To be honest, I don’t know how to use tags. True, I cut them from my clothing, I rip them off of bed linens and pillows, and I attach them to blog posts. At least with the non-blog related efforts, I can see the absence of what I’ve done. Here, though, with WordPress and whatever template I’m using at the helm, my tags are lost, beholden to my categories, which are so vague as to be useful only as a veil.
All of which goes a short way towards pointing out that if I didn’t specifically say that this post was/is going to be a miniature treatise on Samuel R. Delany’s Triton then you might never know.
Unless you, well, read said mini-treatise. Minise?
Shortcut #16: Samuel R. Delany’s Triton
I don’t think I had this much difficulty liking the main character of a novel since Crime and Punishment, and even there my memory is tainted with the fact that I first tried to read it in undergrad and gave up two hundred or so pages in, thankfully turning to the next book on the syllabus. When I read the novel again last year (this time to completion) it took me until page three hundred to grow wrapped up (and rapt up) in the story and Raskolnikov who, despite what I set just a sentence earlier, is not someone I ever disliked. Granted, it was still a hard three hundred pages that I spent wondering when, if ever, I was going to be drawn into the book, but when I hit that mark suddenly the rest of the novel fell into place, that I’d read and that which I had yet to read, and the entire experience was transformed from lead to gold.
With Bron, the main character in Triton, I only rarely identified with him or really cared about what was happening to him. No, that’s not true; I cared because he constantly seemed on the verge of realizing what an asshole he was and, through that realization, changing himself for the better. But, really, it was as though I were stuck in an asshole’s life, one who was/is completely unaware of his assholishness, and therefore all the more horrifying to be around. Especially because this character is the protagonist, but in this case instead of being the hero he’s the villain. There’s even a point late in the book where he, through lack of awareness and self-absorption, appears to have been the cause of a terrorist attack on his home city, one that causes hundreds of deaths.
Bron finds himself, early on, in love (though he denies that’s what he is feeling) with a theater artist called the Spike. Though she’s definitely strange (but pretty much everyone in this world is, by today’s standards) and a little standoffish, I soon discover that she’s the first and most important witness to the deadly selfishness that centers Bron’s emotionally poverty-stricken life. Not that she’s the first person he’s hurt or ignored, but that she’s the one who is the most important mirror of his actions, both to himself and to us, especially because she hides her true feelings from him — which may just as much be because the novel, although told in the third-person, is closely tied and allied with Bron’s point of view. And, as we see throughout the book, more evident the farther along we are, Bron lies just as much to himself as he does to other people, even though, in both cases, he doesn’t believe he’s lying.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the reading of this book has been one of the most unpleasant reading experiences I’ve had in a while. Earlier today, I was thinking that there’s no likelihood I would recommend reading Triton as a good read to anyone.
And yet. [And yet? -ed.] And yet, Delany is one of the writers I respect most, and I admire and envy the way he threads philosophy and science and what else have you through his books, even as his books are mostly just great literature in the Classics sense: books about people and their problems and the world that made them and that they make.
What comes clear to me is that we’re not supposed to like Bron (or maybe that’s because, though I’m a straight, white man — same as Bron except for my non-Nordicness — I’m reading this thirty-three years after its publication, thirty-five after its writing, and the world has changed some, if not all, and the shock to the system identification with Bron was supposed to be no longer plugs in) and he, in fact, is an example for us of what type of person doesn’t fit into the near-Utopia that the Outer Satellites (Triton being one of them) has become. In some ways, the situation in Triton reminds me of William Morris’ News from Nowhere, a Utopian novel from the 19th century. In News from Nowhere, the main character, William Morris (amazingly enough!), is given a taste of the Utopian future, but can’t stay there because he’s a relic, a throwback, a person from our (okay, their) time who isn’t suitable for the paradise the world will become. Bron, too, is unable to live happily in the paradise he lives in, and we have to take his position, because we, the readers, also can’t live in that world. Not that we don’t want to (okay, some of us probably don’t) but that we wouldn’t be able to handle it, psychologically, emotionally, whatever other -ally you want to put there.
But who wants to read about a jerk being a jerk for hours on end? Because that, essentially, is what the book boils down to. Granted, Delany’s project is not one of pure entertainment, at least not in the way that most science-fiction, hell, most novels are geared for these days. Instead, he is creating a world and investigating how that world works; in doing so, his fictional world funhouse-mirrors ours. Triton is worth the read — was worth my read — but still, it’s hard to recommend.
1. I identified with Bron, and that’s perhaps what made much of his posturing and careless-hurting painful to read. I’m not saying I act like him (though if I did act like him, that’s exactly what I’d say) but that I fear that I go around my life unaware of others and unwilling to accept their needs are as valid as my own.
2. The novel ends with a section of deleted scenes and an essay on science fiction. The essay is worth keeping the book for by itself, though I think I’ll be keeping the book on its own merits. It’s not as enjoyable a ride as Babel-17, but its strangeness calls for storing it on the shelf. The book is so, well, literary; it’s much more in tune with what I’m trying to do with my own novels than what I mostly find in the world.