Originally posted by: @RUTGERS.ARPA:mcb%lll-tis.arpa@lll-tis
Date: Sat, 19-Jan-85 01:35:04 EST
Posted: Sat Jan 19 01:35:04 1985
Date-Received: Wed, 23-Jan-85 08:39:26 EST
Organization: Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, N.J.
From: mcb%lll-tis.arpa@lll-tis (Michael C. Berch)
Delany, Samuel R. STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND.
(Bantam, December 1984, hc, 368 pp., $16.95. ISBN 0-553-05053-2.)
There have always been two Delanys: the one that is fascinated by
communications theory, linguistics, semiotics, and high technology;
and the one obsessed with slavery, rough sex, and degradation.
His books based on these themes and images have tended to fall into
one category or the other: BABEL-17, NOVA, and TRITON being typical
of the former and DHALGREN and most of TALES OF NEVERYON the latter.
In STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND Delany's two worlds
blend in a forceful and compelling manner. Set in a universe of
dazzling information technologies and designed environments, the
novel begins with a slave who, having submitted to psychosurgery,
is much like a blank slate upon whom the intricacies and intrigues
of the book can be written.
Delany shifts gears quickly to develop the interstellar culture
by introducing Marq Dyeth, an "industrial diplomat" (that's a
combination trade emissary, problem solver, and general
consultant) and Marq's home on the planet Velm. This is a
universe populated by humans and an alien race (described
visually only in tantalizing nuggets) with whom humans have lived
in cooperation for many generations. In this society, the words
"she" and "her" describe sentients of both races and both
genders; "he" and "him" have quite a different meaning entirely!
The information culture on Marq's home planet is full of
technological surprises (Delany has invented some unique
replacements for encyclopedia and telephone) and Byzantine
intrigues. On myriads of planets, proponents of two rival
models for social and cultural development clash and contend for
political and economic ascendancy; the flow of information
between societies is controlled by an organization called the
Web, sort of a meta-government with apparently unlimited
Cultural institutions, both alien and human, are put forth by
Delany, shaken as if inside a gift box, examined, and dissected.
Rat Korga, the slave, whose life consisted of rude meals, hovels,
excrement, and rough sex, is thrust by events into the
flashing-lights-and-computer-hookup world of the Web and its
friends and enemies and collaborators and betrayers. Marq Dyeth,
comfortable among his family (and what a family it is!) and home,
has learned things that he may not wish to have learned, about the
political realities of the civilization and about friends, new and old.
As a comedy of manners, STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND is
unassailable, though the manners and institutions dealt with are
fictional and fanciful; as a technological sf novel it is among
the best, in pure terms of speculation and invention. The
academic and intellectual Delany supervenes over the dark
and sordid one, so the novel is cerebral rather than visceral.
But Delany could easily be the finest prose stylist writing in
English today, inside or outside the sf genre. His language
never fails to sparkle: in many passages, each word seems
chosen like a crystal that, when struck exactly, will resonate with
a clarity of tone and harmonic that suggest meanings and shadows
of meaning only hinted at when the phrase is first read. Yes,
it's THAT good.
STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND is one of those rare books
without a flaw or blemish. Had I been the editor, I would not
have been able to find a single word to change or a passage that I'd
refer to the author for clarification. However, not every such
book is worthy of the praise that this one deserves; some are held back
by their internal limitations. Not so here. Only an abject failure in
THE SPLENDOR AND MISERY OF BODIES, OF CITIES, which will finish the tale
begun in STARS IN MY POCKET, could possibly lessen Mr. Delany's achievement.
Michael C. Berch