A review of the classic Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand by Samuel R. Delany.

I have to say that this was an interesting book. I guess I enjoyed reading it when it stuck to credible futuristic possibilities and when the story moved along in some way. But there was a lot of "dead air" for me in the form of single paragraphs spanning entire pages confusingly making something ultimately unimportant seem somehow significant. For example, the dinner party in the final part of the book really went into great detail about the minutia of serving dishes. Not only do I not care about that detail, but I’m not all that excited by dozens of pages just to get through a weird dinner party where nothing really happens that couldn’t have happened any where, any time. Also things like the dragon hunting really built a sense of expectation. "Dragon hunting". It just sounds exciting, doesn’t it? It’s not. That’s the sort of thing I didn’t really care for.

There were plenty of very interesting elements from big picture concepts like the psychosurgical procedure that could excise all your cares (or?), to the small details like an information service which was uncannily like Wikipedia. I guess for me the most memorable part of the book will be the gender identity treatment. Through literary cleverness the author did make readers think way more about gender than usual. I was actually completely confused by this and had to research on-line how to decrypt the radical usage of gendered pronouns in the book. Once I got it though, it was fine. Whatever the author’s intention, my default gradually became to imagine everyone a man until exclusively female body parts were mentioned.

The reason this worked pretty well is because male homosexuality was a bigger theme than "normal" in this book. I can’t say that I’m very excited about literary romances in general and romances between men even less. But every time I was reminded of that fact while reading this book, I did get a chance to reflect on how it would be if roles were reversed and my romantic interests were the minority. It must be a bit like being left-handed in a world of mostly right handers (at best). I could imagine if one were interested in male only romances, this book would be quite a pleasant surprise. However, this book also hinted to me that if all science fiction were as alien to your gender expectations as this was to mine, you’d probably not really be too keen on the genre. I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re gay and you love science fiction despite the usual marginal treatment of gay themes, you’ll probably really be glad you read this book. If you are a homophobe (election results and major religions tell me you’re out there) you almost certainly will not enjoy this. If you are open-minded you may or may not enjoy it, but I think it would be hard to not find parts of it interesting and somewhat unique.

UPDATE 2015-?

In a strange quirk, this review got reviewed (on Amazon by "Maxalbert"). I’ll reprint that as a curiosity.

Nice review. Reviews for Pocket Stars usually fall in 2 x camps; either (1) crying out it’s a poor book because of its mish-mash sentences, or (2) it’s a great poetic masterpiece (but not saying exactly why). I often think if enough people think a book is great (and their absolute favourite of all time!), then there is a strong case to be made that those who think the book is poor simply don’t get it. The book reaches a difficult-to-reach target for a significant population, it has reached its target for those people and something is clicking.

What remains is, this book IS a difficult book. As such, for somebody who wants to read it and give it a chance, it’s useful to have some tips, maybe to make reading it easier, more fulfilling … Chris' review does that with honesty citing examples of the bits that bore first (fair enough and it’s good to have the warning). From that tip, I will read the boring bits, but I won’t take them too seriously, I won’t seek meaning where there is none and I will happily read through them quickly. It’s important with this kind of book not to get too stuck in the mud - maintain the poetry flux (to see it in a positive light).

Then the reviewer picks one of the book’s themes (the deliberate gender obfuscation); explains his first reaction, how he handled it, and what he suspected it to mean for others — his light further illumines the book. Very good, and sorry the dragon slaying bored you, but there’s always Tepper etc …