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Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Triton (original 1976; edition 1976)

by Samuel R. Delany

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1,0561312,692 (3.52)26
In a story as exciting as any science fiction adventure written, Samuel R. Delany's 1976 SF novel, originally published as Triton, takes us on a tour of a utopian society at war with . . . our own Earth! High wit in this future comedy of manners allows Delany to question gender roles and sexual expectations at a level that, 20 years after it was written, still make it a coruscating portrait of "the happily reasonable man," Bron Helstrom -- an immigrant to the embattled world of Triton, whose troubles become more and more complex, till there is nothing left for him to do but become a woman. Against a background of high adventure, this minuet of a novel dances from the farthest limits of the solar system to Earth's own Outer Mongolia. Alternately funny and moving, it is a wide-ranging tale in which character after character turns out not to be what he -- or she -- seems.… (more)
Authors:Samuel R. Delany
Info:Bantam Books (1976), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:sf, mooched, bouncedoff

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Triton by Samuel R. Delany (1976)



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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Some 70's gender bending SF. In kind of a reverse Orlando, the main character is in search of himself, or maybe just trying to figure out how not to be so annoyingly self-centered while he is surrounded by horrific war and genocide. (Yep, it's the end of the world - again) The most fun is in the descriptions of social and sexual mores and fashions - theater, politics, clothing and surgeries - transsexual and transorientation. The juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia is creepy, as I imagine it was meant to be. (August 09, 2004) ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
I didn't like Delany’s setting and find his characters repulsive, but that’s probably the intention as the more one identifies with Bron the more repulsive Bron is. Interesting more than enjoyable.
Since I’ve read books influenced by this and other of Delany’s works, without recognizing the influences,
This doesn't move me to re-emurse in serious mid 70s SF, even for a better understanding of [[Jo Walton]]. ( )
  quondame | Dec 27, 2017 |
Stylistically, this felt close to the Heinlein that I've read, with lots of free love, gender bending, libertarianism, communal relationships, and non-Terran humans at odds with Earth. Plus lots and lots of infodumping--not a chapter went by without several pages of the classic sf "as you know Bob..." explanations. The concepts were interesting enough; the method of conveying them, deeply boring. I starting skimming them about halfway through this book.

The plot itself is thin: Bron is very self-absorbed but also dissatisfied with his life, and a chance encounter with a performance artist known as The Spike leads him to examine what he wants out of life. Watching him consistently just refuse to recognize what others tell him reminded me of the truth in Tiptree, particularly her "The Women Men Don't See". Delaney is assuredly aware of what an ass Bron is, but because Bron himself never realizes, and despite his periodic half-hearted attempts to change, never manages to stop being so completely selfish, I couldn't feel happy about this book. Delaney has a lot of great concepts and ideas caught up in here, and when he's not infodumping about politics or space or logic, he's got an engaging writing style. But after reading through this, I mostly just felt dissatisfied. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Samuel Delany's novels from the 1960s and 70s represent a "linguistic turn" in science fiction that engages a productive experimentalism. Triton has an unusual structure that makes it a little unsatisfying as a novel, but encourages the reader to break its ideas out of the frame of its narrative.

There are three main textual objects under Triton's cover. The first is the novel proper in seven chapters, presented as the story of Bron, a "metalogician" on Neptune's moon Triton, where he had immigrated from Mars. It focuses on Bron's encounters with a theatrical director named the Spike, which include a trip to Earth during a time of increasing political tension that has on one side "the worlds" (Earth and Mars) and on the other "the satellites" (the inhabited moons of the Solar System).

Appended to the novel are two more texts. Despite their position, these should not be viewed as supplementary, but as integral to Triton. In my case, at least, they were crucial to a deeper appreciation of the book. The first is a composite "From the Triton Journal: Work Notes and Omitted Texts." Both "Omitted Texts" which are set in the narrative frame of the novel, along with all three "Work Notes," are critical reflections on the nature and potentials of the science fiction genre. The longest of the "Work Notes" is in fact one of the best efforts at literary definition and general defense of sf I have ever encountered.

Appendix B is subtitled "Some Informal Remarks on the Modal Calculus, Part Two," where the novel was Part One. (Further parts can be found, I understand, in several volumes of Delany's Return to Nevèrÿon series). This appendix takes the form of a scholarly journal article regarding an abortive lecture series on metalogic, which was to have taken place at the same time as the events of the novel. The content and emphases of this article shed light on the aims of the novel, as for example when remarking, "the three threads from which the collection of notes are braided ... are the psychological, the logical, and the political" (357).

Triton has for its subtitle "An Ambiguous Heterotopia," by which Delany makes allusion both to the "Ambiguous Utopia" of Ursula LeGuin's novel The Dispossessed and to Michel Foucault's The Order of Things, which advanced the idea of the episteme as a basis for historical and cultural discontinuity. It was in this latter book that the word "heterotopia" was coined. Each of the book's seven chapters has an epigram taken from an academic work, such as Natural Symbols by Mary Douglas (anthropology), Word and Object by W.V.O. Quine (philosophy), and Laws of Form by G. Spencer Brown (mathematics).

The futurism of Triton is not so notable on the technological side, since it was written just before the advent of the microcomputer. It alludes to tapes and other unlikely information media, as well as positing centralized information processing for entire cities. On the social side, it is more interesting. The opening pages detail the peculiar institution of the "ego-booster booths," which rehabilitate invasive surveillance by means of appeals to narcissism. The setup strikes me as oddly prescient of the conditions of Facebook and similar "social media" in the early 21st century.

The society of the satellites is conspicuously sex-egalitarian, with "no majority configuration" (272) for sexual preference. Both corporeal sexuality and sexual preference can be retrofitted with a high degree of convenience. There are "communes," which are affectionally-bound domestic arrangements of wide variety, and there are "co-ops" which furnish dormitory options for individuals. The satellites (unlike the worlds) have a comprehensive social benefit to maintain baseline economic and medical welfare for individuals, and thus for the relatively small and dense communities of which they are composed.

All of this intriguing world-building undergirds a story that takes place at a very personal level in Bron's conversations and introspections. While starting out as a somewhat neutral character whom the reader is predisposed to trust (given that Delany has made him our guide to this fictional universe), Bron becomes rather unlikable over the middle phases of the novel. By the book's end, this central figure has changed substantially, and finally "turned to the other side" (329), but it is at best unclear whether these changes have significantly addressed the essential tensions and problems confronted during the course of the book.

In the notes of Appendix A, Delany remarks his own experience as a teenager of discovering in the late chapters of Starship Troopers that the protagonist Rico was black, and thus that Heinlein's posited future society had in fact "dissolved" the racial difficulties of our own (339). Delany provides the attentive reader of Triton with a similar dislocation from an implicit norm, when he tardily reveals that the language in which all of his characters have been communicating is in fact a "Magyar-Cantonese dialect, with ... foggy distinctions between the genitive and the associative, personally or politically enforced" (352). To be sure, the chapter "Idylls in Outer Mongolia" had caused me briefly to wonder whether the apparent lack of language barriers could be due to globally pervasive English. Still, given the conceptual importance of language to this book (and to other Delany novels of this period, as well as LeGuin's The Dispossessed), one feels obliged to wonder how "othered" this heterotopia is from our Anglophone episteme, to say nothing of our terrestrial one.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Dec 15, 2015 |
I can't say I either really understood or enjoyed this book. It seems to fall into that genre of social science fiction envisioning the repurcussions of various social changes. Set on Triton in the near future there is a way between the inner system and the outer system. Bron - a statistician - struggles with his social, sexual, and personal identity during this conflict. Other than exploring these issues,not really sure what the point was. Three stars for respect of the work and its craft - rather than enjoyment of it. ( )
  stuart10er | Nov 5, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel R. Delanyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Acker, KathyContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gawron, Jean MarkIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harris, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hooks, MitchellCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The social body constrains the way the physical body is perceived. The physical experience of the body, always modified by the social categories through which it is known, sustains a particular view of the society. There is a continual exchange of meaning between the two kinds of bodily experience so that each reinforces the categories of the other. As a result of this interaction, the body itself is a highly restricted medium of expression... To be useful, the structural analysis of the symbols has somehow to be related to a hypothesis about role structure. From here, the argument will go in two stages. First, the drive to achieve consonance in all levels of experience produces concordance among other means of expression, so that the use of the body is co-ordinated with other media. Second, controls exerted from the social system place limits on the use of the body as medium.        -Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols
for Isaac Asimov, Jean-Marc Gawron, and Howard Barbara, David, Danny, Jeremy, and Juliet Wise
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He had been living at the men's co-op (Serpent's House) six months now.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Trouble on Triton was originally published as Triton.
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