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Demand the Impossible

Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination


Edited By Tom Moylan

Although published in 1986, Demand the Impossible was written from inside the oppositional political culture of the 1970s. Reading works by Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and Samuel R. Delany as indicative texts in the intertext of utopian science fiction, Tom Moylan originated the concept of the «critical utopia» as both a periodizing and conceptual tool for capturing the creative and critical capabilities of the utopian imagination and utopian agency. This Ralahine Classics edition includes the original text along with a new essay by Moylan (on Aldous Huxley’s Island) and a set of reflections on the book by leading utopian and science fiction scholars.
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Chapter 7: Samuel R. Delany, Triton



Even if we have discovered the form of a micro-flaw common to every element of our thinking, to think we have necessarily discovered the form of a macro-flaw in our larger mental structures – say our politics – is simply to fall victim to a micro-flaw again. This is not to say that macro-flaws may not relate to the micro-flaws – they usually do – but it is a mistake to assume that relation is direct and necessarily subsumed by the same verbal model.

— ASHIMA SLADE (in Triton)

Whereas Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time takes the critical utopia to the barricades, Samuel R. Delany’s Triton takes it through a black hole in the universe of generic possibilities. In doing so, he destroys traditional utopia, preserves the impulse of the utopian dream, and creates the heterotopia. To be sure, Russ’s The Female Man and Le Guin’s The Dispossessed influenced his work on Triton, and Delany’s “ambiguous heterotopia” can be read as a response to both works. That response, however, carries the critical utopia far beyond the confines of the traditional utopian genre, producing a text that confronts the complexity of modern life and the potential for human emancipation in such a way that the utopian impulse toward a better life is kept alive without the static support of the familiar systematic utopia.

Triton was written in three months after the completion of Delany’s massive Dhalgren, which he spent five years writing.1 The...

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