Details: (c) 1976 Samuel R Delany; Pub 1976 Bantam Books; ISBN 0-553-02567-195
Verdict: Triton is a stunningly good character study, which does various other things well too.
Reasons for reading it: lethargic_man mentioned it ages ago and I'd vaguely intended to read it at some point. Then it came up in conversation with rysmiel and lethargic_man recently and rysmiel described in such a way that made it sound like something I absolutely had to read.
How it came into my hands: Part of the lovely pile of books that rysmiel gave me recently. *bounce*
I think I want to be like one of those annoying hyperbolic blurb writers and call Triton a 'tour de force'. It's incredibly impressive for several reasons. What I particularly loved about it was the way it portrays people, particularly the protagonist Bron. I generally don't like anti-heroes, and Bron is an extremely unpleasant person in many ways, but I was so much in his skin that I completely cared about him and wanted things to go well for him even though intellectually I don't think he deserves much happinss. Especially since what he wants is to get together with someone who is obviously way too good for him. I couldn't help liking The Spike, despite getting the impression she was rather calculated to appeal to people who like their women feisty. And I wouldn't want to inflict someone like Bron on her, even if I did want things to work out well for him!
Triton is also about the best treatment of sex I've ever come across. Not so much in the sense of descriptions of people doing things to eachother's bodies, but the way sex plays into relationships and character and society and identity and gender. I'm on the whole not that interested in gender politics, but the way Triton handles the subject I found fascinating in spite of myself. It really made me think, and without being preachy or simplistic in the way a lot of self-declared feminist science fiction can be.
There's an absolutely lovely passage about new partners snuggling up together after having sex for the first time; it's the kind of thing that doesn't get written about very much. I mean, some people write about seduction, or they write with the sex scene as the point of a narrative arc, or they write about waking up together the next morning. But I've very rarely read anything about the deep closeness that can happen just after, and although it may be terribly girly of me I'm pretty much more interested in that than sex itself. Lynne Reid Banks writes about this kind of thing, but hardly anyone else I can think of.
Bron's emotional development, his responses to his problems with his romantic relationship and his interactions with his friends, work colleagues and acquaintances, are so amazingly well done that I'd love the book for that alone. But actually there's a lot else going on which is very impressive indeed. The world-building is very good indeed; the portrait of a future society is very detailed and consistent, but it's treated as background rather than being directly described. Bron feels like an actual inhabitant of the future rather than a transplanted 20th century viewpoint, he doesn't just randomly notice things that are part of his everyday existence just because they mark the imagined society as being different from the contemporary context.
Similarly, Bron, like most real people but not so much like most fictional heroes, is more interested in his own emotional situation than interplanetary politics, and is only aware of the war as far as it directly affects him. But Triton still manages to make the history of this conflict work as story, and in a very emotionally intense way. The edition I have has a really terrible blurb:
Interplanetary war. Capture and escape. Diplomatic intrigues that topple worlds., although that's really really not what Triton is about! It does deal with that theme though, just in a way that's very secondary to the relationship elements.
Triton also introduces a lot of very cool ideas, almost philsophical, about language and society and politics and stuff. The basic premise is exploring what happens in a context where the technology and political structures exist such that people can have pretty much whatever they want. Bron articulates the problem of people who really don't know what they want, but Triton explores in all kinds of philosophical directions tangentially related to that central theme.
If I have a complaint about the book it's that some of this stuff is a little bit infodump-ish. There are quite a few scenes where someone just happens to need to explain their professional speciality to an interested amateur, resulting in several pages of just description about how things work. Not to mention the endpapers which reproduce bits of philosophy lectures that don't have any obvious connection to the story. Mind you, these passages are very well written even if not entirely in place in a work of fiction. And the technical biological bits succeeded in not offending me, which is an achievement.
On an aesthetic level, Triton is incredibly well constructed. A lot of the time I was so emotionally involved with Bron that I wasn't really noticing the scaffolding, but every time I put the book down I found myself impressed in retrospect at how tight the plotting is and how well everything fits together. I nearly fainted with admiration at the major plot twist towards the end; it's beautifully unexpected and also makes perfect sense once it happens.
I can think of so many people I'd really like to recommend Triton to. And I'm really, really delighted that I got the opportunity to read it myself. As ever, much gratitude to rysmiel
Today is the 20th day, making two complete weeks and 6 days of the Omer.