Cyberpunk Review » Dhalgren

June 19, 2006


Author: Samuel R. Delany

Year: 1973

Category: Cyberpunk Books: Cyberpunk Influenced

Publisher: Vintage

Into The Saprophytic City


screen capture


…transitions are repeated but in different places.

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.

A world where the same transitions…

This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Influenced Books by David Gentle.


June 20, 2006

Neuromancer said:

It sure is good to see a book being reviewed here!

June 21, 2006

Mac Tonnies said:

“Dhalgren” was a pleasure, albeit an extremely strange and often taxing one.

June 22, 2006

s7awek said:

I wonder if someone could help me here. I’m looking for a site that reviews blogs about cyberpunk or a blog such that i could put the feed of my fictional blog into it. Thanks for your help.

BTW: This site is a great resource. It lists movies, I’ve never heard of. Thanks for this work.

June 23, 2006

SFAM said:

Hi s7awek, you have two pretty separate thoughts there. Are you looking for someone to review your blog, or to publicise it? Might I suggest posting a message in the meatspace (forums) about your blog - this would be a good way to publicise it. Also, The Black Sun might be a good site for reviewing other cyberpunk blogs - but again, I’m really not aware of a type site.

As a side thought on this, yours is the second one I’ve recently encountered where cyberpunk stories are being written in blog form. If there are more, I may want to create a set of links to these.

s7awek said:

SFAM thanks a lot! i just discoverd the forums at cyberpunkreview and at black sun, but wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to post there to announce a blog. that’s exactly what i was looking for. i’ll need comments from readers in the first place so i could improve my approach in writing.

as far as a review of my blog is concerned. i really hope it’s worthy for someone to write a review of it one day. atm i’m still experimenting with the ‘voice’ of the main character, which is supposed to be a mix of german grammar and subcultural strong language.

what i’m looking for, technically spoken, is a site that provides an aggregation of rss feeds of cyberpunk and sf stories in one single rss feed.

BTW just a feedback. i’m not sure if this is my lcd screen. when i looked at black sun i had to highlight the text in the posts to make it easier to read. the foreground color of the text seems some grade too dark.

no need to reply to this post. i’ll simply join the forums. and thank you so much!

June 27, 2006

Steve said:

Nice little review; I read the book when it first came out, and it remains vivid in memory. I’ve passed it along to ma since.

One piece of pedantry: there is no apostrophe in the title of Joce’s last novel. It’s Finnegans Wake, not Finnegan’s Wake.

July 1, 2006

David Gentle said:

Thanks. I’ll correct that if I can. I’m also going to remove the full stop from the end of the last line (the review is circular like the novel).

David Gentle said:

What other books would you like to see reviewed? I’m holding off from gibson and getting some practice on other works.

July 2, 2006

SFAM said:

David, how about Bruce Sterling or Pat Cadigan?

Leave a comment

~All Related Entries Related This~


Made with WordPress and the Semiologic CMS | Design by Mesoconcepts