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Wesleyan University Press
Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia / Edition 1

Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia / Edition 1

by Samuel R. Delany, Kathy Acker


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In a story as exciting as any science fiction adventure written, Samuel R. Delany's 1976 SF novel, originally published as Triton, takes us on a tour of a utopian society at war with . . . our own Earth! High wit in this future comedy of manners allows Delany to question gender roles and sexual expectations at a level that, 20 years after it was written, still make it a coruscating portrait of "the happily reasonable man," Bron Helstrom — an immigrant to the embattled world of Triton, whose troubles become more and more complex, till there is nothing left for him to do but become a woman. Against a background of high adventure, this minuet of a novel dances from the farthest limits of the solar system to Earth's own Outer Mongolia. Alternately funny and moving, it is a wide-ranging tale in which character after character turns out not to be what he — or she — seems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819562982
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 07/19/1996
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 326
Sales rank: 793,044
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

Samuel R. Delany's many prizes include the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to gay and lesbian literature. Wesleyan has published both his fiction and nonfiction, including Atlantis: three tales (1995), Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics (1994), Longer Views: Extended Essays (1996), and Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary. The press has also reissued his classic science fiction and fantasy novels Dhalgren (1996), The Einstein Intersection (1998) and the four-volume Return to Nevèrÿon series. Kathy Acker was author of many books including Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996), My Mother: Demonology (1994), Blood and Guts in High School (1989), and Empire of the Senseless (1988), and also wrote several plays for Richard Foreman.

Read an Excerpt


Der Satz

No two of us learn our language alike, nor, in a sense, does any finish learning it while he lives.


He had been living at the men's co-op (Serpent's House) six months now. This one had been working out well. So, at four o'clock, as he strolled from the hegemony lobby onto the crowded Plaza of Light (thirty-seventh day of the fifteenth paramonth of the second year, announced the lights around the Plaza — on Earth and Mars both they'd be calling it some day or other in Spring, 2112, as would a good number of official documents even out here, whatever the political nonsense said or read), he decided to walk home.

He thought: I am a reasonably happy man.

The sensory shield (he looked up: — Big as the city) swirled pink, orange, gold. Cut round, as if by a giant cookie-cutter, a preposterously turquoise Neptune was rising. Pleasant? Very. He ambled in the bolstered gravity, among ten thousand fellows. Tethys? (No, not Saturn's tiny moon — a research station now these hundred twenty-five years — but after which, yes, the city had been named.) Not a big one, when you thought about places that were; and he had lived in a couple.

He wondered suddenly: Is it just that I am, happily, reasonable?

And smiled, pushing through the crowd.

And wondered how different that made him from those around.

I can't (he stepped from the curb) look at every one to check.

Five then? There: that woman, a handsome sixty — or older if she'd had regeneration treatments — walking with one blue, high-heeled boot in the street; she's got blue lips, blue bangles on her breasts.

A young (fourteen? sixteen?) man pushed up beside her, seized her blue-nailed hand in his blue-nailed hand, grinned (bluely) at her.

Blinking blue lids in recognition, she smiled.

Really, breast-bangles on a man? (Even a very young man.) Just aesthetically: weren't breast-bangles more or less predicated on breasts that, a) protruded and, b) bobbed ...? But then hers didn't.

And she had both blue heels on the sidewalk. The young man walked with both his in the street. They pushed into parti-colored crowd.

And he had looked at two when he'd only meant to look at one.

There: By the transport-station kiosk, a tall man, in maroon coveralls, with a sort of cage over his head, shouldered out between several women. Apparent too as he neared were cages around his hands: through the wire you could see paint speckles; paint lined his nails; his knuckles were rough. Some powerful administrative executive, probably, with spare time and credit enough to indulge some menial hobby, like plumbing or carpentry.


He humphed and stepped aside. A waste of wood and time.

Who else was there to look at in this crowd —

With tiny steps, on filthy feet, ten, fifteen — some two dozen — mumblers shuffled toward him. People moved back. It isn't, he thought, the dirt and the rags I mind; but the sores ... Seven years ago, he'd actually attended meetings of the Poor Children of the Avestal Light and Changing Secret Name; over three instruction sessions he'd learned the first of the Ninety-Seven Sayable mantras/mumbles: Mimimomomizolalilamialomuelamironoriminos ... After all this time he wasn't that sure of the thirteenth and the seventeenth syllables. But he almost remembered. And whenever the Poor Children passed, he found himself rehearsing it, listening for it in the dim thunder of labials and vowels. Among a dozen-plus mumblers, all mumbling different syllable chains (some took over an hour to recite through), you couldn't hope to pick out one. And what mumbler worth his salt would be using the most elementary sayable mumble in a public place anyway? (You had to know something like seventeen before they let you attend Supervised Unison Chanting at the Academy.) Still, he listened.

Mumblers with flickering lips and tight-closed lids swung grubby plastic begging-bowls — too fast, really, to drop anything in. As they passed, he noted a set of ancient keys in one, in another a Protyyn bar (wrapper torn), and a five-franq token. ("Use this till I report it stolen, or the bill gets too big," had been someone's mocking exhortation.) In the group's middle, some had soiled rags tied over their faces. Frayed ends flapped at an ill- shaved jaw. A woman to the side, with a cracked yellow bowl (she was almost pretty, but her hair was stringy enough to see through to her flaking scalp), stumbled, opened her eyes, and looked straight at him.

He smiled.

Eyes clamped again, she ducked her head and nudged someone beside her, who took up her bowl and her begging position, shuffling on with tight-clenched lids: she (yes, she was his fourth person) sidled and pushed among them, was absorbed by them —

Ahead, people laughed.

He looked.

That executive, standing free of the crowd, was waving his caged hands and calling good-naturedly: "Can't you see?" His voice was loud and boisterous. "Can't you see? Just look! I couldn't give you anything if I wanted to! I couldn't get my hands into my purse to get anything out. Just take a look!"

The executive was hoping to be mistaken for a member of some still severer, if rarer, sect that maimed both body and mind — till some mumbler opened eyes and learned the dupe was fashion, not faith. A mumbler who blinked (only newer members wore blindfolds, which barred them from the coveted, outside position of Divine Guide) had to give up the bowl and, as the woman had done, retire within. The man harangued; the Poor Children shuffled, mumbled.

Mumblers aimed to ignore such slights; they courted them, gloried in them: so he'd been instructed at the meetings seven years ago.

Still, he found the joke sour.

The mumblers, however laughable, were serious. (He had been serious, seven years ago. But he had also been lazy — which was why, he supposed, he was not a mumbler today but a designer of custom-styled, computer metalogics.) The man was probably not an executive, anyway; more likely some eccentric craftsman — someone who worked for those executives who did not have quite the spare time, or credit, to indulge a menial hobby. Executives didn't — no matter how good-naturedly — go around haranguing religious orders in the street.

But the crowd had closed around the Poor Children. Had the harasser given up? Or been successful? Footsteps, voices, the roar of people passing blended with, and blotted out, the gentle roar of prayer.

And he'd looked at, now ... what?

Four out of five? Those four were not very good choices for a reasonable and happy man. And who for the fifth?

Six kaleidoscopically painted ego-booster booths ("KNOW YOUR PLACE IN SOCIETY," repeated six lintels) sided the transport kiosk.

Me? he thought. That's it. Me.

Something amusing was called for.

He started toward the booths, got bumped in the shoulder; then forty people came out of the kiosk and all decided to walk between him and the booth nearest. I will not be deterred, he thought. I'm not changing my mind: and shouldered someone hard as someone had shouldered him.

Finally, inelegantly, he grabbed a booth's edge. The canvas curtain (silver, purple, and yellow) swung. He pushed inside.

Twelve years ago some public channeler had made a great stir because the government had an average ten hours videotaped and otherwise recorded information on every citizen with a set of government credit tokens and/or government identity card.

Eleven years ago another public channeler had pointed out that ninety-nine point nine nine and several nines percent more of this information was, a) never reviewed by human eyes (it was taken, developed, and catalogued by machine), b) was of a perfectly innocuous nature, and, c) could quite easily be released to the public without the least threat to government security.

Ten years ago a statute was passed that any citizen had the right to demand a review of all government information on him or her. Some other public channeler had made a stir about getting the government simply to stop collecting such information; but such systems, once begun, insinuate themselves into the greater system in overdetermined ways: Jobs depended on them, space had been set aside for them, research was going on over how to do them more efficiently — such overdetermined systems, hard enough to revise, are even harder to abolish.

Eight years ago, someone whose name never got mentioned came up with the idea of ego-booster booths, to offer minor credit (and, hopefully, slightly more major psychological) support to the Government Information Retention Program:

Put a two-franq token into the slot (it used to be half a franq, but the tokens had been devalued again a year back), feed your government identity card into the slip and see, on the thirty-by-forty centimeter screen, three minutes' videotape of you, accompanied by three minutes of your recorded speech, selected at random from the government's own information files. Beside the screen (in this booth, someone had, bizarrely, spilled red syrup down it, some of which had been thumb-smudged away, some scraped off with a fingernail), the explanatory plaque explained: "The chances are ninety nine point nine nine and several nines percent more that no one but you has ever seen before what you are about to see. Or," as the plaque continued cheerily, "to put it another way, there is a greater chance that you will have a surprise heart attack as you step from this booth today than that this confidential material has ever been viewed by other human eyes than yours. Do not forget to retrieve your card and your token. Thank you."

He had, for several weeks, worked at the public channels (as a copy researcher, while, in the evenings, he had been taking his metalogical training course) and, eight years ago, had been appalled at the booths' institution. It was as if (he used to think, and had said a number of times, and had gotten a number of laughs when he said it) the Germans, during Earth's Second World War, had decided to make Dachau or Auschwitz a paying tourist proposition before the War was over. (He had never been to Earth. Though he'd known a few who had.) But he had not made a stir; it had simply become another of the several annoyances that, to live in the same world with, had to be reduced to amusements. For two years, while finding the booths derisively amusing in theory, he had never gone into one — as silent protest. He had kept it up till he realized practically no one he knew ever went into them either: they considered the millions of people who did, over all the inhabited Outer Satellites, common, unthinking, politically irresponsible, and dull — which made it depressingly easy to define the people who did not use them, if only by their prejudices, as a type. He hated being a type. ("My dear young man," Lawrence had said, "everyone is a type. The true mark of social intelligence is how unusual we can make our particular behavior for the particular type we are when we are put under particular pressure.") So, finally (five years ago? No, six), he had entered one, put in his quarter-franq token (yes, it had been a quarter-franq back then) and his card, and watched three minutes of himself standing on a transport platform, occasionally taking a blue program folder from under his arm, obviously debating whether there was time to glance through it before the transport arrived, while his own voice, from what must have been a phone argument over his third credit-slot rerating, went back and forth from sullenness to insistence.

He had been amused.

And, oddly, reassured.

("Actually," he'd said to Lawrence, "as a matter of fact I have been in them, a number of times. I rather pride myself on occasionally doing things contrary to what everyone else does." To which Lawrence — who was seventy-four, homosexual, and unregenerate — had muttered at the vlet board, "That's a type too.")

He took his card from the pouch on his loose, rope belt, found his two-franq token, and, with his thumb, pushed it into the slot, then fed the card into the slip.

Across the top of the screen appeared his name:


and below that his twenty-two digit government identity number.

The screen flickered — which it was not supposed to. A blur, filling the right half, rushed upward, froze a moment on the image of a door that someone (him?) was starting to open — then the blur rushed again, sliding (the heavy black border; the single bright line up the middle) across the screen; which meant the multitrack videotape had somehow lost sync. (When it happened on one of the public channel viewers at the co-op, it was quickly followed by a "We Regret That, Due to Technical Difficulties ..." in quaint, 1980's computer type.)

Snap! from the speaker (which he assumed — though he had no reason to be sure — was a length of five-hundred micro-track videotape, somewhere in an Information Retention storage bank, breaking) turned the screen into colored confetti. The speaker grill hummed and chuckled, simultaneously and inanely.


He looked at the card slip: How do I get my card out? he thought, a little panicky. Pry it out with my five-franq token? He couldn't get it with a fingernail. Was the fault possibly here in the booth and not in the storage bank ...?

Indecision storming, he leaned against the booth's back wall and watched storming dots. Once he bent and put his eye to the slip. A centimeter beyond the aluminum lips, the card edge, to some whirring timer, quivered like a nervous tongue.

He leaned back again.

After three minutes, the screen went gray; the speaker's burr ceased.

From the metal slip the card thrust (like a printed-over tongue, yes; with a picture of him in one corner). As he took it, thick wrists heavy with bracelets, that on a thinner wrist would have jangled (Lawrence had said: "Thick wrists are just not considered attractive right through here," and sighed. Bron, finally, had smiled), he saw his reflection in the dead glass.

His face (syrup spilled his shoulder), under pale, curly hair, was distraught. One eyebrow (since age twenty-five it had grown constantly, so that he actually had to cut it) was rumpled: his other he'd had replaced, when he was seventeen, by a gold arc set in the skin. He could have had it removed, but he still enjoyed the tribute to a wilder adolescence (than he would care to admit) in the Goebels of Mars's Bellona. That gold arc? It had been a small if violent fad even then. Nobody today on Triton knew nor cared what it meant. Frankly, today, neither would most civilized Martians.

The leather collar he'd had his design-rental house put together, with brass buckle and studs — which was just nostalgia for last year's fashions. The irregular, colored web for his chest was an attempt at something original enough to preserve dignity, but not too far from this year's.

He was putting his card back into his purse when something clinked: his two-franq token had fallen into the return cup, reiterating what the booth itself had been placed there to proclaim: The government cared.

He forefingered up the token (with the machine broken, he would not know if the two franqs had or had not been charged against his labor credit till he got to his co-op computer) and fisted aside the curtain. He thought:

I haven't really looked at my final person. I —

The Plaza of Light was, of course, now almost deserted. Only a dozen people, over the concourse, wandered toward this or that side street. Really, there was just no crowd to pick a final person from.

Bron Helstrom frowned somewhere behind his face. Unhappily, he walked to the corner, trying to repicture the colored dots fading into his syrup-edged reflection.

The sensory shield ("It merely shields us from the reality of night;" again, Lawrence) flowed overhead, translating into visible light the radio-sky behind it.

Neptune (as was explained on various tourist posters frequently and, infrequently, in various flimsies and fiche-journals) would not be that intense a turquoise, even on the translation scale; but it was a nice color to have so much of up there.


Neriad? From Triton, the other moon of Neptune never looked larger than a star. Once he'd read, in a book with old, bright pictures, "... Neriad has a practically sausage-shaped orbit ..." He knew the small moon's hugely oblate circuit, but had frequently wondered just what a sausage was.

He smiled at the pink pavement. (The frown still hung inside, worrying at muscles which had already set their expression for the crowd; there was no crowd ...) At the corner, he turned toward the unlicensed sector.

It was not the direct way home; but, from time to time, since it was another thing his sort didn't do, he would wander a few blocks out of his way to amble home through the u-l.

At founding, each Outer Satellite city had set aside a city sector where no law officially held — since, as the Mars sociologist who first advocated it had pointed out, most cities develop, of necessity, such a neighborhood anyway. These sectors fulfilled a complex range of functions in the cities' psychological, political, and economic ecology. Problems a few conservative, Earth-bound thinkers feared must come, didn't: the interface between official law and official lawlessness produced some remarkably stable unofficial laws throughout the no-law sector. Minor criminals were not likely to retreat there: Enforcement agents could enter the u-l sector as could anyone else; and in the u-l there were no legal curbs on apprehension methods, use of weapons, or technological battery. Those major criminals whose crimes — through the contractual freedom of the place — existed mainly on paper found it convenient, while there, to keep life on the streets fairly safe and minor crimes at a minimum. Today it was something of a truism: "Most places in the unlicensed sector are statistically safer than the rest of the city." To which the truistic response was: "But not all."


Excerpted from "Trouble on Triton"
by .
Copyright © 1976 Samuel R. Delany.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

On Delany the Magician: A Foreword, by Kathy Acker,
1. Der Satz,
2. Solvable Games,
3. Avoiding Kangaroos,
4. La Geste d'Helstrom,
5. Idylls in Outer Mongolia,
6. Objective Knowledge,
7. Tiresias Descending,
Appendix A: From The Triton Journal,
Appendix B: Ashima Slade and the Harbin-Y Lectures,

What People are Saying About This

Earl Jackson

“This is classic Delany that maintains a cutting edge of sheer platinum. Delany sets his interrogation of the myth and politics of a central culture within an infinitely richer galaxy of interwoven margins. The dazzle always illuminates: the novel offers vision-altering thrills on the order of paradigm shifts or sex at its most rapturously cataclysmic.”

From the Publisher

"This is classic Delany that maintains a cutting edge of sheer platinum. Delany sets his interrogation of the myth and politics of a central culture within an infinitely richer galaxy of interwoven margins. The dazzle always illuminates: the novel offers vision-altering thrills on the order of paradigm shifts or sex at its most rapturously cataclysmic."—Earl Jackson, Jr., author of Fantastic Living: The Speculative Autobiographies of Samuel R. Delany

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Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely one of the worst novels I have ever tried to read. Steve & I both gave up. A shame considering Dhalgren was so amazing. I'm going to read more Delany later, but not this particular title unless someone can tell me what I am missing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago