I had held high hopes for Dhalgren. After all, books have been written on Delaney’s fiction, and four of his books have won Nebulas, he’s written a book on scifi, and the opening paragraphs of Dhalgren were intriguing. Sigh. What a disappointment. I found it impenetrable, pretentious, and with such nonsensical loops of words that I actually found it emotionally unsettling.
It brings me back to this deconstruction theme that I have starting to ferret out of some of these books.
I’m starting to think it is related to using language as an integral part of your theme – and I do believe that some of these authors, in showing a disintegrating world, have their very languages start to fall apart as
well. In Dhalgren’s case, it started from the very beginning, with a complete lack of involvement of story attached to the words that were being used.
Ick. Yuck. It feels mentally ill, and it reminds me too much of my greatest, deepest, and most irrational fear: losing the ability to understand how words go together. (Which is one of the greatest reasons I
have never experimented with drugs or thought drinking was in any way cool.)
Which, ironically, brings us to What Entropy Means To Me. What is more deconstructed than entropy, where all motion stops and things fall apart? Effinger: “Everything that falls down there becomes more and more disassociated, tending to the primal chaotic state.”
(Deep time. Deep time? Is there a relationship between deep time and chaos?)
George Alec Effinger has written some of my very favorite books in the world, The Budayeen series, which begins with When Gravity Fails. Entropy is not anything at all like those, but its new style and especially its pedantic tongue-in-cheek tone can be relished. This is the story of a world where things are taken literally, so to speak a “heresy” literally ruins the world. This is a story where the language is used to tear apart the world at large, pushed through a strainer of philosophy and literature, and was enjoyable to read until the very end, where meaning itself was pulled apart.
I’m not sure why I liked this book and I hated Dhalgren. Let’s see. For the most part, in this book, there was payoff. Entropy was an enjoyable read, if not in the very story, then in the confluence of literature and the amazingly fluid tone and delivery. Trust me, there wasn’t any in Dhalgren. However, the relationship between these two books, and these themes that I can’t quite grasp intrigues me. Perhaps I will hold onto that other, horrid book for a while, and read some books on Delaney, and see if I can’t salvage something out of that story. I can’t promise that I would read it, though.
Finally, even in these first sixteen – oops, seventeen, now – books I’ve read, I’ve seen the influence of different books on later authors. Asimov and his buddies certainly set the standards for science fiction,
regardless of how picasso the language eventually becomes. And I am beginning to think that Orson Scott Card is a very talented hack who has lifted from several stories, including Foundation, Engine Summer,
and even A Wrinkle in Time. This 1972 Effinger book, I am sure, was strongly influenced and/or
strongly pays tribute to Zelazny’s 1970 Nine Princes of Amber. Entropy, after all, is about a royal family, the manipulation of reality, and chaos (Like Zelazny’s Courts of Chaos), and the entire family wears amber
I must admit, this story shows me a lesson, and I do not understand it. Is there some sort of specified relationship between language and worlds falling apart? This deconstruction? I’ve never heard about it. Perhaps this is one of the directions I need to go in my reading list. I wonder if future books will elucidate
this for me, or if there is anyone who can help me. Hmmm. My friend Arwen has a brand new doctorate in literature. Perhaps I should ask her.
Also, tone is a magnificent fluid for a story...
But perhaps the most valuable lesson right now is on how to handle the info-dump in stories. Info-dump in science fiction is always a tangle – how to present the technical information of the story without turning it into an instruction manual. In this story, Effinger weaves with breathtaking ease the protaganist’s actions, his family’s history and interactions, and what he anticipates the future will be. I think the key to this technique is that the author doesn’t feel a burning need to explain every bit right away, (and given the nature of this story, does not explain some things at all.)
Now, I will have to re-read WHEN GRAVITY FAILS again, which depicts an extremely different technology and society, to see how this technique carries through in a more traditionally written book.