Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

Author: Samuel R. Delany
Published: 1984

This year I read The Left Hand of Darkness which does well to portray the otherness, for lack of better vocabulary, of a truly alien human culture. Stars In My Pocket ... by comparison is like being in an alien culture. It is like reading an account in English translated from Russian about the gift economy of an aboriginal people. The book describes human beings, but in a culture and technology that is, to paraphrase Clarke, indistinguishable from magic.

This book is mind-blowing.

At times, it is a hard read, the jargon and alien cultural references so thick it is difficult to keep up. There are rewards when the mists lift and the story unfolds further. And several cool moments.

The Story:
Humans mix with aliens on thousands of worlds. Human behavior remains that, elevated and tolerant here, ignorant and violent there. A political struggle is heating up, an entire planet's worth of people are boiled away. Gender references are generically female (e.g. people are referred to as women, a reversal of mankind in a way) and are specified only when the narrator feels the need to clarify his relationship with he or she. Or needs to describe, if you will, the naughty bits.

The heart of the novel is about intense, pure, sexual desire. The two men involved are oblivious to the storm that roils around and ultimately separates them.

Cool moment number one:
In the city of Morgre the tracer cooperative "form the primary advisory council for the domestic and industrial boroughs that govern our complex." The tracers provide vital information about what is going on, past and present, that informs the culture.

They do this by collecting and cataloging the city's trash.

Cool moment number two:
Technology is incredibly advanced, mind-computer interfaces the norm. Passwords are thought out as a string of numbers/words/tastes/smells. At one point, an ancient recorded personality asks to be shut off. The main character hesitates, not knowing the proper sequence to think; tomes of ancient knowledge must be consulted. The personality makes it simple:

Push the off button.

I started reading knowing there was a second book which might have to be read. I finished this knowing I had to read the second book.

Except Delany hasn't finished writing it! It's been 23 years, man. Polish off that puppy!

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