I read a lot of books, and most don’t get reviewed here on the blog. The ones I spend the time to review are ones I find significant (or wacky) in some way. I don’t need to say Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light is an excellent Sci-Fi novel, as it’s been reviewed many times and nearly captured a brace of prestigious awards. It’s cracking good adventure, has excellent character depth, a delightfully high stakes Alistair MacLean plot and even a believable and heartbreaking love story woven in–the latter not something usually found done well in a Sci-Fi book. I’m not the first to say it’s a worthy carrier of Haldeman’s The Forever War torch in theme, character and tone (yes, many f-bombs).
Note: This review covers adult subjects and I use some frank words.
Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delaney. A million copies have been sold, accounting for many more than a million reads as I assume many get this book from the library or secondhand.
I have read it, twice. The first time I read Dhalgren was when I was in high school. I had a high tolerance for long books. Even obscure books; I must have, because I read Dhalgren. And I remembered it as a foundational work, a standout. Amazing. Now, some forty years later, I re-read this book (after recommending it to one of my kids, oops) and I think, what the hell was I thinking?
TL;DR: This is an otherworldly, often entrancing work by a very talented artist. Pros: very detailed characters with an accurate ear for verbal styles (though some are dated or stereotypical). Some passages are cogent, gripping, intensely visual. Eerily realistic presentation of mental illness as presented from the inside. Delaney delivers compelling scene descriptions, though this is often overdone, wordy, and heavy-handed. Cons: the book explores dissociative reality by foisting very turgid syntax on the reader and repeatedly scrambling the narrative, throwing the reader into different parts of the timeline or obscuring it. There is no plot beyond a passage of the protagonist through reality in a post-apocalyptic city (Bellona), where every experience is questioned–by the protagonist, his associates, eventually by the narrator/author. Meanwhile, the reader must patch together violently fragmented chunks of text in search of the narrative. The book is interspersed with extremely detailed and intimate scenes of sex in multiple flavors/styles/body count that drag on way too long; pages, in fact. Many of the themes that do come through crisply are dated.