Review: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

09Jun14

WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN.

Image via Geek Girl in Love. Click for review.

Image spotted at Geek Girl in Love. Click through to read a slightly more coherent review.

Ahem. That is to say, this isn’t a book you read casually. Here’s your litmus test. Did you like Dune? Awesome. Do you want to read a book that sees your Dune and raises you Judith Butler? If your answer was “Challenge accepted,” Stars is going to be your cup of tea. If not, leave now and wait for the next review. There’s no shame in it. Life is too short to spend with a book you might not like.

Still here? You’re going to be so very, very happy to have your mind blown by this exquisite novel, which is, at its core, a love story. What makes it an extraordinary love story is the universe in which it is set, one whose cultures are richly detailed, incredibly complex, and populated with all manner of extraordinary beings, meticulously detailed in appearance and behavior.

Plotwise, we begin on a world where anyone can have the anxiety centers of the brain removed. The catch is that you become a slave, but with no anxiety centers, you don’t worry too much about it.  A man named Korga agrees to the procedure–known as Radical Anxiety Termination–and becomes known henceforth as Rat (see what he did there?) Korga.  All manner of unpleasant things happen to Korga that are very upsetting for the reader, perhaps all the more so because Korga doesn’t really understand what’s happening to him–and is no longer able to care too much about it.

Meanwhile, on another world, a diplomat called Marq Dyeth is going about his normal (which is to say, packed with cultural and political intrigue) life when he receives word from a friend that a planet has been destroyed, and that the only survivor is about as close to Dyeth’s perfect erotic match as anyone can get. Intrigued, Marq allows circumstances to be carefully nudged so that the survivor will organically show up at his doorstep. It turns out to be Rat Korga, who has been healed of his wounds, but still doesn’t quite understand anything going on around him….except that he’s just as attracted to Dyeth as Marq is to him.

That’s an oversimplification by several thousand orders of magnitude, due largely to the fact that the plot itself moves very slowly, while the descriptions of history, culture, literature, anatomy, sexual practices, gender identity, and social customs go on for pages and pages, in the most utterly delightful way. It’s as if Delany has written, not just a novel, but a guidebook to a universe. In some ways it’s a far more open-minded, tolerant one than our own; in other ways, however, it is, sadly, just as barbaric as ours. A commentary, perhaps, on who we are, and who we could be?

The novel ends on an uncertain note, and while Delany planned to write a sequel, so far we’ve seen nothing. This is both a shame and a solace, because while you can’t go on to find out “what” happened, you can go back over and over to find out how things happened, and in what context. This is the kind of book you stay up all night talking about in the diner with your like-minded friends, over coffee and fried foods (or maybe pie), trying to unpack its richness and complexity.

Make mine a double, and pass the zucchini sticks. Recommended for extremely literate sci-fi fans or extremely literate people who scoff that there’s nothing of redeeming value in sf/f…just to see the looks on their faces when they are proved utterly, irrevocably wrong.

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