Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia

~by Samuel R. Delany
1977 Locus Award Nominee
1977 Nebula Award Nominee
Retrospective James Tiptree, Jr. Award Nominee

Triton by Samuel R. Delany was originally published in 1976. The book was reissued under the title Trouble on Triton with an introduction by Kathy Acker in 1996 by the Wesleyan University Press. It was nominated for a Nebula when it was first printed and in 1996 it was shortlisted for a Tiptree Award. While not as well-known as some of Delany's other works, such as Dhalgren and Babel-17, Triton has garnered its own attention, especially in its portrayal of inter-solar system war and in how it addresses the future of sex, sexuality, and gender.

Bron Helstrom is a middle-aged, ex-prostitute from Mars who has immigrated to Triton, one of Neptune's moons. Fed up with dealing with women, he currently lives in an all male cooperative. But then he meets and becomes obsessed with the Spike, an enigmatic, grant-funded performance artist native to Triton. With his planetary mindset and out-of-date value system, Bron has trouble relating to others on the moon and his relationship with the Spike is bound to be bumpy. Told with an impending war between the solar system's inner planets and its outer satellites in the background, there's very little plot. Mostly it's just Bron whining and complaining and generally being miserable. Bron is really not that likable a character to begin (or end) with--pretty much a self-absorbed bastard through and through.

I really, really wanted to like this book, but I could hardly stand to read it. Oh, there were parts of it I absolutely loved--it was filled with all sorts of fantastic queeriness--but even those aspects couldn't save the book for me. Triton is a very difficult read and requires undivided attention to the point of bringing on headaches from concentrating so hard on the text. And despite this need to carefully pay attention to what is written, large sections serve virtually no purpose to the book overall (at least that I, with no advanced degree in literature, can tell). I actually found myself barely skimming for pages at a time on a fairly regular basis. (This really says quite a bit right there because I generally make a point to read everything once I've started a book.) Granted, this technique may have been used just to show how much of an ass Bron really is--but I already got that, really, I did.

So ultimately, I can't say that I enjoyed Triton nearly as much as I wanted to. Yes, there were some wonderful bits and incredible ideas, but I really struggled with the book as a whole. The writing style and technique was often quite clever, but even more often it was impenetrably dense and maybe even a little artificial. Unfortunately for me, Triton was probably not the place to start reading Dealany. While I can appreciate his immense skill and vision, I won't be ready to try another of his works for quite a while yet.

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