Reading Triton in the Dark Ecology

I became aware Samuel R. Delany when he was a writing teacher at Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. What made an impression on me was a talk he gave about the differences between story telling and story writing. At the time, I was occupied with writing dramatic monologues, so his insights were especially appreciated.

I read Nova and sent it to my nephew who I thought would enjoy it (and be up for the challenge). Next, I read Hogg—which I definitely did not pass along to my nephew! Finally, I came across the Neveryona books and knew I had found something truly special. I was delighted and sought out all I could about the series. I found there was a prologue: a science fiction novel.

Trouble on Triton could be read as a postcolonial allegory. Distinct cultures developed as a result of humans spreading throughout the solar system. Moonies live on various satellites. Marsies and Earthmen live on planets.

Ultimately, war breaks out between those who live on moons and those who live on planets. The novel could be read as a war story. Bron, the main character, was born on Mars but immigrated to the satellites; he is caught between the two sides, even if he doesn’t realize it.

The novel begins with Bron in the Plaza of Light in the city of Tethys located on one of Jupiter’s moons called Triton. He is trying to determine if he is a reasonably happy man. Bron travels to Earth and spends some time at an archeological site in Mongolia and returns to Tethys just before the war begins.

I read Trouble on Triton as an environmental novel, a cautionary tale about a society that dominates the environment. When I took up this novel I was also reading Ecology Without Nature by Timothy Morton and came upon a parenthetical statement that resonated with Delany’s novel:

(I often wonder whether ecological writing is at bottom nothing other than the poetics of these fields altogether. If it were not for the gravitational field, the earth would have no atmosphere at all.)

The satellite civilization Delany imagines is possible because the gravitational fields on the moons are artificially increased (using iridium/osmium crystalline sheets that orbit beneath the cities—a process, explains a Tethys government agent, that can only be understood by metaphor or mathematical abstraction). During the brief but devastating war, the method of attack by Earth forces is to disrupt the artificial gravity and destroy the cities.

I also came upon a line in the appendices of Trouble on Triton that resonated with Morton’s book. Delany has one of his characters—the same government agent—explain the genre of late 20th century science fiction:

…the episteme was always the secondary hero of the s-f novel—in exactly the same way that the landscape was always the primary one.”

There are definite connections between the two texts, and to help me clarify my thinking around both authors I’m studying Trouble on Triton using the techniques of dark ecology from Ecology Without Nature. Morton structures his approach in three distinct sections: describing, contextualizing, and politicizing, and so I will respond to the following three questions:

  1. What poetics does Delany deploy to describe the environment in this novel?
  2. How is a dark ecology reading of this novel different from readings centered on content and form?
  3. What does this novel make possible/impossible today?

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