Stuff and Nonsense: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand


9.16.2014

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand


I don’t know where to start talking about Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. A plot summary would both give too much away and explain absolutely nothing. So let me just talk about my FEELS.

The Internet tells me that Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is quite possibly the worst place to start reading Delaney, but I thought the book was fantastically fun, mind-bending, and eye-opening. It makes me crave science fiction as a genre in a way I didn’t think I could anymore. It makes me long for a universe that does not/will never exist. Even now, days after finishing the novel, I feel disoriented and half-drunk on prose.

And yet I freely admit that Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is a problematic novel. The things I love about it -- its lack of explication, its (in places) almost stream of consciousness narrative style, its nonstandard use of pronouns to describe gender and sex -- can make the novel deeply confusing and hard-going. I’m sure there were whole sections in which my reading left me holding the completely wrong end of the stick.

And I don’t care! There is such enjoyment in the manipulation of language (such a reimagining of communication between people!) that reading the novel was simply too much fun for me to care about whether I “got the point.” For example, she and he are used in ways that make it very difficult to ever “correctly” identify the gender, sex, sexual identity, or “humanness” of most characters ... and those identifiers aren’t important, anyway. Basically, it’s Fun With Words for readers who like that sort of thing and I do, very much.

Being unable to sex or gender or orientate by a known system neatly avoids, in my mind, the very real science fiction problem where aliens (and/or far future humans) are so humanish looking and humanish behaving that we end up bringing all our baggage of expectation and assumption to the story. Frankly, I didn’t know/understand what Delaney’s characters were doing half the time and I quickly gave up trying to figure things out and just decided to enjoy the story Delaney was spinning.

And what a story! Even when I found myself thinking “What were you smoking when you wrote that passage, Delaney?” or “Really? Dragon-people with how many tongues?” I couldn’t put the book down. It took me five days to read it, because I frequently had to stop and let its ideas settle in my brain, but it was worth every minute.

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delaney (Bantam Books, 1984)

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