nor there. Delany has indeed turned out what I consider to be unreadable garbage as long as I write about what makes it unreadable (not like the reader above), and as a reader anyone is fully entitled to say so... knowing full well but that there are lots of people (bless'em) who think that the sun shines out of Houllebecq's no doubt cruelly ravaged hind end; and that the “Kindly Ones” is considered a masterpiece by various high-minded critics, who consider that closing an interminable and ill-written Nazi exploitation saga with an epic, chapter-long sadomasochistic incest w*nkfest is the height of refinement. Actually, they may be right: out of pure tedium I skipped the last 15 pages or so of that episode, but, honestly, I don't think I was missing anything much. La Nausée it ain't. I'm not proposing to go back and check.

Bottom-line: Well, thousands of people managed to read it, getting it into the New York Times listings ahead of 'Gravity's Rainbow' (that year's other 'must read' big book) so it's clearly not literally 'unreadable'. The question is: “should one re-read it?” My answer: “No.”

SF = Speculative Fiction. ( )
  antao | Sep 5, 2018 |
uh...huh? ( )
  amuskopf | Jun 7, 2018 |
I found this book to be pretty awful. Simply boring. The ideas within could have made it incredible... but bottom line a book has to be interesting or somewhat gripping to make me want to continue reading. I'm seriously shocked at how utterly boring this book could be. Starting somewhere around page 450, I just started skimming. And then skimming became page skipping. What a waste of time. ( )
  weberam2 | Nov 24, 2017 |
What a disappointment. Like biting into an enticing piece of pastry and discovering it's stuffed with spam. The quasi-mythic frame story and the hallucinatory setting are great - inventively described and compelling, good metaphors for the actual state of collective cognitive dislocation and urban anomie in the '70s US. But then the dimensionless, unconvincing (strangely fleshless in spite of all the focus on flesh) characters roll in, and their pedestrian dialogue just goes on and on (and on..) punctuated with occasional pseudo-intellectual debates on art or whatever... And the most interesting activity in which any of these rote personae participate is without the slightest hint of irony the sex they have, which, like their mind-numbing talk, starts to wear thin pretty quick. This may be the point, but so what? (I mean, even back in the day, so what? Delany's craft would have to be much stronger to make a convincing case for that, for me, anyhow.)

What this really is is a fair-to-middling social-realist novel focused on the author's particular obsessions (some of which, to his credit, needed to voiced, and if it took oodles of crotch-rubbing to get Americans to pay attention en masse, so be it, I guess), and grinding what seem like quite personal axes about "downtown" literary celebrity and its discontents. His prosaic idees fixes are stuffed into a much more evocative packing case than they (mostly) merit.

As a work of its time that managed to include some disruptive ideas and techniques and attain (and hold) a mass audience, it deserves some credit. But spare me the superlatives. Not with Thomas Pynchon or James Baldwin in the house. ( )
2 vote CSRodgers | Nov 22, 2017 |
This is one of the most bizarre, disturbing, beautiful, dense and fascinating novels I've ever read. I want to recommend it to everyone; however, I have to contain myself because it certainly won't appeal to everyone. For example, there are some pretty explicit sex scenes, and the style is David Lynch meets David Foster Wallace meets T.S. Eliot. It's dense, it's weird, it gets denser and weirder, then it ends before you really figure out anything. ( )
1 vote little-gidding | Apr 13, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel R. Delanyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gibson, Williamsecondary 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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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (4)

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 ...
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375706682, Paperback)

What is Dhalgren? Dhalgren is one of the greatest novels of 20th-century American literature. Dhalgren is one of the all-time bestselling science fiction novels. Dhalgren may be read with equal validity as SF, magic realism, or metafiction. Dhalgren is controversial, challenging, and scandalous. Dhalgren is a brilliant novel about sex, gender, race, class, art, and identity.

A mysterious disaster has stricken the midwestern American city of Bellona, and its aftereffects are disturbing: a city block burns down and is intact a week later; clouds cover the sky for weeks, then part to reveal two moons; a week passes for one person when only a day passes for another. The catastrophe is confined to Bellona, and most of the inhabitants have fled. But others are drawn to the devastated city, among them the Kid, a white/American Indian man who can't remember his own name. The Kid is emblematic of those who live in the new Bellona, who are the young, the poor, the mad, the violent, the outcast--the marginalized.

Dhalgren is many things, but instantly accessible isn't one of them. While most of this big, ambitious, deeply detailed novel is beautifully pellucid, the opening pages will be difficult for some: the novel starts with the second half of an incomplete sentence, in the viewpoint of a man who doesn't know who he is. If you find the early pages rough going, push on; the story soon becomes clear and fascinating. But--fair warning--the central nature of the disaster, of its strange devastations and disruptions, remains a puzzle for many readers, sometimes after several readings.

Spoiler warning: If you want to figure out the secret of the novel as you read Dhalgren, then stop reading this review right now! If you want to know the secret before you start, this is what the novel is about: the experience of existence inside a novel. Time passes differently for different characters. A river changes location. Stairs change their number. The Kid looks in a mirror and sees not himself, but someone who looks an awful lot like Samuel R. Delany. Central images include mirrors, lenses, and prisms, devices that focus, reflect--and distort. The Kid fills a notebook with a journal that may be Dhalgren, and is uncertain if he has written much, or any, of it. The characters don't know they're in a novel, but they know something is wrong. Dhalgren explores the relationship between characters and author (or, perhaps, characters, "author," and author).

The final chapter can be even tougher going than the opening pages, with its viewpoint change and its stretches of braided narrative--and the novel ends with the beginning of an unfinished sentence. But the last chapter becomes clear as you persevere; and when you get to that unfinished closing line, turn to the first line of the novel to finish the sentence and close the narrative circle. --Cynthia Ward

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:37 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. Into this disaster zone comes a young man-poet, love, and adventurer known only as the Kid. -- Back cover.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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