January 03, 2004

Time Considered as a Helix of Semiprecious Stones Department

Patrick Nielsen Hayden lays a geas upon me. I must--finally--read Samuel R. Delaney's Dhalgren:

Making Light: Varieties of insanity known to affect authors: ...And speaking of Dhalgren, for all the crap that novel took inside the SF field, it sold nearly a million copies over a period of ten years. That isn't a flash in the pan of literary faddism. It's word of mouth--people who love it telling other people about it, who turn out to love it too.

Posted by DeLong at January 3, 2004 07:22 AM | TrackBack


Brad, the only meaning I could find for "geas" in the dictionary was "Gamma Energy Analysis System". Do you mind?

Posted by: bulent on January 3, 2004 12:30 PM


Much as I respect Hayden (and of course almost 1 million buyers can't be wrong, can they?), I hated the book.

Posted by: Michael Froomkin on January 3, 2004 12:46 PM


Same here. And mine was one of those 1 million copies. I love science fiction, read a lot of it, and I put up with a lot for the good bits.

Dhalgren HAD a fair number of good bits, but the whole was just unbearable, like a fever dream you can't sweat your way through.

Posted by: Dave L on January 3, 2004 02:09 PM


One more word of caution - consider this Five-star review, posted on the Amazon.com site:

This book wrecked my life.
October 24, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Citrus Heights, CA
I read this book about 25 years ago. I read and read and read. I couldn't think about anything else. I couldn't stop reading. It took me a long time and when it was over I was so screwed up I wandered away from home into years of madness. I tried to live out the inner meaning of Dhalgren. I did not succeed. I lost my career my sanity and my health. I will never recover completely. I'm not even sure if it was worth it.

Posted by: Dave L on January 3, 2004 02:21 PM


"Geas" is an old Keltic word for an inescapable goal magically imposed upon somebody...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 3, 2004 03:13 PM


I can't help myself....

The word "geas" is Scots Gaelic, and the corresponding term in Irish Gaelic is "geis". It refers not so much to a goal as to a prohibition or compulsion, which need not be imposed magically and may be self-imposed. (Of course, in the old stories, it's usually magically imposed by someone else, but that's the way the old stories are.)

The point of a geis is that it's difficult to obey and, when you disobey it, there are terrible consequences. Thus, it makes a great plot device.

Posted by: JO'N on January 3, 2004 05:09 PM


>>The point of a geis is that it's difficult to obey and, when you disobey it, there are terrible consequences. Thus, it makes a great plot device.<<

Well, yes, I firmly expect reading _Dhalgren_ to be difficult. That's the point of calling it a geas, after all...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 3, 2004 05:27 PM


I read Dhalgren. I got a couple of good images out of it, but the lack of a real plot made it more or less un-rereadable.

Posted by: Kimmitt on January 3, 2004 11:11 PM


There's the possibility that it could be a complete and total exercise in jejunification, minus the semiprecious stones, but that's the chance you have to take.

Posted by: northernLights on January 4, 2004 12:04 AM


I'll weigh in with a pro-_Dhalgren_ data point. I liked the cyclical plot, I liked the characters, and I really enjoyed the metafiction elements. Dhalgren's notebook, the characters' sense of being actors manipulated by an Author and the flights of poetry that close out the chapters all led to an extremely enjoyable reading experience for me. You mileage may (and probably will) vary.


Posted by: Eric Sorenson on January 4, 2004 06:17 PM


Great site ! You really are taking it to the next level.

Posted by: rory3w on January 6, 2004 08:40 AM


I read Dhalgren, once, long ago, from beginning to end, and I did it without the benefit of narcotics, most of the time anyway. It is a great many things, but easy to read isn't one of them. I don't regret doing it, but I'm still not quite sure what exactly to make of it. Good luck.

Now, would somebody please tell me when the sequel to _Stars in my pocket like grains of sand_ is coming out? I've been waiting for well over a decade for some plot resolution, or at least some hint about what the deal with Rat Korga is.

Posted by: Scott Martens on January 6, 2004 11:56 AM


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