June 19, 2006
Author: Samuel R. Delany
Category: Cyberpunk Books: Cyberpunk Influenced
Bellona is a city where something happened. Nobody knows exactly what is going on but everyone knows that nothing really works and that nothing can be done to change anything. Everyone who had a better place to go has left. Many curious persons with nowhere else to go have arrived.
The Kid has no idea what his name is. He arrives in Bellano and finds people doing what people do (having sex, arguing, forming gangs and trying to hang on to what little they have left). Nothing much happens. Gangs style themselves as Scorpions and use weird technology to terrorise those residents of Bellona who are willing to be terrorised. Bad things happen to good people.
Samuel Delany was born and raised in Harlem. His first published works were Science fiction but he has written a great deal of fantasy and erotica since then. All three genres can be found in Dhalgren in greater or lesser amounts.
The prose style is stream of consciousness. None of the characters actually seem to do much. There’s a lot of sitting around talking:
“Bet you don’t read the new, good stuff. Lets see: the Three Conventions of science fiction-” Tak wiped his forehead with his leather sleeve. (Kid thought, inanely: he’s polishing his brain.) “First: A single man can change the course of a whole world: Look at Calkins, look at George-look at you! Second: the only measure of intelligence or genius is its linear and practical application: In a landscape like this, what other kind do we even allow to visit? Three: The Universe is an essentially hospitable place, full of earth-type planets where you can crash-land your spaceship and survive long enough to have an adventure. Here in Bellona-”
“Maybe that’s why I don’t read more of the stuff than I do,” Kid said.
But the big wheels are turning in the background. All the best epics work on a small scale human level and set petty human traits against whatever huge global events are going on around them.
This focus on the cruddy details of human life strikes me as one of the fundamental aspects of Cyberpunk, even though the term hadn’t been thought of at the time Dhalgren was written and, as if to prove its an influence, my edition [Vintage books 2001] features an intro by William Gibson himself.
Dhalgren is also one of the few books to be genuinely cyclical. Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” is the most famous of these books that feature a last line that links into the first line.
Dhalgren is about many elements of humanity but speaks most particularly of an experience of life in which different cities blend into one. Different people with different names but the same traits. As you travel the world it all starts to look the same.