Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand - Samuel R. Delany, Carl Freedman originally read and reviewed in 08/2014

Stars... is definitely not your average space opera, although there is a lot of space. And a lot of opera, so to speak. Instead, Delany deals excessively with topics like gender and linguistics, with intercultural communication, information and information control, with economics, religion, culture and politics. Above all, Stars... is a book about desire that might, or might not, be Love.
It's a difficult book to sum up in a few sentences without getting lost in the details; there's a lot one could get lost in. Rat Korga, sole survivor of a destroyed planet, turned into a will-less slave after a procedure called “Radical Anxiety Treatment”, and Marq Dyeth, Industrial Diplomat and traveler between the stars, are calculated to be each others “perfect erotic objects”. But that's just the surface of the story, just one piece of the puzzle.

It's not a fast read, the reader needs some patience, especially in the second part where Stars... reads more like an essay than a novel, a thesis, a sample of ideas, any of them intriguing, fascinating, charming. Sometimes Delany uses a lot of words to say almost nothing, a habit I despise wholeheartedly. But he uses the most beautiful words and sentences, so I rather liked it here. The structure is extremely clever, Delany's use of language (not only of the feminist linguistic approach of referring to everyone, regardless of gender and race, as “woman” and “she”, but also his use of different linguistic means) might sometimes even seem a bit too smart. The complexity and density of the novel are stunning - the story takes you from star to star, from culture to culture, from one complicated topic to the next. Still it is not hard to follow. It's no pageturner, but nevertheless hard to put down. It's funny, with a rather quiet, ironic sense of humour.

At any rate Stars... is a novel that wants too much, that tries too much – that much is true: too much topics scrambled together in too narrow a space. The prose gets pathetic and pretentious from time to time. But then again there shine some moments of almost unbearable beauty. That moments kept me going, kept me loving it.

Some scenes really got under my skin: During his enslavement, uneducated, illiterate Korga gets the chance to read, thanks to an information system called General Information that projects any requested info right into your head. And that's some way to read, too – scary, terrific in every sense of the word. In very few minutes Korga's horizon broadens, his worldview widens. Just as fast as this new talent has been given to him it is taken away: a pain and despair you can almost feel in your own guts. The first meeting of Korga and Marq: sexual attraction, desire, the possibility of love. The speech Marq gives at the end, a speech about the nature of desire and loss: near perfection. And there's, of course, the dragon hunt.

Whatever he does, Delany never fails to create an intense sense of wonder. Maybe Stars... wouldn't survive a second reading, like some of the other reviews indicate; but reading it the first time I was stunned, fascinated, in love.