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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a little extra info
I agree with Jason's review and would add that this is very much the product of its time, very soul-searching, "find yourself", self-indulgent 70s. It's nostagia for some of us!

The literary style is one of experimentation, breaking into themes and patterns of prose that repeat, excerpts, poetic musings. Diverse methods are used disjoint the text and the...
Published on 27 Sept. 2007 by Nerd58

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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Impenetrable Fortress
I first tried to read this book when it was first published, thrilled to have a new Delany in my hands, as he is one of my favorite authors. But I couldn't finish it then, it just became too obscure and without point. Recently reminded of this book , I realized I was still irritated by this failure (surely it had to be a fault with me, not such a great writer), so I...
Published on 3 Sept. 2009 by Patrick Shepherd


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a little extra info, 27 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Dhalgren (Paperback)
I agree with Jason's review and would add that this is very much the product of its time, very soul-searching, "find yourself", self-indulgent 70s. It's nostagia for some of us!

The literary style is one of experimentation, breaking into themes and patterns of prose that repeat, excerpts, poetic musings. Diverse methods are used disjoint the text and the reading of it. This gives it an expressive freedom, matching the libertarian concerns of the work and the time and place in which it was written. It could be a bit off-putting to those that have specific preferences as to how SF should be written. Space Opera it ain't. That's why I liked it so much! Good writing is not a matter of fashion or a restrictive genre style.

I think it's beautiful, but don't bother if you like a tight, explicable, neat tale with fast pacing and a big bang at the end. You won't find that here.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Avant-garde SF masterwork, 21 Feb. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Dhalgren (Paperback)
Though not to everyone's taste, and hard-going in parts, Delany's sprawling tale of a man's, and a city's, and a society's dance with madness is a unique and dizzying experience. As erotic as it is disturbing, it charts the progress of the Kid as he enters the city of Bellona, somehow isolated from the rest of America, with a dwindling population and slowly decaying social structure. Neither he nor the reader can ever be sure of what is real and of what matters, and the attempt to retain sanity in the absence of rules - or the attempt to create and maintain new ones - becomes increasingly desperate. If you like a challenging read and have an open mind, you may find this one of the most memorable reads of your life!
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Impenetrable Fortress, 3 Sept. 2009
By 
Patrick Shepherd "hyperpat" (San Jose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dhalgren (Paperback)
I first tried to read this book when it was first published, thrilled to have a new Delany in my hands, as he is one of my favorite authors. But I couldn't finish it then, it just became too obscure and without point. Recently reminded of this book , I realized I was still irritated by this failure (surely it had to be a fault with me, not such a great writer), so I finally sat down and read it, cover to cover. Net result:

a. The book is not SF. It may not even be fantasy. Perhaps it belongs with certain works by Kafka. Its nominal story line is of a poet (never named, if referred to at all it's as 'the Kid') wandering around a dreamscape city isolated from the 'real' world, subject to odd lapses of memory and having various encounters (many of a sexual variety) with the inhabitants and musing about himself.

b. There are important themes that Delany addresses in this book, such as the mutability and slipperiness of time, how each individual experiences time differently; some long polemics on the art and purpose of writing; some decent commentary on 'proper' social mores and how they come into being; how gods and legends are made.

c. Unfortunately, items in (b) are buried inside an almost impenetrable fortress of non-plot, asides, deliberately mixed up time order of events, a confusing cast of characters (some of whom you don't learn who they are till after they have already performed important actions), double side by side stories (on the same page), and a whole raft of symbols and metaphors that he deliberately leaves few clues about what they are supposed to represent, non-closure of what is the apparent main story, occasional use of stream-of-consciousness (with no warning about transition from normal prose), etc, etc, etc. Some of this confusion and non-obvious referents can be cleared up a little by reading his autobiographical The Motion of Light in Water, where the prototypes for some the characters and events of this book appear (and which is a far better book and highly recommended). But for me, anyway, too much of this comes across as Delany being deliberately dense, obfuscating, and at least somewhat pretentious. Post-modern literary techniques are all well and dandy, but they should serve a purpose in telling a story, should be able to give greater meaning and depth to it. Here it seems they just hide what this story is really about.

d. This book makes for difficult reading. It took me almost twice as long as normal to read than the equivalent number of pages in a normal novel. Also, come armed with a good dictionary -- while most of the prose is simple, occasionally, especially when he seems to be speaking ex cathedra , his use of very uncommon words becomes spectacular.

e. The language, as usual for Delany, is compelling, beautiful, near-poetry at times. His characters (those that he actually develops) are very different (and intriguing) from the norm (also normal for him). The failure here is the construction of this work. Too much of it is non-linear, snapshots unconnected to each other, logic totally discarded. While this may have been exactly what he intended, it leaves the reader with no focal point from which to appreciate this work.

Conclusion: read at your own risk. Many consider this book to be great literature, and apparently just as many find it impossibly difficult and without focus.

---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bloated, bizarre, impossible and unique, 14 May 2012
This review is from: Dhalgren (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
What has not been pointed out enough in the many reviews for this book is that, no matter how firmly or viciously you search, you will never find another like it. That alone should warrant it particular consideration.
Fortunately, it also happens to be a wonderfully told and passionate tale of...well, of Dhalgren. Who or what is Dhalgren? A pointed question, one that The Kid - a young drifter suffering from partial amnesia - is confronted with on several occasions as he blunders into and attempts to survive the city of Bellona. That Bellona is meant to occupy the exact physical centre of America should give a clue that Delaney is at least dipping his toes into parable, though this novel is far more than symbolist claptrap (though it's that too). It's a record of a tentative and experimental romance, a claustrophobic horror-show, a mad dance with a gang of high-tech street youth, a surreal confrontation with the heart of artistic creation, a grotesque interpretation of race and gender relations, a pornographic diary and, more than anything else, it is a description of a place. That place is Bellona, a city of empty streets and lost souls, where the broken and the perverse have come to play; it may also be where a small community of people find a quiet kind of wonder, and a subtle sort of freedom, and a strange day of doom.
Yes, Dhalgren is unique, exquisitely written and a whale of a book - one that will make you a Jonah, to emerge from it forever changed.
Who or what is Dhalgren? Well, therein lies the tale...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a brilliant, beautifully written book, 10 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Dhalgren (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
This is a brilliant, beautifully written book, I read it in 2014. It is not dated (yet), nor nostalgic. It's still a profound vision of humanity, relationships, class, sexuality etc . . .

From the wildly differing reviews, it's obvious Dhalgren isn't for everybody. Although it is by a classic SF writer, this book marks the time when Delany ceases to confine himself to classic SF and uses his skill to explore other themes he is interested in, themes I'd guess are very personal to him - he does so with a vengeance. It's great an SF writer can branch out like this, to produce staggering pieces of fiction on a par or better than those in the literary sector. It makes the field of SF so strong in its diversity, though perhaps unpredictable for the reader. It's fun to have authors like PK Dick, AC Clarke, Olaf Stapledon at the core, but then you get other SF writers stretching that core like Heinlein, Doris Lessing, + individual books such as Stand on Zanzibar etc.

Once I start a book, I have to finish. I was put off by the reviews of Dhalgren. I didn't read it for years, ignored its call for decades; I was lead to believe the book would be a difficult tome and I'd feel chained to it. It got more daunting as I continually failed to pick it up. I can honestly say this is one of the easiest and most enjoyable books I have read. There is a poetic beginning to the book which lasts about ten pages; it's a bit like walking through a dark swamp. I think Delany does this because he wants you to emerge into the other world of Bellona as from a dream (and it works well - though I'm glad it wasn't longer than those few pages). Once you've got out of the dream swamp Delany is very explicit, you are in Bellona, the detail is incredible and there isn't a wasted word. I would definitely not want this book to be shorter (it's too fun being immersed in such a real alter-reality). [ . . . and that's why it's SF: because it is another reality.]

The dreaminess vanishes and you are welcomed to the cinders of Bellona, a US city where people are left to fend for themselves. That is basically what Delany wants to explore: how people would interact in a situation entirely cut off from our normal, structured routines, the drudgery of 9-5 work, matters of state, there is no money, somehow the shops replenish themselves . . . strange things happen, but that seems to be more on the periphery - of central concern are the dynamics between the characters, characters who are so alive.

So, Bellona's particular manifestation of Anarchy, an absence of endorsed rules or structures, forces a character to figure out how they fit and who they are - beyond just a name. The story follows amnesiac 'Kid', coming out of the dream not knowing who he is, remembering a bit of time in a psychiatric hospital and making his way through Bellona a journey of self discovery. It is as though Bellona's rubble mirrors Kid's character. [And then when Kid is less confused about who he is, it's time to leave. Bellona showing no promise of changing, will always be a wreck, with unpredictable extra moons . . .]

There are other things about the structure of the book, it's a circular novel, Kid picks up a book of poetry which he continues to write, and through which he might be constructing himself. I don't think you are supposed to fully understand it, again, it's part of the construct that enables Delany to explore a 'lost individual' and their process of becoming more whole. I hope I'm not making the book sound over-complicated: perhaps the structure is, there is definitely a brilliant mind behind it. Through the structure Delany is able to compare some radical life choices that are in opposition, a traditional family, untraditional family groupings where anything goes (!!!), a stable relationship, rival gangs . . . the sexuality in the book is described explicitly and it's ground-breaking for such a book (especially SF?). And we don't need to mention when it was written, it's still ground-breaking given it's context.

I am deliberately avoiding describing particular scenes as it detracts from the joy of discovering them, but they are ripe in this book, as is the humour. There are a couple laugh out loud bits. Then, it has to be mentioned, the sex in Dhalgren; it could no doubt inspire a dissertation. It's kind of amazing how Delany got away with it when it was published. Was I asleep? I didn't hear any controversy about this book (if I had, I would have read it sooner). Did the book avoid controversy simply because of its SF cloak? (Well done, if so.) One thing (amongst others) that saves the descriptions of sex is that it's 100% honest - rare to find. Anybody trying to ban the book, would have to reveal themselves as a blatant repressor, yet another idiot who wants to put a fist to our ears and mouth. Though the sex is sometimes shocking, Delany doesn't cross the border into exploitation; he demonstrates a great ability in his sexual descriptions and careful placement of each scene. The sex scenes are intrinsic to the fabrication of the characters, and as one of the central concerns of the book is individual identity, they are important. On a wider political level, beyond the book, the scenes are important in a world so sexually mixed up.

People have discussed how Dhalgren should be classified - SF or not? It's a difficult question. In a way, it might be better for the book if it weren't recognised as SF: we all know how the label of SF can kill a book to the wider audience. Equally, as is apparent by some of the bad reviews the book is getting here: some SF fans feel let down with Dhalgren, that there isn't more of an SF theme. It's interesting to me that this book isn't talked about more, and outside of 'cult interest'. It deserves a wider readership. Partly the problem is it's unclassifiable nature. I'd guess, that one of Delany's aims is to thwart confines of classification, force us to question / answer what identifies something as what it is, break (down) rules, stretch our perception of the purpose of writing. Ultimately, I'm glad that Dhalgren stands proud within the classification of SF, it demonstrates that SF is packed with a strong range of titles, tackling universal issues on par or perhaps better than other genres.

Well, I partly apologise for this review. I wanted to try to tear away some of the mythology surrounding the book and cry out it's a ripping yarn of an individual finding his way through a world on the brink, which it is!!! [But no, it doesn't have a conventional 'story'.] I'd sit with the book for hours at a time, getting through the book, chunks at a time, and with intense pleasure. Because the book is so long, Delany, with a magician's ease, also manages to convey a whole lot more. No doubt this book isn't for everyone. Also no doubt: MANY MORE PEOPLE SHOULD BE READING THIS BOOK.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jaw-dropping. Just awesome., 5 Aug. 2001
By 
Jason Mills "jason10801" (Accrington, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dhalgren (Paperback)
What this man can't do with words ain't worth doing. This monster of a novel is Delany's masterpiece. Compelling and enigmatic, it follows the life of The Kid as he enters and learns to live in the strange city of Bellona. For reasons unknown, the city is dying: most of its people have left. Of those who remain, some have fallen into anarchy and a frighteningly uncompromising freedom, whilst others cling to their old ways and habits. The Kid himself has been crazy in the past and is terrified of falling back into madness; but in Bellona it is impossible to tell madness from reality.
Relentlessly vivid (including desperately physical sex), the book sunk its claws into me for 900 pages and left me used up and gasping. No plot summary could even hint at the experience of reading this beast. Get it while it's in print.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece? Pretentious Tosh? Who Says It Can't Be Both?, 17 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Dhalgren (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
"Dhalgren" is a difficult book. Not the most difficult book ever written, but probably the most formally ambitious novel to emerge from a relatively mainstream SF writer at the time of its publication in 1975; an honour, if honour it is, it may well still claim. Some highly experimental writing came from the British New Wave writers, of course, but Delany probably trumps them for the challenge "Dhalgren" presents to the reader. That's partly because this is such a massive tome compared to the likes of "The Atrocity Exhibition" or "Barefoot In The Head", and partly because of the continuing puzzlement over just what it's about. On publication, some folks - both in the SF community and the wider world - hailed it as a truly great novel, while others despised it. The jury remains at loggerheads, as a quick shufty through the Amazon customer reviews reveals.

What it's about, in story terms, isn't that much: an unspecified catastrophe has fallen on the city of Bellona, leaving its inhabitants to deal with it on their own as they are mysteriously isolated from the rest of the USA. The focus is on their emotional, intellectual and cultural responses to the event, rather that what the event is/was and whatever actions they take in response to it. The central character, the Kid, starts to write a novel, which may or may not be the novel "Dhalgren" itself. Space opera it ain't. It's probably best to think of it as an example of that infamous chimera "Speculative Fiction" rather than as science fiction.

What it's about, in terms of meaning, is very much open to the reader's interpretation. The sombre tone, which contrasts markedly with Delany's exuberant and still-fresh SF from the 1960s, suggests it may be a pained response to the collapse of sixties counter-culture optimism that kicked in from 1968 onwards (there's certainly a very late sixties focus on sexual experimentation, communes, gangs and drugs). But it might not be.

What it's definitely about, at least some of the time, is how stories are created, and the meaning and practice of writing. This is where the formal challenge comes from: the main narrative thread gradually vanishes as alternatively worded variants and a number of other texts take up more and more page space. Thus, the difficulty in determining plot and meaning is deliberate, and indeed central to Delany's purpose.

All laudably ambitious. But. Views on this vary (again, check out the spread of comment on the other customer reviews) but although this reader has nothing but praise for Delany's ambitions, he also finds "Dhalgren" a deadly dull read. The prose itself is a hard, hard slog, not because it's inherently difficult or formally dense, but because it's leaden. A further problem is the characterisation, which is sometimes cliched, sometimes implausible and sometimes infuriating. The whole book is also characterised by a late sixties "Do your own thing" mentality in which no-one has to take any responsibility for any action, no matter its consequences, because, hey, be what you gotta be, man.

I'd characterise the book, overall, as a heroic failure, and of mainly historic interest. It's a book where the author's ambitions should receive nothing but praise, but they exceed his ability to deliver on them. It aims at being something like "Gravity's Rainbow", but fails to achieve that status because Pynchon's narrative, even at its most inscrutable, is full of event and stylistic fireworks: by contrast "Dhalgren" is slow, incident-free and its cloth is hodden grey.

PS those interested in finding out more about all aspects of the book, including its themes and complexities - which can only be hinted at in a review like this - may find the thorough, interesting and even-handed account of it on Wikipedia of value. You may find it more rewarding than reading the book itself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable., 3 May 2014
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I put off reading this book for too long, but also feel I have benefitted from coming to it after more life and reading. Somehow it is inexplicable without being frustrating and in fact is oddly fulfilling precisely because it cannot be explained. The writing is in itself awesome. The breadth and depth of its ideas is inspiring. Right now it stands as my favourite novel ever and while I know that awe is partly due to having just emerged from it, it is just too huge an experience not to leave a lifelong mark.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult read... for scifi. Great book., 10 Mar. 2014
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This is definitely a more difficult read that most science fiction. Even the good stuff, like Philip K Dick.
Having said that, it's well written and compelling. Delany draws you into his world and gives you a something filled with detail and interest.
If you're finding most science fiction a bit light, then give this a go. It's definitely towards Literary and away from Space Opera. You won't find the 'hard' science fiction of mathematics and physics, but something much more beautiful.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too self-indulgent, 13 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Dhalgren (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
Dhalgren is without doubt an exploration of the psyche of Delaney himself, albeit one undertaken in abstruse fashion. The first few dozen pages could lead the reader to believe that they are about to read an excessively abstract work, one that may require more labour than it is worth - bear with it; it soon coalesces into a more easily assimilated narrative. However, for a work constructed as it is, 800 pages is too long - at times scenes ramble without any great evolution in the plot, with the increasing regularity of the sexual content becoming tiresome and eventually unnecessary (Delaney obviously wants to live in a more liberal world, one more accepting of his sexuality). There is something a bit too unreal about the travails of the Kid(d)in the bubble of quasi-civilisation that is Bellona, with its quasi-god Calkins and other peculiar characters; at no point did I feel that the settlement had the substance necessary to project the verisimilitude required. At times marred by extremely turgid (if still technically impressive) writing, Dhalgren presents a strange tale, strangely told, one that lacks resolution.
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Dhalgren (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Dhalgren (S.F. MASTERWORKS) by Samuel R. Delany (Paperback - 22 July 2010)
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