Triton: Book of the Month September 2023

Bartleby, the co-op member who had been there the longest, loaned him books, weird books he had never heard of, that spoke of other realities, other times, stranger than this one. Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler’

‘And The World Was New’, Chana Porter

This month we are following a trail from The Seep, last month’s book of the month. In a short story appended to The Seep in most publications, Porter tells the tale of the boy Aki. He has grown up in ‘the Compound’, isolated from the rest of the world. The world as we know it, and Aki doesn’t, has been transformed by The Seep, an alien invader. Through contact with The Seep, humanity has achieved enlightenment and is living in a conscious, connected utopia. To help him navigate the new world, another member of his co-operative loans him books by Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler.

These three authors are all famous writers of seminal late 20th century utopias. These are Russ’s The Female Man, Delany’s Triton and Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. We can probably safely assume these texts had a strong influence on Porter. Another not-so-subtle clue is in the name of the project she co-founded, The Octavia Project. This project support girls and non-binary young people to write SF (science/speculative fiction) stories.

Taking this as a reading list, the Utopian Book Collective has only thus far read one of these texts, Butler’s Parable of the Sower. We decided to address this and chose Triton for our next book of the month.

Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia

Originally published under the title Triton, in later publications it achieved its full title of Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia. I think we’re OK to still call it Triton for short.

The subtitle puts Triton in dialogue with Ursula K. Le Guin, another great utopian author of the era. Her classic novel The Dispossessed has the subtitle ‘An Ambiguous Utopia’.

Heterotopia is a term coined and described by Michel Foucault. My understanding of it is that heterotopias are places with their own hierarchy and codes of conduct, such as ships, hospitals or prisons. They’re a part of wider society, but have their own rules and structure. They are real places, not ‘no-places’ as in the literal translation of the word ‘utopia’ as ‘no place’. But they are still other to or outside the rest of society.

If you would like to read Foucault’s ‘Of Other Spaces – Utopias and Heterotopias’ yourself you can find it here.

How this translates to a literary form is something I am intrigued to see. If you, too, are curious about this, join us in reading Triton. And if you are local to Bristol, UK, join us in discussing it too! See our Upcoming Events page for details.

On a bright yellow background the author's name SAMUEL R. DELANY and book title TRITON are shown in block capitals.