Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand
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Dust-jacket from the first edition
|Author||Samuel R. Delany|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3554.E437 S7 1984|
|Followed by||The 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.
The novel takes place in a distant future in which diverse human societies have developed on some 6000 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.
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 organziation 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.
Connections to Delany's other work
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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.
The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities
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 forward 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. In a 2001 interview, 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. 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.
- The British musical group Opus III's first album, Mind Fruit, included the song Stars in my Pocket with lyrics referencing the novel.
- Bantam, 1984, 368 pp, hardcover. ISBN 978-0-553-05053-0
- Bantam Spectra, 1985, 368 pp, paperback. ISBN 978-0-553-25149-4
- QPB/Bantam, 1985, 368 pp, paperback. no ISBN
- Grafton/Panther, 1986, 464 pp, paperback, ISBN 978-0-586-06749-9
- Bantam Spectra, 1990, 385 pp, paperback, ISBN 978-0-553-25149-4, adds a 10-page afterword on postmodernism
- Wesleyan University Press, 2004, 356 pp, paperback. ISBN 978-0-8195-6714-7, adds a foreword by Carl Freedman
- "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 Oct 2008
- Interview with Matrix magazine, 2001, reprinted in Conversations With Samuel R. Delany, ed. Carl Freedman, University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
- "Samuel Delany Answers Your Science Fiction Questions!", question by Djehuty.