Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand Essay - Critical Essays

Samuel R. Delany


Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is notable for a radical moral libertarianism that has become increasingly apparent in Delany’s science fiction and fantasy, beginning with Dhalgren (1975). It challenges conventional attitudes regarding norms for sexual and other behaviors. Delany paints a sympathetic picture of a far-future interstellar society that gives practical toleration to an enormous spectrum of personal and cultural diversity, and in which bizarre sexual practices, including relationships between different intelligent species, are considered acceptable and ordinary. The social arrangements and mores described may sound outrageous when summarized, but they are presented so consistently and with such vivid realism that they appear believable as developments that have emerged over the course of future centuries.

Marq, who narrates most of the book, provides convincing vignettes of his childhood, descriptions of his work and his culture, and meditations on social customs. He uses imagined language forms that Delany invented as appropriate to the future that the book describes. In particular, Marq and the other characters in the interstellar society beyond Rhyonon use pronouns such as “he” and “she” not to distinguish between male and female but rather to distinguish the presence or absence of their sexual arousal by the person spoken of. In describing people and the environment, Marq chooses details different from those that seem most obvious to contemporary readers, often concentrating upon nonvisual sensory input and on the appearance of evelm claws and human hands rather than of faces.

The result is a book that can require some effort to read. Expected orienting details such as the sex and appearance of characters may not be obvious or even discernible. The book repays effort by presenting a thorough impression of a radically alternative society, with characters who genuinely appear to be products of that society, not transplanted children of our own. They lead their lives and perceive the universe around them accordingly, and readers are required to come to grips with a genuinely transformed reality.