Document Type

Book Chapter


In common with most of his work, Samuel Delany's science fiction novel Trouble on Triton (1976) is subscribed with a tag providing the geographical and temporal co-ordinates of its composition - in this case, 'London, Nov. '73-July '74'. Asked in an interview whether this particular tag has 'SOllle organic significance', Delany replies: 'It's been Illy contention for some time that science fiction is not about the future. It works by setting up a dialogue with the here-and-now, a dialogue as intricate and rich as the writer can make it' ('Second SFS Interview' 343-44).1 In this essay, I want to pursue some of the ways in which Trouble on Triton might be seen as engaging in dialogue with the here-and-now of its composition - a here-and-now that, if we accept one influential periodizing analysis of commodity culture, is also our own. Triton is written at that point in history in which economic stagnation in the West necessitates significant changes in the organization of capital- changes that have been collected together and described under the rubric of postmodernity. From the early 1970s - or, in David Harvey's more precise formulation, from 'around 1972' (vii) - there is a gradual and uneven, but nonetheless momen~ tous, shift from the Fordist dispensation of the previous postwar decades, under which mass production entailed standardized products and mass consumption, to a more mobile and flexible regime of accumulation, under which economies of scope supplant economies of scale, resulting in a seemingly unrestrained proliferation of 'niche' consumer options. For many theorists of postmodernity, this increased flexibility of capital is correlated with an increased flexibility in modes of selfhood. In Triton, plasticity of identities and desires is also a central feature of the future world that Delany renders with characteristic vividness and intelligence.