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am 13. Oktober 1999
Capsulizing my reaction to this book is difficult, as I find compelling reasons both to love it and to hate it. Delany certainly has a better technique than any other author of science fiction. He can write with precision to evoke a mood or a sensory impression, and with imprecision to provoke thought. For example, the initial description of a character or place often omits a detail, allowing the reader to fill in the blank. Delany then clarifies the description later, forcing the reader to question why he or she chose to envision a particular race, gender, color, or other attribute for that character or place. There are many interesting scenes in the first 650 pages. I can also offer unreserved praise for the final chapter, which brilliantly mixes incomplete notebook pages with text and later commentary.
But, but, but -- much of the text is pointless. For example, a multi-page description of a recording session reads more like a creative writing class exercise than actual literature, and certainly proves Elvis Costello's observation that writing about music is like dancing about architecture -- uninformative and pretentious. Descriptions of the decaying city are initially interesting but they become dull with repetition. The characters' endless philosophizing is obscure, and often trite. This and other verbiage makes much of the book tough going, and buries key elements of the story line.
Finally, Dhalgren should not be seen as science fiction. The only new technologies are peripheral to the plot, and there are no societal developments to differentiate Dhalgren from the world of the late 1960s. Rather, the book is more a ham-handed magical realism, with the city of Bellona a bloated, pornographic Macondo.
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am 24. Februar 2000
I am obsessed with Delany, and I probably always will be. I still bite my fingernails because of him. I first read Dhalgren at 19, while living in Philadelphia, living in a city for the first time, no plans, no goals, no ambitions. I was in my own Bellona, squatting with fellow scorpions, having the magical edges of my reality dictated to me by this incredible book. Dhalgren is real in a way that most of my life hasn't been, and when I feel nostalgia, what I miss is the psychotopographies of Bellona as laid out in Dhalgren. It is the greatest novel about a city ever written; any one of the Surrealists (Breton especially) would slit his throat to write a book half as good, but wouldn't have the balls to stomach the finished result. People who have not read Dhalgren are inferior to those of us who have, but there is a clear remedy for this. Read the book. And read Heavenly Breakfast too, so you can see where Delany first walked into Bellona.
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I bought this book riding on a high of Delaney talent. I had just read Babel 17, and thought it was one of the finest, most unique pieces of Science Fiction I'd ever read. I loved the dysfunctional language, the Eyes, Ears and Nose (ghosts as the engineering crew of a starship - superb!). In fact there wasn't a thing about that novel that I disliked, then I bought Dharlgren.... What happened? Did Delaney's talent mysteriously disappear? A more self-obsessed, mindless waste of paper I don't think I've ever come across. I thought Stephen Donaldson had a tendency to verbose ramblings, but this book could be used to give a masterclass on page-wasting drivel. Maybe there are those out there who will love this, but I prefer to remember the vibrant Delaney of Babel 17.
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am 10. Mai 1999
Dhalgren marks the transition of Delany from a writer of great stories to an "important" writer, worthy of academic study. It was one of the revolutionary and groundbreaking novels of its day, part of the movement captured by Harlan Ellison's "Dangerous Visions" anthologies, escaping from the rigid rules of style, plot, and subject that are still found in the "hard SF" branch of the genre even today. Yet from a distance of 25 years, what is most striking is how dated it is. What then seemed like fresh news from the counterculture now is full of jokey characters - "spades" with "basketball-sized natural" haircuts, women calling men "male chauvinist pigs", and hippie biker communal pansexual lifestyles.
The first-person narrator's amnesic madness means that nothing really has to make sense. One should be impressed by the sustained lack of focus, since Delany's earlier books such as Nova and Babel-17 are crystalline in their plotting. But in such a long, long book, Tolstoian scale is replaced by episode after interchangable episode that is finally even admitted within the text 3/4ths of the way through. Of course, in modern literature, all contracts with the reader have been abrogated, and such dazed and confused loss of control over events is an authorial state to be celebrated.
But the kid's status as a serious, effective poet provides opportunity for the development of some remarkable images and set pieces. The madness and strength of a dysfunctional family retaining the pretense of middle-class life in the midst of anarchy, and the biker-style "scorpions" at the upper-society garden party have a life that can't be found in most SF, while the smoke-clouded, evacuated city's atmosphere has been done much better by J.G. Ballard. There are many beautiful strings of words, too. Some readers will save this book for its many X-rated "good parts", others will find its value on entirely different pages.
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am 10. April 1997
I found this book so boring and un-realistic that I could notfinish it. SF is supposed to have some foothold in reality, and thenextrapolate on the possibilities -- ideally not breaking the laws of physics in the process. This book just rambles on for hundreds of pages about nothing. Maybe I am just to un-enlightened to "get it", afterall, I do not like Piscaso either.
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am 2. August 1999
I read this book in 1975 when I was on the road with a band and I could relate to the unsettled and confusing plot and situations of the denizens of Bellona as an analogue for my own lifestyle at the time. While I don't remember the book in it's entirety (and I can't be sure that I even finished it), it made enough of an impression upon me and may have even corrupted my moral and spiritual reasoning in some subtle way. I don't expect that I will read it again (life is too short to delve into fat paperbacks more than once after the age of 40) so my memories of the book are perhaps more fond than if I had just lately shelled out 6 or 7 dollars for the thing and found it wanting. It was also some of the first gay erotic writing I ever encountered, which also piqued my interest. I had fun reading it, though I'm not sure anyone under 45 would these days.
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am 19. Juli 2000
It's hard to write a review for this book. The first time I read was like ten years ago. I was around 15 or 16. It looks intimidating. Thick, and as hard to get into as a bar on Sunset on Friday night.
I was an English major in college and I have never read anything like it. I've read it two or three times since then and I still don't get it all. Am I supposed to? I would love to meet Delany and ask him what it all means, but I'm sure he would say that would ruin the whole point.
One of the things that stands out most is the dialogue. It's amazingly written. Pick out any piece of dialogue (without the speaker's name) and anyone familiar with the text would know exactly who was speaking. That's very difficult to accomplish. His characters are so real, so convincing, it's seem like they are alive somethere, still living.
I think the loop of the beginning and end, "... to wound..." is one of the strengths of the novel. It's better to not know the answers. If everything was spelled out, what fun would that be? The ambiguity gives it depth and intrigue.
I think about aspects of this story with frightening regularity. Everytime I go under a street light, I think of Dhalgren. I swear one pulses and dies just because I am looking. Everytime I look at the moon, I think of George.
An interesting part sticks with me. I'll paraphrase: in a week, I can't remember five days. In a year, how many days will YOU never think of again. How true is that? Wow. What were you doing on Sep. 9th, 1994? If it's your B-day, anniversary, or whatever think of another date. How insignificant mundane, day-to-day things are in the grand sceme of time. Nothing matters, only hugely significant things are remembered or important. Delany goes into many other social, literary and cultural questions which would be too numberous to mention here. But they ALL matter to this book. Everything means something here and to cram in so many ideas and fit them together so well with such simple language is incredible.
What does it all mean? The red eye caps? The optic chains? The light projectors? The scratch on her leg? The notebook? Bill's name-is it William Dhalgren? I always thought that was Kid's name, because of the title. What year is it? What happened to the sun? Why can't he remember everything? Does Kid have multiple personalities? What's going on here?
I honestly don't know and really don't want to. It would spoil the wonder of it all. This novel is a remarkable peice of literature. It, along with The Lord of the Rings, has influenced me greatly. I know I might not have chosen to become a writer myself if it were not for this. To emulate and possibly achieve this level. If only I
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am 29. Juli 2000
In my humble opinion "Dhalgren" is one of the finest pieces of modern epic fiction ever written. I first read this work some 19 years ago, on a friend's referral (Hi "Punk", wherever you are, thanks again - God bless you), when I was an English major in college, and frankly it changed my life - it just shattered any previous concepts I had about the creative process of writing (& reading, for that matter). I have never read anything like it before or since - I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the prose - almost as though every page was a piece of stream-of-consciousness blank verse - soaked in super-real imagery the likes of which are simply mind-boggling. "Dhalgren" is a work that is steeped in questions - most of them left up to the reader's imagination - so if you're the type of reader who must leave "no stone unturned" in terms of resolving such enigmas, you'd probably be disappointed in this work. On the other hand, if you want to take your mind on a trip and simply wallow in some of the finest, most surrealistic imagery ever composed in the English language (not to mention some of the most iconoclastic writing techniques), then you would dig this book (if you're like me and are fascinated with words and their often beautiful, ominous and breath-taking capabilities, you will find this a great read). There are so many layers to this story, so many ways to appreciate this work, it is hard to encapsulate them all here. If I can formulate a fragment of an idea based on the title of the first chapter ("Prism, Mirror, Lens"), it is as though you are viewing this landscape - this forgotten city, wounded by some inexplicable catastrophy - through a prism, your vision being splintered into a dozen distorted views of the same thing -the fabric of time is in a constant state of flux, and, as in a dreamstate, you can not quite put your finger on the pulse of what is reality. It is almost as though, upon completion of the first reading, you can go back to this novel and re-read it (or portions thereof) completly out of sequence and gain further insight into its characters and events - the text itself seems to "work" completly out of sync with itself, if you will. All in all, a fantastic & thought-provoking journey, an enigma rooted in a not-too-far-out reality, a mind-game, a beautifully disturbing dream for the adventurous reader who might prefer something other than the standard "sci-fi" fare. I have often thought that David Lynch might be capable of making this into a film, and perhaps Brian Eno could score it, but this work is ultimately best left to blossom in the mind of the reader, for the rest of their lives (and it will, believe me).
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am 16. April 1999
I recently read the original paperback edition of this book. It doesn't even qualify as SciFi. There is nothing futuistic about it. The cover suggests the sun going nova and the earth about to die, but there is no mention of this in the book.
The entire book revolves around a main character, "Kidd" or "the kid" who can't remember his name. He enters a city that seems to have been partially destroyed by fire, but this isn't really discussed. The sky is always overcast or hazy and nobody can ever see the sky except on two brief occaissions. One night it clears and those who look think they see two moons, but nobody is really sure. One morning the sky is clear and the sun appears gigantic in size, but nobody knows what that means.
Most of the inhabitants have fled the city. Those who remain live aimlessly. When the outside world is mentioned, everything is said to be normal, but there is no contact except when somebody new arrives. Mysteriously, the utilities continue to function, although erratically, but there don't seem to be any phones. People scavenge for food and other necessities, but no one worries that they will run out.
There are a few places in the book where the text is simply senseless; just words strung together that are meaningless. There is no plot, just a sort of rambling series of episodes that don't go anywhere. The last part of the book is dominated by sexual interludes shared by "the Kid" and his girlfriend and boyfriend as a threesome.
If aimless drivel is what you like, go for it. Otherwise, I would recommend avoiding this stinker.
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am 19. Januar 2000
Dahlgren is one of those novels that simply begs to be read over and over in order to try and get a gasp on what is happening to the characters and surroundings in this psuedo sci-fi study. Being a multiple myself, I sometimes wonder why it took me four readings to realise that the main character does indeed exibit all the signs of being himself a Multiple. Through the first couple of reads the various plots seem to jump... quite at random... from one state to another; much as a late James Joyce novel such as "Finigans Wake" does... the novel does in fact seem to have no true beginning or end, it just loops continuously. This style, while quite interesting, still does not explain the various plots and their seemingly unconnected jumps and twists. If however, the reader begins the book carrying the thought that the main character is indeed a Multiple, then all those strange plot twists and seemingly unconnected characters begin to make perhaps a shred of sense. The main character is Multi, and switches between different alternate identities (alters) quite at random, and just like myself and my own system of alters, each percieves the world in a totally different light. Each sees things that the others cannot; thus, the reality of one alter bears very little resemblance to that of another. The constantly changing and intermixing plots in Dahlgren reflect this Multiplicity in it's base form, and when I read the novel as a "system"... a different alter dealing with each plot change... the novel takes on an entirely different look and feel. The seeming lack of continuity disappears totally, and the novel resolves itself into one single, well intertwined plot involving a city in the midst of slow destruction. There is still no real beginning or end to the story, but I believe that Delaney wrote this way on purpose as an examination of the slow decay of any large urban center in this age. I do realise that as an alter, my own perception of this novel is, by it's very nature, totally different from that of a Monomind and so it must be. Perhaps I am totally wrong here, and it is that very Multiplicity that makes me so, but that is the only way any of us can see the novel, now that this theory has pushed it's way into our system. I grant you this is a theory from way out in left field, but I also believe that it is one that should perhaps be explored the next time you pick up the novel to read it through yet again...
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