So it's been something over 30 years since i picked up a brand new, still smelling of ink copy of Dhalgren while buying books for the spring semester at Ariel Bookseller in New Paltz. It was massive (879 numbered pages), it had that cover (an impossibly huge red-orange sun setting [it was clearly setting. there was no way that could be a dawn] behind the crumbling skeletons of three skyscrapers and several lesser buildings, three men standing almost unnoticed in the lower left hand corner, it was a Frederik Pohl selection (reflecting "the taste integrity and discrimination" of that esteemed author and editor), it claimed lineage with Stranger in a Strange Land
, it was the "MAJOR NOVEL OF LOVE AND TERROR AT THE END OF TIME."
It was a buck ninety five.
It was about "a nameless young man with no memory."
It began in the middle of a fucking sentence.
It ended in the middle of a fucking sentence.
(Yes, i am one of those readers who checks the last page of the book before i buy it, to see if i can figure out how the writer is going to connect the dots from beginning to end.)
It took me the whole semester to finish it. I was taking major drugs back then, barely 19, and on the verge of realizing that college was probably not a good idea at the time.
I still own that first printing, first Bantam edition. It's been taped back together several times. It's the only book of mine to survive my own personal New Orleans disaster of 1977, which ended with losing literally everything i could not carry on my back.
I wanted to live in Bellona. I wanted to be able to have wild sex with just about anybody i met also, like Kidd, or the Kid, or the kid, as he is variously called throughout the text. I wanted to eat canned food of unknown provenance with my fingers, drink beer for free at a noisy bar and leave my notebook with the bartender, knowing that it was safer there than anywhere else in the universe.
Like i said, college was not a good place for me at that point in my life.
I went out and read everything Delany had published
up to that point, a habit which has pretty much continued till today. Except for The Mad Man. I couldn't finish that one. Somewhere in the boxes of stuff that i've accumulated over the decades is a crumbling page from the New York Times circa 1985 in which Delany discusses the rituals and dramas of his family's holiday dinners in Raleigh, North Carolina and New York City as a child, part of a series in which several semi-famous people did similar things.
I've asked my bookseller friends
to find a way to bring Delany down to Durham whenever one of his many classic SF novels gets reprinted, or he publishes another of his almost neutron star dense semiotic explorations of one important text or another. I practically begged another friend, who has some decision-making authority in the Durham Reads Together series to make Delany last year's pick. In hindsight, James McBride's The Color of Water
was probably a more appropriate choice.
All to no avail.
Samuel Delany and John Kessel (NC State prof, Nebula Award winner and no slouch when it comes to slinging the post-modern hash himself) discuss "Science Fiction as a premiere platform for talking race, sex and politics
" at Duke University, Sunday afternoon, April 29, part of the North Carolina Festival of the Book. The biggest cultural event in the entire 13 years i've lived in Durham, with the possible exception of Iggy Pop at the Cat's Cradle in 2001, and that doesn't count because it's in Carrboro.
Did i mention i'm going to Florida on the 26th, and i'll be back on May 3rd?
Now, you might think that an event like this (which admittedly is not an esseff event per se, but does have two of the keenest minds in contemporary science fiction in the same room at one time) might actually be made available via webcast or some hi falutin' technology like that. It's not like webcasting wasn't predicted in science fiction in, oh, nineteen oh fucking nine or somesuch by EM Forster in the long story The Machine Stops. Admittedly, old Edward Morgan was not that impressed with the technology, but i would find it kinda useful this weekend after all.
Maybe next year.
Continue reading Samuel Delany comes to Durham