Book: Triton - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Triton
Saturday, 14 May 2005 at 06:38 pm
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Author: Samuel R Delany

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.


Moooood: enthralledenthralled
Tuuuuune: Tindersticks: Milky teeth
Discussion: 9 contributions | Contribute something
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darcydodo: body writing
From:darcydodo
Date:May 14th, 2005 07:02 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 02:02 pm (darcydodo's time)
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I entirely failed to notice until today that you'd started using this icon. :)
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:May 14th, 2005 07:23 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 08:23 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
I made a GIP about it a while back, when you first sent it to me. But I didn't properly start using it until a couple of days ago. It is such a great icon!
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darcydodo: lizard
From:darcydodo
Date:May 14th, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 02:28 pm (darcydodo's time)
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I found the post when I went looking — I'd missed it before, which also means I'd missed a chance to mock you for leaving your cellphone behind! :) Though I'd totally leave my cellphone somewhere, it's a miracle that I haven't done so yet. (Oh, wait, that's 'cause I keep it in my pocket, not in my hand.)

I wish that the "Livre d'Or" were a bit more legible at this size. Oh well.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:May 14th, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 10:00 pm (livredor's time)
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I'd missed a chance to mock you for leaving your cellphone behind! :)
Hmph. pseudomonas already mocked me quite enough, thank you!

I keep it in my pocket, not in my hand
I generally, and also in this case, keep my phone in my handbag. But I'd put the handbag on the sofa and not bothered closing it, then the handbag was thrown on the floor to make room for compilerbitch to sit down, and the phone fell out and I didn't realize it.

I wish that the "Livre d'Or" were a bit more legible at this size.
At some point I may play around with it and see if I can make it more legible.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:May 15th, 2005 09:45 am (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 10:45 am (lethargic_man's time)
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MILD SPOILER ALERT:

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 happiness.

I rather like the way the book opens with Bron considering himself a reasonably happy man, but by the end of the book Bron is neither reasonable, nor happy, nor a man.

Triton is also about the best treatment of sex I've ever come across.

Really? I'm surprised, 'cause every time I tried citing something to you about sexual relationships you shot it down!

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.

Those caused much scratching of the head to me.

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.

Whatever it is, I've completely forgotten.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:May 15th, 2005 12:05 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 01:05 pm (livredor's time)
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every time I tried citing something to you about sexual relationships you shot it down!
That's not entirely accurate. Basically, you said it would be convenient if there were an accepted gesture to express sexual interest, as described in the book, and I said I didn't think that would help very much. In fact, now that I've read it, Triton portrays exactly why that social custom doesn't really deal with the issues around people approaching eachother for sex, and how they play out differently for men or women.

You didn't quote the parts of Triton describing how sex does work, but only the parts describing how it might work, and what I was arguing with was not whether sex might work like that, but whether it would be a good thing if it did. The way you presented it to me, it sounded like you were regarding it as an ideal, and the reason why I like Triton's handling of sex and stuff peripheral to sex is that it's not idealized, it's realistic, even with the SF parameters of an imagined future.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:May 15th, 2005 12:09 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 01:09 pm (livredor's time)
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Oh, and the plot twist I meant is the bit you allude to in your first spoiler-y paragraph. I was trying to mention it, since it's obviously important to my appreciation of the book, but without directly revealing it, since one of the things I liked was how completely out of the blue that part was.
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rysmiel: default
From:rysmiel
Date:May 16th, 2005 01:55 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 09:55 am (rysmiel's time)
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I thought you'd like it. *bounce* So glad it worked this well for you, though. It's very rewarding to share a book with someone who will become a new friend to it.

One minor thing about sending you various books that I have really liked which is occasionally a bit annoying is realising just how many years it's been since I have read some of them - I'd be hard put to it to say anything about Triton in any more detail than you do here, for all that my opinion of it is equally high.

Myself, I found on the second time through, knowing Bron better, that I was reading him as autistic or close to in terms of how utterly lacking in sensitivity he is.

Also, I like The Spike a lot, but at least part of that is how very taken I was with microtheatre as a concept. Not that I think I'd actually cope well with guerilla microtheatre being sprung on me, but it's a fascinating idea.

[ The other thing is, if you liked this this much, you have got to get a copy of Ryman's The Child Garden. ]
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livredor: bookies
From:livredor
Date:May 17th, 2005 04:42 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 05:42 pm (livredor's time)
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I thought you'd like it. *bounce*
You're good at predicting my tastes. Thank you so much for convincing me to read it (not to mention finding me a copy).

It's very rewarding to share a book with someone who will become a new friend to it.
*smile* I like that way of looking at things. And I shall certainly be recommending it to lots of the people I recommend books to.

realising just how many years it's been since I have read some of them - I'd be hard put to it to say anything about Triton in any more detail than you do here
I can sympathize with that. I tend to read things once, with a very few exceptions. So I remember really liking them and recommend them to friends, but I can't remember exactly why I liked them by the time my friends get round to discussing them with me.

Myself, I found on the second time through, knowing Bron better, that I was reading him as autistic or close to in terms of how utterly lacking in sensitivity he is.
I do very much feel sympathy for him; yes, he's annoying, and yes, he's making his own problems to a great extent, but clearly he does have problems and he's very unhappy. He's not wicked, just very thoughtless, and that's sad as much as it's despicable.

But I'm wary of pathologizing too much, I think. I mean, the setting is clearly a future where most mental illness is to at least some extent treatable. One can imagine all kinds of conditions that would make it harder to make friends: inability to read facial expression or tone of voice, really intense shyness, conditions giving rise to aggressiveness or moodiness... But simply not bothering to listen when your girlfriend is telling you something that's important to her, or continuing to grope your date after she's said she's not interested, those seem like moral choices, whatever the underlying problems.

Also, I like The Spike a lot
Very much in agreement there. I almost wish there were more of her viewpoint as well as how she's seen from Bron's rather limited perspective. Obviously that would spoil the book as it is, but in principle I'd like to know.

how very taken I was with microtheatre as a concept
It is deeply cute, as SF ideas go, isn't it?

Not that I think I'd actually cope well with guerilla microtheatre being sprung on me,
Me neither! I would absolutely freak, no question about it.

[ The other thing is, if you liked this this much, you have got to get a copy of Ryman's The Child Garden. ]
Recommendations always good, thank you. I shall look out for it.
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