Once upon a time (around 1986 or 1987?), I had an opportunity to meet Samuel R. Delany at an ALA or ABA Dhalgren was already atop my Favorite List; other Delanys had been dutifully accomplished or would be—the Neveryón series, The Tides of Lust, Hogg: A Novel and The Mad Man, et al. And so after my Delany period, I reapproached him with reluctance—my taste in reading has changed, and I wondered if his initial appeal would endure (I’ve restarted Dhalgren numerous times only to decide: Not yet).
When one of my groups decided to read this one, I thought I was ready. It begins with the story of Rat (the narrator’s big-O other or little-o other; I’m not fluent in Lacan, but dammit, it’s one of them) before moving on to the narrator’s seemingly endless account of his world, other worlds, terrains, suns and moons, planets and space travel. To be honest, I thought the middle section would go on forever—it was slow, I was slow, and then…finally, the narrator encounters Rat (now Rat Korga). The pace quickens towards an inevitable end. Inevitable but necessary. Necessary and sad. Themes of loss, memory, desire (that damn Lacan!), overwhelm the Real. The sublime yields to desire. Desire falls victim to Authority to loss and memory.
Someone once pointed out to me that there are two kinds of memory (I don’t mean short- and long-term, either): recognition memory and reconstruction memory. The second is what artiststs train and most of us live off the first—though even if we’re not artists we have enough of the second to get us through the normal run of imaginings. Well, your perfect erotic object remains only in recognition memory, and his absolute absence from reconstructive memory becomes the yearning that is, finally, desire.
I’m glad I reread this one, although I retain the five-star rating primarily because of the way the novel impressed me the first time I read it. Something that does strike me about it—especially when compared to other Delanys—there’s actually very little sex in this one, precious little should that be what you’re looking for.