I just posted the following to delany-list (and the last paragraph is a reference to another post there), but I figured it could do double-duty here as well. For those who don’t know, I’m a huge Delany fan.

I finished Phallos a couple of days ago. On the one hand, I quite enjoyed it. On the other hand, I’m rather disappointed by it, as well.

I first read part of it in a chapbook that came with, I think, 1984. From that, I got the idea that the book was about somebody searching for a copy of a book called Phallos. There was some summarizing and excerpting of the fictional Phallos (I’ll write Phallos when referring to Delany’s book, and just Phallos for the book referred to within Phallos), but I assumed that the chapbook largely consisted of that just because that was the easiest way to get a coherent extract of the full novel.

Unfortunately (as is fairly clear from the page count of the final novel), that summarizing and excerpting is pretty much all you get. It’s actually quite a lot of fun; I like the plot he’s made up for Phallos, I like the characters, and there’s typical Delany playfulness (intellectual and otherwise). But my first reaction upon finishing the book was “that was all well and good, but I wish he’d tried to write Phallos instead of a summary of it”. That would have been a book well worth reading. (Though I’m not sure he could have brought it off in the alleged 500-ish pages that Phallos is supposed to have taken up: just making the dirty bits explicit would probably have bumped up the page count most of the way to that level.)

Another possibility, suggested by my reading of the chapbook, would have been to add more of the outer story of the person searching for Phallos, as I’d initially assumed would have been the case. These days, my reading tastes don’t lean to quite that much layering, but I’m sure Delany would have done a great job with it.

Incidentally, as hinted at above, the explicit dirty bits have been almost entirely removed; there’s description of the dirty bits, but I wouldn’t call Phallos pornography at all. (Certainly not in comparison to Hogg or The Mad Man or Equinox.)

I probably would have had a different reaction if this had come out a year after The Mad Man. But we’ve been waiting a decade for another piece of Delany fiction; I expected something a little more substantial than this.

I’m pretty curious where he’s planning to go next, fiction-wise. And I’m glad that On Writing is almost done. Though, these days, I find the idea of anything by Delany being in its “last edits” almost risible…

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