Review: Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Rating:

Triton by Samuel R. Delany
1976, Bantam

Review Summary: Triton (“Trouble on Triton” in later publishings) is more of a science fiction experience than a story, a character study set against an exposition of what the science fiction genre can mean for an author, rather than an adventure/mystery/whatever story utilizing science fiction elements.

Full Review:

Triton (“Trouble on Triton” in later publishings) is more of a science fiction experience than a story, a character study set against an exposition of what the science fiction genre can mean for an author, rather than an adventure/mystery/whatever story utilizing science fiction elements.

The main character of Triton, Bron Helstrom, quickly grows almost irredeemably unlikable; cowardly, selfish, self-centered, arrogant – and worst of all, the character refuses to acknowledge any of his faults or errors. Well, almost worst of all. Worst of all is that the character, eventually, seems like he could be on a path to self-awareness, approaching an epiphany, a turning point in his lifeā€¦ and fails to make that leap. Delany’s devotion to realistically portraying the character as he is, all the way through to the end and without an easy redemption, is impressive.

While I am willing to believe that the novel was in fact carefully plotted, the formal “plot” itself runs almost in the background, testament again to the extreme solipsist tendencies of the main character. System-wide, worlds and moons are approaching war. Though Bron is largely unaware of the politics involved, and is unaffected by the scope of the tragedies resulting from the final “battles”, the reader is able to piece together, through the supporting characters and environment of Triton, that the war primarily seems to be about maintaining the colony worlds’ very liberal policies of choice, self-government and individualism. The war, ironically, is about preserving the loose, self-motivating social structure which leaves Bron capable, as an example of the shallow end of the social spectrum, to live his life as the contemptuous, aggrandizing, shallow person he is, able but unwilling to achieve any kind of personal growth.

Intersecting, but not wholly contained by the novel’s strong, liberal social themes, Triton also has a strong, persistent theme of sexual choice and flexibility – in preference, fixation, and gender reassignment – throughout the whole novel, reminding me greatly of Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love, but more as a description of the social environment and mores rather than as part of the plot device as it is in Time. Large swaths of the novel are also devoted to art, mathematics, logic, government, “modern warfare”, family and work structures, gaming…

In other words, Delany doesn’t seem to limit himself in any way. The whole of the world – or moon, as the case may be – and environment are presented through the book, with rich, in-depth narratives, complete with parenthetical asides (very confusing, but soon accepted as a two-dimensional method of introducing additional data streams to the reader) and matter-of-fact treatments of several very high-level themes, cultures and viewpoints. Delany succeeds in creating a real, believable world, environment and culture, in and against which he plays his very advanced, very disturbing character drama, and the overall result is troubling, but rich with thought-provoking ideas.

Perhaps the most telling point is Delany’s discussion in one of the appendices, along with a number of mixed vignettes and asides which also fit into the theme of the novel, of how he views the science fiction genre, and the inherent possibilities he sees in the field and body of work. Through this discourse we see that Delany treats science fiction seriously, as serious literature – and the effort is shows.

03/23/07 CSL

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