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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

  Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

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Thomas M. Disch

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Standard Disclaimer:

This is a brief discussion of Thomas M. Disch and, of course, of some speculative-fiction books by Disch.

This discussion and list does not necessarily include every book by Disch: it includes only those books that I both know and like. Just as with the author list itself, omission of a particular item may mean I didn’t think highly enough of the omitted item, or it may simply mean that I have not yet sufficient familiarity with it. (In a very few cases, I have listed some books merely on the strength of my opinion of the author: all such books are clearly marked below, as throughout these lists, with a hash mark (#) before the title so you know what’s what.)

I don’t pretend that this discussion is a deep analysis. My intent is no more than to give you a rough idea of what kinds of tales Disch tells, how those tales are usually told, and what makes them and Disch worthy; in sum, to help you rank Thomas M. Disch (and the works by Disch listed here) on your personal literary “to do” list.

A Few Words About Thomas M. Disch

(Disch lived two literary lives: as speculative-fiction writer Thomas M. Disch, and as poet Tom Disch; readers of one division of his output are often not even aware of the other, but he was regarded as eminent in both forms. This page will deal only with his speculative-fiction self—Speakeasy had a favored few short Disch poems up [archived copy].)

Regrettably, I have not yet had an opportunity to write an essay on this author, but the “Other Resources” section below will lead you to some information about the “Notable Books” listed farther down this page.

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Other Thomas M. Disch Resources

Thomas M. Disch Resources on the Web

There is a plethora of Disch material on the web. It is fascinating, in a morbid way, that the great bulk of it is obituaries and eulogies, suggesting that “nothing became him so much in life as the leaving of it.” It’s cliche but true that authors are often ignored—or at least not fully appreciated—till they die. I find quite disturbing the grotesque imbalance between the quantity of material appearing after his death (a somewhat sensational and tragic one, suicide under terribly depressing circumstances) and the paucity of material predating that death, which material is chiefly a few interviews and some book reviews, not numerous; I, at least, found only a couple of comprehensive essays or critical analyses published during his life. Alas.

At any rate: Disch had a blog, Endzone, and it remains available. The only meaningful pre-mortem overviews of Disch I could find—but they are quite useful—include “Four Reasons for Reading Thomas M. Disch” by John Sladek at the Ansible site; and Charles Platt’s 1980 essay, regarded as a classic appreciation of Disch, now republished at feuilleton.

Of those seemingly countless heartfelt posthumous appreciations, links to many (perhaps most) have been collected at a sort of Disch appreciations portal page [archived copy] at Matt Stagg’s blog, Enter the Octopus. Referenced there, but worth noting on its own, is Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits blog entry that also links numerous tributes to Disch beyond those on Stagg’s portal page. And there are also posthumous appreciations (I think not included on those portals, but I may be duplicating some) at Salon; Omnivoracious [archived copy]; and the Lasting Tribute site [ironically, an archived copy]. And I’m sure that is still not all of them. All in all, an amazing outpouring.

(This note makes a sad coda.)

For reviews of his books, a good source is The New York Times, which reviewed many. There are, of course, many others besides, but those—by various reviewers—will give you a good start.

The reader wondering if there are any counterpoint opinions whatever on Disch can examine this slashing critique of Disch at the Armed and Dangerous blog (and include the 65 following comment posts). There is also this quotation from eminent sf critic and reviewer (and author) Algis Budrys re Disch’s novel The Genocides:

“You have surely heard by now that this is a very good, and an important book. The verbal formula I get from various respectable acquaintances of mine is that you would never have thought that Disch could have produced anything this good. The verbal formula I get from other respectable friends of mine, wedded to the school of science fiction which takes hope in science and in Man, is that the book is unrelieved trash, ineptly written, pretentious, inconsistent and sophomoric. I personally feel that it reflects a deep and dedicated study of the trappings of a book everyone says is good. It is, as a matter of fact, almost exactly the novel one would expect Thomas Disch to have written; a pudding full of borrowed symbology raisins and can’t-miss verbalization; little bursts of imagery in which incinerators are likened to Volkswagons and are thus made deceptively harmless in the minds of the rather dumb, resigned victims.”

So the critical reception is, um, not unmixed.

There is quite a bit more Disch-ralated material, including a few interviews. If, after reviewing all the numerous sources cited—directly and indirectly—above, you still want more, all I can say is, as always, Google Is Your Friend.

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Thomas M. Disch Resources in Print

I could find none.

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Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by Thomas M. Disch **

(For more possible titles by this author, see the “Unrated Books by Rated Authors” page.)

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