Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008

Just arrived in Boulder to teach in the fourth week of the Naropa Summer Writing Program, and after a lovely dinner with old friends, I came back to the Motel to find the following sad news, forwarded by John Maas who found them here. Sad especially in that I agree with the quoted writer that Disch after a magnificent early writing career when he produced some of the best avant-garde scifi, fell into a weird regressive mode (not to speak of the poetry, which never made it for me —in fact years ago the L.A. Times published a letter I sent in in fury about a review Disch had written about Marjorie Perloff’s Poetic License )and yet, and yet, if you haven’t read Camp Concentration, go out & get it now:

Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008
Posted by Patrick at 04:37 PM * 29 comments
Ellen Datlow writes:

I’ve just found out that Tom Disch committed suicide in his apartment on July 4th. He was found by a friend who lives a few blocks away.
I’m shocked, saddened, but not very surprised. Tom had been depressed for several years and was especially hit by the death of his longtime partner Charles Naylor. He also was very worried about being evicted from the rent controlled apartment he lived in for decades.

Scott Edelman quotes John Clute’s entry on Disch in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia:
Because of his intellectual audacity, the chillingly distant mannerism of his narrative art, the austerity of the pleasures he affords, and the fine cruelty of his wit, Thomas M. Disch has been perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern first-rank SF writers.
I certainly read him; his SF novels of the 1960s and 70s, particularly Camp Concentration and 334, had an enormous impact on me. But “least read” may be true: according to publishing legend, his SF masterpiece On Wings of Song had a 90% return rate in its 1980 Bantam paperback edition. Despite that, he went on to hit bestseller lists with his 1991 horror novel The M.D. Just as unexpectedly, his children’s book The Brave Little Toaster was adapted into a popular Disney cartoon.
He could be hard to take, both in person and in his public interactions with the SF world. He played the game of literary politics hard, and sometimes lost badly. He frequently seemed to have no patience for his allies, much less his enemies. Of his other career, as noted poet Tom Disch, I can’t say much, except that to my mind the poetry was often good. In his later years he wrote a blog; after he began to post frequently on the depravity of Muslims and immigrants, I became unable to keep reading it.

The Disch I prefer to remember was no nicer than that, but much smarter: a brittle and brilliant ironist with a bright wit and no optimism whatsoever. Here are the concluding lines of his 1965 SF novel The Genocides, a book wedged forever up the nose of overweening skiffy can-do-ism:

Nature is prodigal. Of a hundred seedlings only one or two would survive; of a hundred species, only one or two. Not, however, man.

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