Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

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Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand
Stars in my pocket like grains of sand.jpg
Dust-jacket from the first edition
AuthorSamuel R. Delany
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction novel
PublisherBantam Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages368 pp
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3554.E437 S7 1984
Followed byThe Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities (unfinished) 

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) is a science fiction novel by Samuel R. Delany. It was part of a planned duology ("diptych", in Delany's description) whose second half, The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities, remains unfinished.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel takes place in a distant future in which diverse human societies have developed on some 6,000 planets. Many of these worlds are shared with intelligent nonhumans, although only one alien species (the mysterious Xlv) also possesses faster-than-light travel. In an attempt to find a stable defense against the phenomenon known as Cultural Fugue (a process where "socioeconomic pressures [reach] a point of technological recomplication and perturbation where the population completely destroys all life across the planetary surface"), many human worlds have aligned themselves with one of two broad factions: the Sygn, which promotes and celebrates social diversity, and the Family, which promotes adherence to an idealized norm of human relations modeled on the nuclear family.

The story opens on the planet Rhyonon. Korga, a tall, misfit youth, undergoes the Radical Anxiety Termination, or RAT, procedure, a form of psychosurgery which makes him a passive slave, after which he is known as Rat Korga. After he has lived under a number of masters, Rat Korga's world is destroyed by a conflagration. This is later explained to be the result of Cultural Fugue, though the explanation is open to dispute, especially since Xlv spacecraft were present in the Rhyonon system when the disaster occurred. Because he was deep inside a mine shaft at the time of the disaster, Rat Korga survives (though badly injured), the only known being ever to survive Cultural Fugue. Rat Korga serves as a reminder of the possibility of Cultural Fugue and the destruction of a planet, which is part of what makes him so appealing to the inhabitants of Velm.

The action then moves to Velm, a Sygn-aligned world that humanity shares with its native three-sexed intelligent species, the evelm, and where sexual relationships take many forms — monogamous, promiscuous, anonymous, and interspecies. Resident Marq Dyeth, an "industrial diplomat" who helps manage the transfer of technology between different societies, is informed that Rat Korga is his perfect sexual match by an associate in the powerful and mysterious Web, an organization that manages information flows between worlds. Equipping him with a prosthesis (the rings of Vondramach Okk, a tyrant who once ruled ten planets and employed of one of Marq's ancestors) that restores the initiative he lost due to the RAT procedure, the Web sends Rat Korga to Velm under the pretext that he is a student, and he and Marq begin a romantic and sexual affair. They go on an unusual hunting expedition and return to a dinner party which becomes chaotic due to the disruptive presence of visitors from a Family world and intense planetwide interest in Korga. Soon after, Rat Korga is forced to leave Velm and be permanently separated from Marq (their pairing having been an alien cultural experiment) because their interaction was creating a threat of Cultural Fugue.

Major themes[edit]

Fractured subjectivity[edit]

Thomas Foster argues that Stars in My Pocket treats "fractured subjectivity" as a natural condition by representing "nonnormative racial, sexual, and familiar formations and practices" as normal within Marq's world.[1] Quoting directly from the novel, Foster claims that "[t]he utopian project of this novel resides in its attempt to imagine a future setting in which 'the 'fragmented subject' is at its healthiest, happiest, and most creative because society and economics contrive... to make questions of unity and centerness irrelevant'" [1][2] This theme of fractured identity is part of Delany's own postmodern critique of identity that treats social categories like race, sexuality, gender, and class as absolute and static.


In his essay Clean, Robert F. Reid-Pharr argues that what Delany achieves in Stars "is a thematization of the complex ways the spectacle of gay male identity is established through a set of essentially ritualistic practices wherein the gay man is figured clean or more precisely cleansing."[3] The character of Korga, and his movement through RAT procedures into liberation and then to corporate slavery exemplifies this process in Stars, and Reid-Pharr also suggests a connection in this method of identity construction between the gay male subject and the subject position of the African-American slave.

Delany explores issues related to miscegenation through his employment of the Thant family in the novel. The Thants do not approve of the mixed family status of Dyeth family, which has produced offspring with the Evelmi species, six-legged, many tongued, three sexed beings that are the original inhabitants of their planet, Velm.

Delany also broaches the question of consent, as it relates to one's enslavement, by depicting characters, such as Rat Korga, having the option to choose to go into slavery. In fact, one cannot be enslaved in the novel, without explicit consent. This is exemplified in beginning of the novel, when Rat Korga is asked to verbally consent by another character who is handling the enslavement process. "Say 'yes.' We need a voiceprint of the actual word; this is being recorded. Otherwise it isn't legal."[4]

Genre of science fiction[edit]

Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand is about the distant future but the ideas that Delany writes about are reflections of the contemporary world. Delany himself has said, "Science fiction is not ‘about the future.’ Science fiction is in dialogue with the present…[the science fiction writer] indulge[s] in a significant distortion of the present that sets up a rich and complex dialogue with the reader’s here and now."[5] While Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand provides an alternative and unconventional relationship between humanity and the natural world, Delany reminds the reader to be critical about the extent in which the social distortions in the novel are actually “distant” from the current social order. As a result, Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand critiques and disrupts contemporary understandings of the world. These ruptures occur in from Delany’s use of third-person gender pronouns, to the redefinition of family and kinship, to the concept of technicity (technologically driven modes of social differentiation and belonging).[6] By forcing the reader to constantly go through these breaks and fissures in their social understandings, Delany reveals "the arbitrariness of these signifiers, their contingency and openness to recontextualization…as they move across worlds, literally and figuratively."[7]

Connections to Delany's other work[edit]

Stars has a number of plot elements that are similar to certain elements in Triton. Most notable is the presence in both novels of the General Information service, although it is more sophisticated in Stars (one need merely think a question for GI to place the knowledge in one's mind, as opposed to Triton's GI which takes questions on machines similar to modern computers). Both novels also feature aboveground and institutionalized versions of gay male cruising spaces, although open to all genders and sexual preferences; in Triton the protagonist visits such a space in the form of an indoor club, while in Stars the protagonists visit one of their city's many parklike runs set aside for that purpose. Finally, the Family/Sygn conflict in Stars is similar to the conflict between the social systems of Earth and the Outer Satellites in Triton; a "Sygn" is present in Triton, but is a minor religious cult mentioned very briefly.

Delany's short story "Omegahelm" (found in Aye, and Gomorrah, and other stories) is set in the same universe as Stars; it concerns Vondramach Okk (see above) and her one attempt to have a child.

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, two nonfiction essays written by Delany, also include descriptions of cross-class, cross-ethnic, non-monogamous sexual encounters similar to those explored by Marq and Korga in the Stars.

The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities[edit]

All editions of Stars contain an author's note stating that it is the first half of a diptych, the second half of which is the novel The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities. Delany took this title from the translator's foreword to Richard Howard's translation of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. An excerpt from Splendor was printed in the Review of Contemporary Fiction in September, 1996.[8] In a 2001 interview,[9] Delany gave this brief summary:

"The book was conceived of as a city novel. For the bulk of it, the main characters, Rat and Marq, try to make their home in a city on the other side of the planet Velm from the one Marq was born and raised in. Then they have to journey back to Dyethshome, in an educational trip across Marq's world. In the course of it, a number of things that once looked pretty fair in volume one turn out not to be so pleasant in volume two."

Splendor is unfinished, and is unlikely to ever be finished. Delany has stated two reasons for this in various writings and public appearances.[10] First, much of the creative impetus for Stars came from his relationship with his then-partner, Frank Romeo (to whom the novel is dedicated); this relationship ended soon after the novel was published, removing much of Delany's creative energy related to the project. Second, the novel was published just as AIDS was becoming an epidemic in the gay culture Delany was immersed in, and he found it difficult to continue to write about a setting which mirrored the sexual scene that gave rise to an epidemic that caused the deaths of many people close to him.

In fact, Stars was the last of Delany's major science fiction projects until 2012's Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. As seen in 1984: Selected Letters, at the time Stars was published his relationship with his publisher, Bantam, underwent a major rupture, with Bantam declining to print the final volume of the Return to Nevèrÿon series, Return to Nevèrÿon (eventually published by Arbor House as The Bridge of Lost Desire). Delany's works largely went out of print in the immediately following years, and he turned to academia for his living, taking up the first of his professorial posts in 1988, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Popular culture[edit]

  • The British musical group Opus III's first album, Mind Fruit, included the song "Stars in my Pocket", with lyrics referencing the novel.
  • Referenced by Cam O'bi in the Noname song "Diddy Bop", from her Telefone mixtape.
  • Hip-hop group Clipping's second album is a science fiction concept album titled Splendor & Misery, and the lyrics include the continuation, "of bodies, of cities".
cover of the Wesleyan University Press paperback reprint edition



  1. ^ a b Foster, Thomas (2015-10-07). ""Innocent by Contamination": Ethnicity and Technicity in Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand". African American Review. 48 (3): 239–256. ISSN 1945-6182.
  2. ^ Delany, Samuel R.; Freedman, Carl (2004-12-15). Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (20th ed.). Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan. ISBN 9780819567147.
  3. ^ Reid-Pharr, Robert F. "Clean: Death and Desire in Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand", American Literature, Volume 83, Number 2, June 2011. Duke University Press.
  4. ^ Delany 1984: 5.
  5. ^ Jeffrey Allen, Tucker (2010). "The Necessity of models, of Alternatives: Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand". South Atlantic Quarterly. 109 (2 (Spring 2010)): 249–278.
  6. ^ Foster, Thomas. "Innocent by Contamination: Ethnicity and Technicity in Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand", African American Review 48, no. 3 (Fall 2015): 239-256, 243.
  7. ^ Foster, Thomas. “Innocent by Contamination: Ethnicity and Technicity in Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.” African American Review 48, no. 3 (Fall 2015): 239–256, 248.
  8. ^ "From The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities", The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XVI, no. 3, 1996. Dalkey Archive Press: retrieved from Internet Archive, 22 October 2008.
  9. ^ Interview with Matrix magazine, 2001, reprinted in Conversations With Samuel R. Delany, ed. Carl Freedman, University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
  10. ^ "Samuel Delany Answers Your Science Fiction Questions!", question by Djehuty.