Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sands by Samuel R Delany

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sands

With Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sands Delany builds an incredible rich science fiction universe and a plot to go with it but as you read the last page, you realize nothing is resolved, and you question the point of the book. 26-years later you’re left with the question, “Where the hell is the sequel?”

368 pages

Amazon Book Preview of Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sands

This corner of the universe contains 6000 inhabited worlds, moons and space stations. There are only two species that have mastered interstellar travel: humans and the Xiv. Humans associate with the remaining intelligent species and appear to have friendly relations with them; often living amongst them as members of their families. (1) The Xiv live on gas giants and are so alien the conjecture is they are unaware of our existence. Delany leads you to wonder if the Xiv are responsible for the Cultural Fugue, an event that kills all life on a planet. The Cultural Fugue terrifies the inhabitants of those 6000 worlds. So much so it has become taboo to talk about it in polite company.

The Story
The book opens on a backwater planet Rhyonon. A man volunteers for synapse jamming. This removes all his anxiety, but also turns him into a happy slave now known as Rat Korga. Korga is used and abuse for a number of years. He is kidnapped by a woman and given a GI (General Information) implant, which offsets the synapse jamming. On Rhyonon this is a capital crime and the GI is removed and Korga is returned to his Rat (Slave) life. Not long afterward, Rhyonon undergoes a Cultural Fugue. The entire planet is fried, but Korga manages to survive. He is the only survivor… ever. The Web takes him away for repair. Korga is given artificial eyes and a set of jeweled rings, which offset the synapse jamming. He isn’t giving access to the GI but is schooled quickly by the Web.
This book was written in 1984. I’m impressed, reading 26-years later about the GI (General Information), sort a built-in Internet Search engine. The Web is a loose organization, which runs the universe. There appear to be two competing religions: The Family vs. The Sygn. They are mentioned often as they fight for control over various worlds, however not much detail is given. (It has to do with how they organize family structures or their use of technology, “…tend to establish their incompatible version of peace.”)

On the planet Velm, the main character: Marq Dyeth is raised by a large extended family of alien Evelmi and humans. Marq’s great grandmother (7-times removed) was Vondramach Okk- a defining character of this universe. (She appears in the short story Omegahelm from “Distant Stars”) The Evelemi are very friendly and have a rich culture that Delany develops in some detail.
Marq continues the family work 1 as an ID (Industrial Diplomat). Although humans have developed interstellar travel, the book insinuates it is neither cheap nor commonplace. Marq’s job is to travel from planet to planet and deal with culture and trade.

Marq’s boss is Japril. While testing Rat Korga, Japril discovers Rat is a perfect sexual match for Marq. Marq and Rat are introduced on Velm. They go Dragon Hunting, which involves shooting a line into a dragon. This line feeds their consciousness into the dragon. They become the dragon- an intense experience. Afterwards, the hunters and an old Evelmi sing of their experience. Their day together ends with a dinner party thrown by Marq’s Evelmi family for a delegation of Thants. (3) (from the planet Zetzor) The Thants hide behind electronic screens, insult their hosts, and ignore all meal protocol. Japril, Marta, and Ynn (of the Web) arrive and try to integrate the Thants. Word has spread about the lone survivor of the Cultural Fugue. It appears everyone in the city wants a look Rat Korga. Rat defuses the situation by accessing Vondramach’s hidden personal library. (The dinner party is held at Marq’s/Vondramach’s ancestral home.) Rat and Marq broadcast a greeting to the assembled multitude. Much like a video display at a football game. Japril decides Rat Korga is too disruptive to be allowed to remain on Velm. It is not just the crowd- there is a fleet of Xiv ships approaching Iriana, Velm’s sun.

Japril, Korga, and the web team leave Marq (and the reader) wondering what the hell happened. Marq gets an expensive interstellar phone call explaining her decision. (It isn’t very compelling.) Marq is pissed off and tries to explain what it’s like to lose your perfect erotic object – to seven decimal places no less. Marq wakes on a space ship about to embark on another ID mission.

I read “Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sands” twenty-six years ago when it originally came out. I loved the book and the way Delany handled the aliens. The Evelm language is very taste dominated, due to their three tongues and their insect like physique. (2)
I gave the book an A- at the time.  Delany is (was) one of my favorite authors. The only author whose books I’ve bought and kept in my personal library. (I’m a reader not a collector of books.) Twenty plus years on I decided to reread his books. Why else did I keep them? I was surprised by how different they were from how I remember them. My favorite “Dhalgren” was an easy read the second time and not the complex novel I remember. “Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sands” was far more complex and difficult to get through than I remembered.

Delany writes science fiction, but there is little science in his work. The science fiction is just a convention allowing him to place characters in futuristic mental states or to stretch his imagination and try out his personal theories of language.
His prose is vivid like a dream, and the plots are as firm as dreams too. There is so much going on and so many characters; I found it hard to keep track of them and their interrelationships. Which characters are important, and which are just background figures?

Delany is a gay black man, which is fine, even when he loads up the books with his sexual theories. I find it amusing (often annoying) when it puts the same fetish in every book. Namely: gnarly finger/hands, pot-marked skin and jewels. Many of his lead characters come off as dirty hippies or gypsies.  I guess you just have to get use to pages of descriptions regarding how hot dirty bitten fingernails are. (see page 361-365)

Delany has a rich vocabulary, so I keep a dictionary and a note pad handy when reading his fiction.
The Evelmi have three tongues and can speak out of all three of them simultaneously. Often the dialog is stacked three deep in {brackets.}
In this universe all beings are referred to as female. He/She pronouns are notions of sexual dominance/desire?
Delany invents names wherever he can. In this universe ‘i’ is commonly replaced with ‘y’ in formal names.
Work and other activities are notated with subscripts. Your job is 1 – part-time or volunteer work is 2 – and 3 is used for past jobs and tangential activities?

When I read a good book I inhabit the world the author creates. When I read a great book, I find the book starts to inhabit my world. This is a common with Delany, and why he is one of my favorite authors even if the books are difficult or I don’t like the choices he makes.


    1. “That we Elvelmi can, with many of our tongues, reproduce sounds you humans will accept as language has probably generated as much evil as it has good between our species. The real affinity between us is that all our myriad cultures, and all yours, are founded on love of illusion. It is not that we both talk, but that we both talk endlessly of person, places, things, and ideas that are not currently before us to taste. It is not that we both build home-caves, construct travel-guiders that stretch for thousands of kilometers over the land, lay out social grounds, or put together musical compositions and complex combination of food and flavored stone, but that we both build, construct, lay out, and put together these things according to plans, visions, imaginative schemes that, until we have realized them, have no real existence.” (page 226)

    1. “Who comes to visit this run with a history of monotony in saltiness, bitterness, sweetness, sourness? Humans have five basic flavors that become smell without perceptual hitch. Evelmi have twelve basic tastes and no nasal-based olfactory sense- though they can detect, with some tongues, even a molecule or two lingering on the air.” (page 304)

  1. Thants from Zetzor..”Come from a federation rich as our own, yet whose flavors present themselves in different order, noon to noon: Alsod, Nea, Fibermich, George, Eulalia, Clearwater, and Thadeus, touching tongues and feet to the stream of Thant, flowing toward the stream of Dyeth, contouring the currents like shell whorls.” (page 304)

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One Response to Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sands by Samuel R Delany

  1. Suzanne says:

    I found your review an interesting perspective on how your thoughts about a book can change over the years. I’ve found that to be true myself. I guess we can look fondly at the past, but not really go back. At least there’s always new, wonderful books to be discovered!

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