RIP: Thomas M. Disch

Thomas M. Disch South Street Seaport 2008-06-03

Originally uploaded by Houari B.

I am stunned by the news that legendary science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch committed suicide a few days ago on July 4.

Apparently I’m one of the few people to be stunned, but I’m guilty of losing track of all the science fiction writers who influenced me in years past. According to his obit at Locus, Ellen Datlow reported in her LiveJournal that Disch had been depressed for several years, especially following the death of his partner of three decades, Charles Naylor, and the fear that he would be evicted from his NYC apartment.

Disch was known as a science fiction and horror writer, a critic, a poet and an irascible “curmudgeon,” as Datlow put it. Two books of his affected me in very different ways: First was Camp Concentration, his novel about a strain of syphilis being used to create geniuses who then die within a few months. It is an evocative New Wave novel that Wikipedia informs me was influenced by the thinking of Arthur Koestler, and now that I think about it reminds me of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.

Second was Disch’s children’s book The Brave Little Toaster, which amused me greatly. I have not yet read The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, a “sardonic” look at science fiction, in which Disch’s standpoint as a skeptic is said to be quite evident with his attacks on L. Ron Hubbard and Erich Von Daniken. In it Disch also takes on science fiction’s sacred cows Ursula K. LeGuin and Robert Heinlein for bringing overt political ideology to their work.

Locus quotes the 1993 Encyclopedia of Science Fiction “Because of his intellectual audacity, the chillingly distanced mannerism of his narrative art, the austerity of the pleasures he affords, and the fine cruelty of his wit, [Disch] has been perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern first-rank sf writers.”

Image by Houari B.


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