Queer Weird Fiction: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren

I first encountered the work of Science Fiction Grandmaster Samuel R. Delany (1942 – ) when I was in my late teens. When my older brother left for college, he left behind a copy of Dhalgren. You know that classic Bantam Edition, the one with the ruined city and the swollen and sickly orange sun. I read the book over a summer, enthralled with the topnotch phantasmorgia, the alternative sexuality and, perhaps most of all, the dream-logic poetic prose. Bellona is as vivid and haunting a creation as Mieville’s Bas Lag or Ashton Smith’s Zothique. The journey of the poet through a kind of underworld-like city has strong resonances with the Orpheus myth. That book, a masterpiece of liminal fiction, bridges the gap between “low” speculative fiction and “high” post-modern literature; between pornography and art; between prose and poetry. I maintain that Dhalgren is one of the key works in my personal cannon.

dhalgren

Years later, when I found out that Chip Delany was going to teach at UMass-Amherst), which was a part of the 5-College Consortium (I went to Hampshire), I jumped at the chance to take his class, which was about Comparative Literature. I remember we read The Man Without Qualities by  Musil and Death Comes for the Archbishop by Cather. I can’t recall much of the class, but I remember with fondness the times I met with Chip during his office hours, and spending the time chatting about Science Fiction and writing.

 

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