Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

While Triton is a Utopian novel testing the degree of happiness possible in a society characterized by sex-based communal living arrangements and a welfare state without a policing bureaucracy, with Sam, Lawrence, and The Spike its most successful citizens and Bron and the maladjusted Prynn and Alfred its least successful, the novel is more than that. Bron as a central character not only measures the success of the social arrangements and government but also provides the largely male reading audience of science fiction with a window through which to see the white traditional male of American society, the “majority configuration”—which is really a minority on Triton.

One of the problems of the traditional male, as Bron’s counselor explains prior to Bron’s sex change, is that his logic tells only about “possible relations of elements that are already known.” It gives no tools to analyze more basic knowns or unknowns, nor can it deal effectively with changing processes. This higher reasoning skill is possessed by the creative people in Triton, particularly by the women, such as The Spike, who knows and escapes the tyranny of types.

This higher reasoning is described by Delany outside the novel in two appendices that accompany the text: “From the Triton Journal,” an essay defining science fiction with two rejected pieces from the novel, and “Ashima Slade and the Harbin-Y Lectures.” Although both appendices treat this new reasoning process, the second is more significant. Here, Delany appropriates a time-honored fictional device: An editor has put together notes of students and Colleagues of Ashima Slade and lecture notes and citations from Slade’s previous books to describe a new theory of knowledge based on reflected-wave models, where any sensory input results in a change in the randomness of neural impulses. What Slade, a character who changed sex twice in his lifetime, suggests in the learning theory is that knowledge is a modular calculus description characterized by harmonies challenging randomness. This thinking is closer to music, to Susanne Langer’s feeling as form, than it is to conventional logic of the sort that Bron knows. To Delany in this novel, feminine intuition scores higher as a learning tool than does conventional male logic. The novel thus makes a strong feminist statement.