I’ve just started reading the second book in a week that has a foreword by William Gibson.(This was by coincidence, but since I average at least 2 novels per week, I wouldn’t read too much into it.) The first was Random Acts of Senseless Violence, by Jack Womack. The second is Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany and it’s that book that I feel compelled to write about today.
I haven’t gotten very far into it – about 120 pages, so I can’t yet talk about the book as a whole. What I can say is that I was struck very early on by a number of things and that I’m well and truly hooked on this story.
The foreword really impressed me, especially the part about the riots in Washington DC. It’s almost the favorite thing of his that I’ve ever read. I thought it was amazingly evocative. There is something about the way Gibson describes a scene that brings a sense of texture, movement and immediacy.
Delany’s city of Bellona is a setting that is deeply intriguing but at the same time, familiar. It reminds me a little of Steve Aylett’s Beerlight, if that city were a few steps further down the entropy spiral. On reflection, it’s more like the post-invasion London of Michael Moorcock’s A Cure for Cancer. On that note, I think the Kid and Jerry Cornelius have a more than little in common, despite the Kid’s rough exterior.
That blur, that feeling of being unsure of what’s real and what isn’t, feels similar to M. John Harrison’s Light. But where in Light it is ubiquitous, in Dhalgren (so far) it is ostensibly isolated to Bellona and produces such horror in those inculcated with the ideals of empiricism and modernity, that the rest of civilization turns it’s back and pretends nothing is happening. As with the Jerry Cornelius stories, the emotional response isn’t just just inspired by the physical & social chaos. It’s that the metaphysical assumptions that everyone takes for granted (and consequently never thinks about) are no longer reliable predictors of the way the world works. In some readers, and some of the characters, this inspires fear – in others this creates elation. The comforting foundations of one person’s world-view can be the bars of someone else’s psychological cage. Paradoxically, both attitudes can (and do) occur at the same time, in the same individuals. This drives the internal tension and external behaviour of fictional characters and ‘real’ people alike.
(Well, that paragraph didn’t end up where I thought it would.)
It’s time for me to do some work now, but I’ll be returning to this book tonight to see what unfolds. If it continues in the way it started, I think it will be well worth the time spent.