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July 6, 2008

Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008
Posted by Patrick at 04:37 PM * 114 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.

Comments on Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008:
#1 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 05:30 PM:

I'm shocked at this news.

Woo.

#2 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 05:32 PM:

We met a few times; I did not know him. I am sad to know that he was in such pain. I admired his early fiction and some of his poetry.

May he find kindness.

#3 ::: martyn44 ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 05:41 PM:

I discovered Thomas Disch during a search for the writer of a book that went the way of so many student volumes - ie, stolen by a friend. That book was Black Easter, which is, of course, by James Blish, but that was long ago in England, pre the Web and all I could remember was '...ish'. I discovered Philip K Dick in the same search.

I understood he could be a difficult man, but The Genocides should be compulsory reading. Rest in Peace.

#4 ::: anthony ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 05:55 PM:

Camp Concentration is brilliant, about language, and power, and the construction of narratives, and all of those foucauldian things that I care deeply about (as is the rogue best seller MD, in fact) but the short story Squirrel Cage is a perfect text that out kafka's kafka. He wasn't a great poet, and Brave Little Toaster was a distraction, and i wish that he got his shit together, so he could have written more, better--but those two novels, and 334, are so brilliant, so attached to the way the world works, so devious and so tragic, that i cannot imagine 20th century literature with out them.

#5 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:03 PM:

Camp Concentration had a huge impact on me--it's one of the first books I read several times in a short time, to get a handle on what it was doing and how it was doing it.

But (as I said in Ellen's LJ) my favorite memory of Tom was of rolling down hills with him, on the campus of a school in New Jersey where we had both been speakers. It was so unexpected--not that I would be silly enough to do it, but that he would join in with an expression of absolute delight.

I am sad that the last few years were so very rough for him. Tom could be deeply abrasive, but I hope he's at peace now.

#6 ::: Michael M. ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:14 PM:

I went to the circus with him once, many years ago -- Ringling Bros. at the Garden. He was going to review it for The Nation. I kind of thought we might turn out to be friends, but it didn't happen. Sad news.

#7 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:18 PM:

Wow. I'm stunned at the news. I just downloaded Amnesia the other day, having gotten a craving to play it again.

I'd never encountered him, at a con or online, but his writing, at its peak, was incredibly moving.

#8 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:18 PM:

The Brave Little Toaster made me cry extravagantly when I was pregnant. I owe him for that.

Rest in peace.

#9 ::: Don Webb ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:23 PM:

Just plain damn.

Those collections like Strangeness and the novels like Camp Concentration. I loved meeting him at Readercon. Prose that could take your damn breathe away.

Just damn.

(Ironically I am writing a story about the "Hungarian Suicide Song" -- Gloomy Sunday. I have heard about 40 versions today. This is a much of a muchness. I think I'll go watch that new Shamalyn movie . . .)

Don

#10 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:29 PM:

One of my favorite writers. I'm sad to hear this.

#11 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:43 PM:

Oh hell, shit, damn.

I wish I could say I knew him. I wish I could say I was surprised. All I can say is this is a hell of a loss.

#12 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 06:52 PM:

Like Lizzy, I met him once or twice, glancingly, but did not know him.

Like Patrick, I certainly read him, almost always with appreciation.

As a culture, we are not kind to our writers, our artists, our gay men, our curmudgeons. I think he was a victim of all of the above. I wish not so much that he were still alive as that he had been happier.

#13 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:03 PM:

This is just so terribly, incredibly, awfully fucked.

#14 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:17 PM:

On Wings of Song was my favorite of his novels. Less edgy than Camp Concentration or 334, but just rich.

Somewhere out there are people who know him only for The Brave Little Toaster. Fun as that is, sigh.

#15 ::: RG ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:22 PM:

Disch and Helms go down on the 4th: same reason, opposed matter-genders. There should be an equation.

#16 ::: Eileen Gunn ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:29 PM:

I am very sorry to hear this, but, like Ellen Datlow, and I'm sure many others, I am not surprised.

Tom was one of my instructors at Clarion in 1976. He was a brilliant writer, of course, and had a breathtaking wit and a truly audacious and pervasive iconoclasm. The week he taught was like a midnight ride in a 1957 Thunderbird with the top down and the headlights turned off.

Goodbye, Tom. Wherever you end up, I hope it puts you in a better mood.

Eileen

#17 ::: Carol Maltby ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:29 PM:

I guess I'm one of the few who hung on to the Bantam On Wings of Song. I don't recall bonding with the book for the most part, but I see I still have pp. 275-79 bookmarked, the Honeybunny story told to Incubus the dying dog.

On rereading that part just now I see my reaction is the same as it was a quarter century ago -- that this superficially silly confection of an interlude was somehow some of the fiercest, bravest, take-no-prisoners writing I'd ever encountered.

We loved The Brave Little Toaster as a family, because how could we not? It was respectful to those who serve us quietly. I'm sorry to hear that life became hard for Disch, and he became hard in return toward the end. Such sad news.

#18 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:30 PM:

Oh hell, oh damn. I never met him, but I loved his writing.

His writing has always had such a bleak streak to it, that his dying by suicide somehow doesn't seem surprising. Horribly sad, though. I wish he could have had the full honors that his writing deserves.

#19 ::: Loren MacGregor ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:30 PM:

Crap.

As is often the case, there is coincidence; I have been in the (endless) process of reorganizing my office, with the result that last evening "Fun With Your New Head" surfaced, and was transferred to my "To be (re)read" stack. As I open it now, I find that Disch signed this copy for me, some time between the beginning of drink and the subsequent sobering. I don't remember it.

I intensely disliked some of his stories, which I suspect would have pleased him. They were meant to invoke emotion, not always positive. There was undoubted skill and power in his writing, and in his choice of words. (For example, I would say that "White Fang Goes Dingo," in the context of what follows, is a much better title than "The Puppies of Terra." And who decided that "White Fang Goes Dingo and Other Funny SF Stories" was the perfect title for a collection that includes "102 H-Bombs"?)

I respected his criticism, which was frequently savage but as or more frequently brilliant. Once the blood was staunched, there was much to think about. His columns in The Nation were also required reading for me, at a time when I had money to subscribe, and I am pleased to remember again that I took the opportunity to see his wonderful minimalist theatrical version of Ben Hur. His poetry sometimes escaped me, but I could (and do) return to his critical writings about poetry on a regular basis.

There were the elaborate literary constructions ("Leonie Hargrave") and the odd one-off novels (such as "Black Alice" by Thom Demijohn, a pseudonym for Disch and John Sladek).

I'm sorry you're gone, Tom -- but I salute your last ironical gesture, the leaving of this "nation of liers" on the country's anniversary.

You'll be missed.

-- Loren MacGregor

#20 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:34 PM:

I am stunned, at a loss for words. He was as good a candidate as any for SF's best writer. RIP.

#23 ::: DominEditrix ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:46 PM:

I met him a couple of times, back in the 70s; he may have been hard to get along with, but he was terribly sweet to me. He will be missed.

#24 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 07:48 PM:

this makes me very sad.

He was a very kind, courteous guest at one of the ConQuesTs at the old Howard Johnson at 6th and Washington. He was our Brave Little Toastmaster that year, and autographed (with an engraver) a number of salvaged chrome toasters. A number raised good money for our charity that year. And we still have ours in a place of honor with other treasures around our fireplace.

I hope he finds peace.

#25 ::: Jim Satterfield ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 08:28 PM:

One of those toasters sits in our loft to this day, Paula. I let out a "Damn!" on seeing this news and Jill turned around to ask what was wrong even though she was on the phone with her daughter.

#26 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 08:54 PM:

*sigh*
We have a fair number of writers who wrote some great stuff, but there's almost nothing of his which wasn't stunning.
"Squirrel Cage" is one of only two stories ever to actually make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I was fortunate to have been a subscriber to The Nation while he was their opera reviewer, and Whitley Streiber's first flying saucer book came in and they gave it to him to review . . . He didnt use a razor, he used a microtome. It was a joy to see.

*sigh*
oh damn

#27 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 09:13 PM:

Sent an e-mail to The Nation. They should do an obit at least, since he wrote for them so long.

They may well have known. But, just in case.

Love, C.

#28 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 09:33 PM:

Emma and I love On Wings of Song. Not saying it's his best work. Just saying that's the great work that worked best for us. We never met him, but we'll remember him.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 10:18 PM:

Loren, if I had to guess who decided that White Fang Goes Dingo and Other Funny SF Stories was a good title, I'd say it was Disch himself. I'll bet you anything he thought some of them were funny.

His short stories helped get me through the worst bout of depression I've ever suffered. They were comforting.

...

Disch was a strong writer with uncommercial sensibilities. I remember Beth Meacham telling me about the return rate of On Wings of Song, not long after I started working at Tor. "But everyone I know bought a copy!" I blurted.

"You know everyone who bought a copy," Beth said.

(I'll observe in his defense that the book did have exactly the wrong cover, though it's a nice piece of art in its own right.)

...

Odd bit:

One of the things he did extremely well was write from the POV of characters who aren't terribly bright, or who have limited worldviews. They're never aware they're in a story; and while the story may do terrible things to them, it never sides with the reader against them.

...

I find myself being furious that we don't have a national health care system. Disch wrote some bestsellers, eventually, but what I heard was that his partner's last illness ate up everything they had.

When he moved into his neighborhood, it was run-down and dirty and cheap, though it's gradually become more fashionable. If he'd been there long enough for his apartment to be rent-controlled, he can't have been paying much for it. Losing it and having to find another would have been a calamity. For all I know, it was an impossibility.

...

The thing I hate most about his death is that it feels like a goddamn Thomas Disch short story.

#30 ::: Pierce R. Butler ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 10:53 PM:

It shouldn't matter, but I can't get the question out of my head:

Reading Camp Concentration convinced me that Thomas Disch was Catholic, or at least Catholic-educated.

Was I right?

Triplicity is up next in my reading queue.

#31 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 10:58 PM:

I find myself being furious that we don't have a national health care system. Disch wrote some bestsellers, eventually, but what I heard was that his partner's last illness ate up everything they had.

I've been thinking about that, too, and the housing issue. I'd like to channel my grief over this into watchdogging Obama so that we might tack a surprise ending onto 334: "Then, curiously, the angels appeared -- fronting money for hospital care and paying good lawyers to extract relocation settlements from the landlord."

#32 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 10:58 PM:

Pierce R. Butler, #30: Of course he was. And Catholic-educated as well. It's as obvious as his tattoos.

#33 ::: Lindsay Beyerstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 11:16 PM:

I'm sorry to hear Disch is gone.

I discovered The M.D. in the free book nook at my grandmother's senior's complex when I was about 13.

I negotiated special dispensation to borrow it, since I was only a near-permanent presence and not technically a resident.

That book scared the hell out of me, in an inspiring sort of way. So much so that I couldn't bring myself to return it.

#34 ::: Evan Leatherwood ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 11:17 PM:

As an aspiring SF writer, a New Yorker, and a gay man, this makes me sad.

I was having a party at my place in Brooklyn on the 4th, and instead I wish I could have crossed the river and told him that he wrote beautiful things, that his career and art were an inspiration, and were for others a balm for the kind of sadness and outrage he was feeling.

First Arthur C. Clarke, now Thomas M. Disch. Rough year.

#35 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 11:23 PM:

I really did slight his poetry. He wasn't a major poet, but he was frequently a delightful one. A well-chosen archive--drop what you're doing, go look, yes, I mean you--is here.

#36 ::: Rebecca Ore ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 11:27 PM:

Okay, folks, another one slipped through the cracks of being a freelancer without benefits and with a landlord who wanted him out of his apartment. I'm now working as a technical writer/editor in Northern Virginia to have something in my old age (it's worker owned), but maybe some of you know some folks in the foundations world, or some rich people, who could like, set up a fund to make life at the end a little easier for people who contributed that much to the field.

Enough people were reading his blog to know it was a slow suicide note. I don't know if an intervention could have helped, but Michael Swanwick's comment tonight was, "Even if he had to commit suicide, he shouldn't have had to worry about being evicted."

#37 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 11:29 PM:

From wikipedia: ...as well as fighting attempts to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment.

That explains a lot. My feelings about Mr. Disch's work are mixed, but my feelings about his loss are not.

#38 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2008, 11:45 PM:

I'd never read his poetry before...now I have, and it's quite good. This one is a bit of a manifesto about poetry.

I'm sorry he didn't have a happier life.

#39 ::: Rich Coad ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:07 AM:

Loren and Teresa have said it all better than I can. Damn.

#40 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:12 AM:

I am quite saddened. I love his SF (what I've read of it, not enough), his criticism (deliciously nasty) and his poetry. (I don't know (re: #4) if he was a great poet or not, but I, for one, liked his stuff a lot.) I second Patrick's recommendation of the archive.

I chatted wtih him a few times at Readercon. To me he always seemed smart, charming, friendly and rather surprisingly shy.

And of course the bit about the apartment is enough to make you tear your heart out. The world has enough pain and misery that is unavoidable -- people will always loose partners, even in utopia -- that we don't need to go making it worse.

Rest in peace.

#41 ::: Michael Moorcock ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:20 AM:

Tom was one of my best and most valuable friends and most of the time one of the jolliest, happiest people I knew. His talent was considerable, in so many forms. His best painting, his poetry and his fiction were of extraordinary quality and sadly his irony was often missed by the sf world. He was a unique talent, witty and intelligent, one of the sharpest minds I knew. He was frequently a generous friend to me and without him New Worlds would have been infinitely poorer.

#42 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:21 AM:

Oh.

Editors, friends, when you know a writer out in the world who needs something -- tell us, okay? When that happens, as it sometimes does, people like me can respond.

I never met Disch, I guess I had no idea how old he was, that he was online, whether he was alive or long gone til just now. But I owe him and I've owed him most of my life. I never thanked him. I'd have gladly given more than whatever pennies he got from my buying books.

There are more writers out there than I can possibly look up, even online. Call out names.

#43 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:46 AM:

Disch's new book, The Word of God, in which Disch decides that he himself might as well ascend to Godhood, seems an appropriate note to go out on. I only read a couple pages of it pre-publication, and don't have my copy yet, so I can't say much about it, but I thought people might be interested.

#44 ::: Nick Polak ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:50 AM:

Damn - just damn.

If I weren't so well and truly gafiated I could better commiserate with the many old friends I see posting here -- and RIP, Tom.

So sad - so very, truly sad. I hope you are at peace now, dear man.

#45 ::: Loren MacGregor ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:58 AM:

Teresa:

"Loren, if I had to guess who decided that White Fang Goes Dingo and Other Funny SF Stories was a good title, I'd say it was Disch himself. I'll bet you anything he thought some of them were funny."

Okay. I think you're right. They were funny, in a particularly Dischian way.

"I find myself being furious that we don't have a national health care system. Disch wrote some bestsellers, eventually, but what I heard was that his partner's last illness ate up everything they had."

I would not be surprised. One of the reasons I'm back working full time for Microsoft is that during the last year, when I had an insurance package offered by the vendor for whom I was working, our out-of-pocket costs for coverage, uncovered services and medication exceeded $15,000. I know of several people whose reasonable lives have been ruined by the failure of the medical system. I am outraged that this issue continues, and worsens, year by year. If it is true that Disch got caught by the slag, I am appalled.

"The thing I hate most about his death is that it feels like a goddamn Thomas Disch short story."

Someone should write the story as an official obit. I haven't the skill.


#46 ::: Lee Sandlin ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 01:28 AM:

One of the first pieces I ever published, more than twenty years ago, was a long article about Disch -- I called him up to ask him a couple of questions about his books and he talked to me for most of an afternoon. He told me funny stories about how he'd come to write the novelization of "The Prisoner," and about the Gothic novels he'd written with John Sladek. I mentioned that I'd just finished "Lucifer's Hammer," which he hadn't read, and he questioned me closely about it -- and I was gratified to see years later that he wrote a nasty putdown of it. He was charming and good-humored, and afterwards he was extremely complimentary about the (awful, amateurish) piece I published. It was horribly dismaying to come upon his blog in the last several months and find him so despondent, so unreasonable, and so unconsolable.

The best thing to do now is to read his books. 334 and Camp Concentration, of course -- and I think The M.D. is underrated. But I wish, really wish, somebody would reprint Clara Reeve, which is a wonderful mock-Victorian melodrama. It has a surprise ending that seemed spectacular when it was first published -- I wonder if readers now would see it coming right away?

#47 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 02:05 AM:

"They talk about the end of the world, the bombs and all, or if not the bombs then about the oceans dying, and the fish, but have you ever looked at the ocean? I used to worry, I did, but now I say to myself -- so what. So what if the world ends? My sister, though, she's just the other way -- if there's an election she has to stay up and watch it. Or earthquakes. Anything. But what's the use?

"The end of the world. Let me tell you about the end of the world. It happened fifty years ago. Or maybe a hundred. And since then it's been lovely. I mean it. Nobody tries to bother you. You can relax. You know what? I like the end of the world."

-- from 334

#48 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 02:43 AM:

A damn good eulogy, Patrick, because it gives a much truer portrait of Disch in all his complexity, both as man and writer, than a simple "He was a good and talented man in many ways, and anything to the contrary will go unmentioned."

One of the requests I want to leave for a memorial service for myself is to have at least one person speak who'll remind people what an asshole I could be. (Several possible speakers come to mind....)

Teresa: "His short stories helped get me through the worst bout of depression I've ever suffered. They were comforting."

My go-to guy in that regard has always been Barry Malzberg. It let me think, "Oh, thank God, I'm not the most cynical and depressed person in the world." One of the reasons I have a quote from Engines of the Night on the front page of my blog.

#49 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:02 AM:

What species survives? Just as in the long run every individual is dead, so in the long run is every species.

Unless we are allowed to count one-celled organisms.

#50 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:03 AM:

He was a truly great writer. And you're absolutely right, there should be a health service. Surely we could do something. I'd be prepared to pay more taxes in Canada for you to have a health service in the US if that's what it takes.

The story of Disch's I remember most frequently isn't Camp Concentration or The Genocides or White Fang Goes Dingo, though those are his masterpieces and frequently enough things remind me of them, but the short story that appeared in F&SF The Happy Turnip. I once read half of it aloud at a story reading party, and then had to go and deal with an urgent phonecall. When I came back, a friend of mine who was painfully dyslexic had picked it up and was reading the end to the others, who were all laughing and crying at the same time. It was that good. It made people who could barely read want to read. It made cynical people laugh and cry. And I think of it every single time I see unfinished vegetables on a plate.

He was a curmudgeon and I couldn't read his journal, but his work is part of the furniture of my mind. More than that, I think he's one of the people who pushed SF so that his work is an enduring part of the borders of the possible within the genre.

#51 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:08 AM:

And of course like everyone else I liked his stories, I would like some more info on what in his work was uncommercial, not because I believe it was commercial but because I am interested in an analysis as to what kept him from success.

#52 ::: Rob Bray ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:28 AM:

I want to howl.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed..."

Mr. Disch made my life a lot better, and more interesting, at a time when I needed that. For writing Camp Concentration alone, he will be in heaven, if such exists.

#53 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:01 AM:

Damn. Goodbye to another of my literary heroes.

I always thought of him and Sladek as a pair - some sort of tag team act. Now they're both gone.

It was always the short stories for me - the novels had plenty to offer, but the stories were so incredibly well formed and perceptive - and harsh.

Three I'll remember him by:

Displaying the Flag: a rollicking tale of the gay leather scene, aversion therapy, right wing bumpers stickers and deep deep embarassment. Cracks me up every time I read it.

The Asian Shore: a terrifying distillation of xenophobia (expressed very literally here as the *fear* of the other, not hatred of it) and of the difficulty of holding onto one's own self. If you've ever been in a foreign country just a bit too long and suddenly wanted to tear a hole in the sky and step back to your own world, you've been here.

The Joycelin Shrager story: a brilliantly perceptive but yes, mean spirited tale of life in marginal artistic communities, wallowing in self deception, pretension, and self pity. This feels like the sort of story which would have made friends of twenty years standing tear the page with Disch's name out of their address book.

I've never known or thought much about Disch as a person, but comments by Patrick and others that he had a mean side to him bring me back to this story. It could only have been written by someone who knew a great deal about the human heart - including exactly how to get the stiletto between the ribs and when to twist.

#54 ::: oldprints ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:10 AM:

Some long, long time ago i read a kafkaesque short story about a man who steps onto an elevator in a shopping mall and realizes that the elevator takes him further and further downstairs.. eventually he dies on the elevator while the sliding steps are scraping thin layers off his skin...

Now I am not sure whether this story is by Thomas M. Disch, could somebody please confirm this?

Thanks

#55 ::: oldprints ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:14 AM:

Just found it, it must be "Descending". Was this his first short story ever (written in 1964)?

#56 ::: oldprints ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:19 AM:

Sorry for the multiple posts, but i found the story

here

I first read it like 30 years ago... and I am still impressed by it as i was at that time.

#57 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:22 AM:

If any other writers living in America are contemplating suicide: Don't! Instead move to Scandinavia, where we have free health care.

#58 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:54 AM:

Not only a more reasonable health care system, but civil marriage rights, too? (And I want a pony.)

I, too, remember "Descending" with a shudder -- I've never taken a series of escalators without thinking of it.

#59 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 08:52 AM:

Shocked, dismayed, not surprised. I just bought and started reading The Word of God yesterday, and I was worried about where he was going.

#60 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 09:16 AM:

I'm sorry and shocked.

'... there are no good reasons for dying.' That was the line - or part of a line - that stuck in my mind when I read in high school 'Moondust, the Smell of Hay, and Dialectical Materialism', from a Disch collection described by Brian Aldiss as 'a bracing shot of pure unadulterated gloom'. It became a black line on my mental map.

Damn.

#61 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 09:57 AM:

I never met him, but I've been reading his work for nearly 40 years, now. He never failed to amaze me with his ability to see into the depths and heights of the human heart, sometimes in directions that most writers wouldn't think to look. Learning that "On Wings of Song" was not well received simply confirmed my belief that there are far fewer people who love great writing than there should be.

It makes me very sad that his last years should have been so hard. There are some people, and Disch is one, for whom I wish that I'm wrong about there not being an afterlife; he's owed another chance at happiness.

Teresa @ 29

The thing I hate most about his death is that it feels like a goddamn Thomas Disch short story.

Augh! That damn near broke my heart.

#62 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 10:01 AM:

God, I loved that book (On Wings of Song). I'm flummoxed to learn that it didn't do well.

God damn it.

#63 ::: Vincent Cuenca ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 10:17 AM:

The only story of his that I can remember offhand is "The man Who Had No Idea". I read it when I was about ten. It impressed on me the necessity of doing something useful with one's freedom, lest someone with more power than you decide you're wasting it and take it away. I've got to track down more of his writing now.

#64 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 11:11 AM:

I'll be reviewing The Word of God in the August Locus. Though I note both the quirkiness and the underlying melancholy, what strikes me most now is the quote included here:

"Disch-as-divinity offers a section of Proverbs in quasi-biblical format, including vignettes of assorted melancholic American losers followed by advice: '6. I say to them: stop bellyaching. Mow your lawns. Rejoice in the music of Beethoven, and brush your teeth.'”

Alas, I wish he could have taken his own (mock) advice. But at least he turned himself into a thoroughly interesting God.

#65 ::: John Kessel ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 11:24 AM:

No writer meant more to me in the late sixties and seventies than Thomas Disch. He wrote like an angel, had a mordant wit I envied, and was an incisive critic. He represented everything I aspired to as a writer. For years my answer, when asked who was the best writer currently doing sf, was "Thomas Disch and Gene Wolfe."

I drifted away from his work in the 80s after THE BUSINESSMAN. But I was just this month re-reading his early short fiction for an anthology I'm putting together with Jim Kelly. It holds up magnificently. Throw in THE GENOCIDES, CAMP CONCENTRATION, 334, and ON WINGS OF SONG and you have a landmark career right there.

I only met him a few times, and cannot say we were friends, and I disagreed strongly with much he had to say in the little angry book he wrote about sf a few years ago. I saw his increasing bitterness as a falling away from a humanity that showed through the cynicism of his early work. I suspect now that it was a struggle he was having with himself.

I was at the 1980 worldcon where ON WINGS OF SONG lost the Hugo to Arthur Clarke's THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE (actually, I think it came in last in the voting). It's not denigration of Clarke to say that I thought that was an absurd result. As I ws walking out of the auditorium after the award, I happened to end up right next to Disch (who didn't know me from Adam). On impulse, I leaned over to him and said, "I think you deserved the award much more." He said, "It's all right. He'll die sooner than I will."

I guess he was right (barely) about that. RIP, Tom.

#66 ::: Allen Varney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:13 PM:

Given the commercial failure of On Wings of Song, it's interesting more people here still mention it than mention 334, Disch's vast panoply of near-future social extrapolation. Could it have sold even worse? And I haven't seen anyone mention the published stories from his unfinished series "The Pressure of Time" ("Things Lost," "Chanson Perpetuelle," a few others); these were heartbreaking, Joycean. And quickly forgotten.

Not many readers know of these superior works today, and it's easy to see why. From The Puppies of Terra onward, Disch stuck in the craw of the fannish subculture like an artfully carved railroad spike. What was his poem that compared SF fans to paraplegics? And where was his book review that mentioned in passing that Heinlein's Starship Troopers was the epitome of leather-boy homosexuality? What year was that Nebula banquet where he threw a punch at one of the winners?

I gape at Disch's audacity, his willingness (I would say "eagerness") to tweak the community's nose; but mainly I gape at his incessantly creative self-destruction, his willingness, if not eagerness, to truly-madly-deeply screw up his commercial career beyond the faintest hope of rescue.

#67 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 12:32 PM:

What year was that Nebula banquet where he threw a punch at one of the winners?

Ok, I must debunk that. I was in the elevator with Tom and Bill Gibson when the "punch" occurred. Bill had just won the Nebula for Neuromancer. Tom was three sheets to the wind.

Tom congratulated Bill, and gave him a manly punch in the arm to reinforce it. It was one of those crypto-aggressive things boys do, you've all seen it, some of you have done it.

But Tom was drunk and strong, and Bill, though tall, is slight. So it came off badly. But it was most definitely not meant as an attack of any sort.

#68 ::: Allen Varney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 01:12 PM:

My apologies. Serves me right for passing along gossip from (if I recall) Locus.

#69 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 01:23 PM:

Allen V @ 66:

"On Science Fiction", 1981; winner of the Rhysling Award for long poem.

"We are all cripples. First admit that."

#70 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 01:58 PM:

Several people have asked why Disch' work was mostly non-commercial. My take:

Like Gene Wolfe, Disch' writing has a depth and intellect to it that can be intimidating. One comes away from reading Wolfe and Disch with the feeling that there was more there, and that you've missed it. And even on rereading, you feel like there are still more levels beneath that second level, and more beyond that.

(Sort of like the escalators in "Descending", come to think of it....)(And was it a coincidence that the protagonist in that story was reading a classic work of literature...?)

With Wolfe and Disch, I feel like I should do some stretching exercises and maybe a few quick sprints before starting, to get warmed up for the race.

#71 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 02:08 PM:

This has been a shitty year for people in the SF/F community dying, both professional and amateur, and I wish it would just stop.

(Arthur C. Clarke, Tom Disch, Algis Budrys, Robert Lynn Asprin ... on the fannish front on this side of the pond we lost Chris Cooper last Thursday, and Frank Darcy last Wednsday. Two in one week. Too many to count. Too many to stand.)

I will remember him.

#72 ::: Lawrence Person ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 02:35 PM:

Of course, the biggest difference between Wolfe and Disch is that, deep down, you can tell that Gene can’t help loving the poor, imperfect beings that make up mankind, something which permeates every level of his work. This was not the case with Disch, whose most heartfelt sections tended to be the bleakest. Take, for example, those two pages in Camp Concentration in which one of the characters discourses at length on deeply unfair it is that the universe will continue existing after you die, and wouldn’t it be nice if everyone and everything else died when you did. Or the very end of 334, where one of the main character’s proclaims that her fondest wish is to die. It’s the reason that Algis Budrys, not without some justification, labeled Disch a nihilist. It also goes a long way to explain why, despite his formidable talent, Disch was never particularly popular.

#73 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:04 PM:

Lawrence, long ago, Emma or I or someone observed of my dad that he hates humanity but loves people. From what I hear, that may apply to Disch, too. We live in a society that decides who lives or dies by their financial worth. For some, it's hard to hope that the culture will evolve. Disch was sixty-five. He knew it couldn't happen soon enough to help him. He may have concluded it could never happen. I dunno. All I know is no one should call anyone else a nihilist. If Disch embraced the label, great. If not, no, AJ had no justification. In the mouths of others, it's always simplistic.

#74 ::: Allen Varney ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:09 PM:

Lawrence: In the comments to Disch's gloating blog post of June 16 about the death of Budrys -- titled Ding-Dong! the witch is dead! -- Disch addressed the nihilism charge: "As to my being 'a nihilist,' that is like saying 'spawn of the devil.' It's a way of declaring someone anathema. Whatever they say or think is beside the point because they are forever Not One of Us. And in that sense, Budrys was right. I was not one of them, and he certainly was. [...] Turf wars happen when outsiders try and grab part of that audience for themselves. That was why Budrys went after me. If I was to be admitted to the temple precinct, then his days were numbered. He'd been the Bright Guy in SF. I was brighter."

#75 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Lawrence and Allen, Disch is quoted as rejecting the nihilist label here, also.

#76 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 03:44 PM:

I had never heard of Mr. Disch, nor read a word of his before today. But I find this poem very hard to reconcile with a fully nihilistic spirit.

Thank you, Patrick, for the link to his verse, which I enjoyed very much.

#77 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Disch's death is genuinely tragic, and a painful loss.

At the same time, think of the thousands upon thousands of people in the United States in straits as desperate as those of Disch's last days, and yet who do not have reputations as brilliant novelists, poets, or critics. The real tragedy of Disch's death is not that he was alone, but that he wss part of a multitude.

(I didn't buy that paperback edition of On Wings of Song; but only because I already owned the hardcover.)

#78 ::: Lee Sandlin ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 04:10 PM:

Budrys was right in a way, in that Disch's early stuff could be pretty smart-alecky and cynical -- that was enough to probably enough back then to get you called a nihilist. But Camp Concentration and 334 aren't even remotely smart-alecky or cynical -- 334 in a lot of ways is the most serious and substantial piece of literary sf ever published. (Budrys did admit that Disch had turned out to be a real artist, though that doesn't seem to have made any difference to Disch's view of him in the end.)

I wonder if it would have gone better for Disch if Clara Reeve hadn't been published under a silly pseudonym. It did get great reviews, but nobody knew he wrote it. And he was also working on another serious sf novel after 334, The Pressure of Time -- he published some pieces of it in the 1970s, and they were terrific, but he apparently never finished it. He did a lot of good stuff after that, but none of it was as ambitious as 334 (or the published sections of Pressure)... I certainly felt with his later books that he just wasn't trying that hard. Maybe he'd decided, given the non-response, that it wasn't worth it.

#79 ::: Lee Sandlin ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 04:16 PM:

Oops, sorry for the gibberish first line in my last post: make it " -- that was probably enough back then to..." The rest of the post may be gibberish, but at least it's grammatically correct gibberish.

#80 ::: DannyK ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 04:55 PM:

Sad news. Mr. Disch was one of my favorite writers before I had him as a Clarion teacher -- I told him it was a shock, because he wrote with such delicacy but he looked like a Navy cook. He laughed. I will never forget his story (included in 338, I think), "Problems of Creativeness".

I also quite liked "The Dreams our Stuff is Made of." Time to re-read his work, I think.

#81 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 05:17 PM:

#77: The real tragedy of Disch's death is not that he was alone, but that he wss part of a multitude.

I think the point is not to say that Disch's death was a unique tragedy, but to use the fact that in this particular case people have positive feelings about a (to many of us) stranger to illuminate the broader issue. It's like a newspaper profiling a person in dire straits: they're not the only important person, they're a specific example, because humans relate to stories better than statistics. I presume we all understand that Disch is a synecdoche, not a unique case.

(Everyone here, that is. Conservatives have a disturbing habit of seeing only the case, not the cause: I remember reading somewhere that Reagan would go out of his way to help individuals profiled in a newspaper...)

#82 ::: F. Brett Cox ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 06:27 PM:

I am so sorry to hear this. I read a lot of Disch's work in my early years of sf reading, and I've been meaning to go back and re-read it for years. I did re-read "The Asian Shore" a year or so back and was transfixed all over again.

When I finally met him at ICFA a number of years ago, I could see where why the word "ascerbic" so often came up in reference to him, but he was perfectly nice to me. A few years later, I met him again at Readercon, and when I re-introduced myself, he said, "I recognize the voice. A voice is much more distinctive than eyes and a nose and a mouth." The last time I saw him, again at Readercon, he was clearly in decline.

He was a brilliant writer; we really needed him.

#83 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2008, 07:15 PM:

Adam Lipkin #7: I just downloaded Amnesia the other day, having gotten a craving to play it again.

Yeah, Amnesia is pretty special and groundbreaking; I'm glad to hear it's been rescued from abandonment. A gamer used to playing vanilla Advent playing Amnesia for the first time is like a goat roper watching Eastwood's Unforgiven at the theater; they're both usually poleaxed by the experience.

#84 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 12:42 AM:

I'm also glad to hear that AMNESIA is still around. It was one of the few computer games that I actually had a more than momentary interest in.

Alas, it came out during that period when game makers were providing coded "master disks" that had to be inserted into your computer to play the game. And the master disk for my copy got lost before I even managed to make my way out of the hotel.

#85 ::: R Gelling ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 04:19 AM:

Usually this kind of thing doesn't get to me but Disch (and Ballard) are the writers who got me back into sf. 334 and Asian Shore are some of the best sf ever written. He deserves to be as widely read as Dick, imo.

#86 ::: Lynn Kendall ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 07:21 AM:

May he find peace.

#88 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 11:36 AM:

Admired what of his work I read.Which wasn't the whole oevre; he was too dark for me. Also the same reason the Corneilius Chronicles are a closed bok too me; I've almost no sense of irony
But I didn't want him dead & I'd like to quote a line from the Zelazny short COMES NOW THE POWER => 'Someone with the Power shouldn't die like That'

#89 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 12:39 PM:

I note the NYT obituary listed a "video game" among hisDisch's works. I assume this was supposed to be a reference to AMNESIA.

I'm guessing this to be a generational error, and the idea of a text-based, non-graphic computer game was one that simply didn't/couldn't occur to the obituary's writer.

How many people today would have any idea what the word "Zork" meant?

#90 ::: Leslie What ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 12:44 PM:

I am sorry this was the best way Tom could find to get away from the bad stuff. It sounds like things were really tough before he died. Tom was one of my teachers at Clarion (year of Eileen Gunn). He was a big presence and it was startling to see his strong physicality in contrast to his sensitive emotional side. His work, his imagination, and his teaching were all important to my development as a reader and writer and I a saddened by the circumstances surrounding his death, but grateful for his contributions to literature.

#91 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 02:43 PM:

Well, I note that Wikipedia just has a stub article for On Wings of Song, if one of you who enjoyed it would like to pass the love on.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Wings_of_Song

#92 ::: Mike Emery ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 03:11 PM:

No writer of American science fiction was more important to me than Thomas M. Disch. I saw him just once: he did a fiction and poetry reading at SUNY-Binghamton in 1980 when I was in grad school there. He signed something I gave him to autograph and that was my only contact with him. He read an early draft of the story "Downtown" (published in F&SF in 1982) & his "ABC" poem, after which he said, "I find that improving."

Disch fell between a number of different categories and that hurt him as a writer. He didn't want to be labelled a gay writer, although he was, which cut him off from a lot of potential readers. He antagonized fellow poets with savage reviews. He attacked the Hugo Awards with his F&SF review column on "The Labor Day Group" (targetting George R. R. Martin, a writer I know and admire). He did a number of fine literary short stories that weren't collected (my favorite is "Xmas," which a O. Henry anthology picked up). He accused sf of being a form of children's literature, and savaged Ray Bradbury in an infamous NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW take on Bradbury's STORIES (in 1980). Like a lot of midlist writers, he was squeezed out of the New York markets into the small presses, where you get little in the way of advances for your books. But he never stopped writing. I don't think his career has been properly understood because most readers came at it from only one or two angles, and he was all over the map as a writer.

I liked his stories best. My fave was "The Roaches," a mordant and witty horror tale of a lonely woman who discovers she can control the will of roaches infesting her apartment building. The scene where she sends them to an unpleasant neighbor's apartment to take care of him is one of the creepiest things I've ever read.

Disch is not the only person active in sf who ended his life with a gun. Alice Sheldon and Walter M. Miller Jr. also went this way. Like them, he didn't want to go on after a partner in life passed away. I'm sure there were complicating factors in each person's case. I wonder if he really knew how much people knew and loved his work. I know it changed my life.

#93 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 05:32 PM:

#92 ::: Mike Emery
"Disch is not the only person active in sf who ended his life with a gun. Alice Sheldon and Walter M. Miller Jr. also went this way."

Also: H. Beam Piper.

#94 ::: bartkid ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2008, 09:56 PM:

In June, for some reason, I picked up from the library and read The Sub, The Businessman, and The Priest in June. What undiscovered delights.

Damnit, Tom.
Damnit, damnit, damnit.

Cory Doctorow's otherwise spot-on eulogy, on Boing Boing ends, "a brittle and brilliant ironist with a bright wit and no optimism whatsoever."

I consider Tom to have a vitriolic, pugilistic, individualistic stripe of optimism understood by so few.

Darkness visible, as Styron put it so well, has swallowed another angry light.

Damnit.

#95 ::: Allen Varney ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 01:38 AM:

#94 bartkid: You obviously meant, "Cory Doctorow's link to Patrick's otherwise spot-on eulogy right here atop this selfsame page to which I am, at this selfsame instant, appending my comment."

#96 ::: R.V. Branham ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 03:17 AM:

To quote someone else we've lost recently, "shitpissfuckcuntcocksuckermotherfuckertits...."

Looking through the rear-view mirror, SF writers I've gone back to re-read again & again have been JG Ballard, Anthony Burgess, Angela Carter, Thos. Disch, Phil Dick, & Pamela Zoline.... (Pamela Zoline is the only one still alive, & the least prolific. Haven't read her kid's books, tho....)

I envy those who workshopped with Disch, though one of my great mentors (Algys Budrys) was a Disch bete noir.

& Budrys (who along with Adela Rodgers St. John & John Rechy was one of my TRUE mentors) was wrong about Disch,

Disch was a contrarian negationist, not a Nihilist.

And when you go to yr supermarket & see Newsweek trying to stage a grudge match between Darwin & Lincoln, you have to take a deep breathe & wonder about the next 992 or 993 years of this sucky arsefucked millennium...

& does anyone look at the data about previously frozen arctic methane, & about what is happening with the arctic tundra & the thawing Antarctic?

I did meet Disch a couple of times, & he was simultaneously snarky, misanthropic, cynical, jovial & generous, & such a witty motherfucker.

Disch dropped into a Clarion Party at Worldcon, circa 1981, & was one of the last people to leave. & he took the remnants of the party with him.

A thing I noticed about him was that he loved dialogue, & argument; & we disagreed about everything. But it was a game, played without rancor, but not without barbs.

To use a pool term, he put a bit of English on it.

There was a very intense linguist, just returned from Japan. Somehow Disch & him did not click, despite lots of conversation. Others there were trying to figure the post-grad game, & the conversation over-all was very lively as we entered the Age of Reagan.

I was just a burnt out poet & journalist, a radiology drop-out & budding linguist.

I argued with Disch about the Beats (most of whom he DID NOT LIKE, even tho he shared their take on society) & about poetry (though we had much more agreement there), & translation, & about architecture, & film noir, & Joyce, & he kept asking me questions about Southern California, because he found out that was wherefrom I came.

As an Episcopalian, he had a great Catholicity of taste, & curiosity.

As a parting gift he gave me a bottle of a decent California Zinfandel (I was a wine snob even then), & I wish I had kept the (later-emptied) bottle. (Pamela Zoline used to collect milk bottles, & I collected (emptied) wine bottles, but somehow, lost that one.)

What makes Thos Disch so singular & astonishing is that he was so absofuckinglutely god damn fine at every form or genre he undertook.

His novels are astonishing (& yes some early & some later ones are imperfect, but still astonishing), the only equivalent would be Burgess on a good day.

& as for his short stories...he's up there with Graham Greene & Paul Bowles, & perhaps better...

As for the children's books, the Toaster Variations, you buy them for nieces & nephews & children of friends who toddle beyond toddler; their parents are grateful, & years later you find out that the now post-toddling adolescenators too are grateful...

I'd take many of Disch's poems over most mid-20th.century English language poetry. (Thos Gunn, (some) Seamus Heany & Derek Walcott, & Marilyn Hacker are exceptions.)

His criticism, especially his poetry criticism was spot-on, & his analysis of the fatal flaws in the US poetry scene become more acutely apparent with each chapbook & open mike. As a veteran of the Beyond Baroque workshop & various California poetry scenes (& a complete poetry burnout by the age of 20), I have nearly worn out my copy of his CASTLE OF INDOLENCE. (& Marilyn Hacker is one of the few poets he is kind to.)

Anyone who labeled Raymond Carver as THE PROM KING should have received a MacArthur lifetime achievement award & just given sacks & sacks of Euros.

As to his SF criticism, it was solid, & apt, & in complete violation of the Russian proverb about not pissing where you drink.

Was it Duke Ellington who said that there was two types of music, zippedy-dooh-dah, & the blues.

Or, as Dorothy Parker said: If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.

He even wrote plays, one which pissed off the Catholic Church & got evicted from a venue because the Catholic Church owned the real estate, even tho it was doing brisk business. (I only read an excerpt, & it read really well).

Having his play shut down by the Catholic church must have perversely pleased Disch, as a Catholic-educated gay Episcopalian. (He seemed very giddy about it in a Village Voice interview.)

As for comments about Disch's tattoos, I've known gay Mormons & straight vegan Buddhists with gnarlier tattoos than Disch's.

It was beyond ironic that Disch's (still very, very good) horror novels became very popular, & that ON WINGS OF SONG sold as well as early Faulkner.

I mean, really, would King have the dead recently-suicided poet John Berryman as a hero of a novel? (This was a comment from Madeliene Robins. Little did we know that those books would find an audience.)

& if Disch's politics were as tangled & as fucked up as, say, Ezra Pound, Kingsley Amis, Anthony Burgess, William Burroughs, or Saul Bellow, who the fuck cares?

Does anybody read fiction, poems, or essays based on some political calculus?

If two people agree, then one is unnecessary...

As to Disch's suicide, I still do not know whether that was supreme cowardice or the bravest of folly. (Part of that doubt comes from social work, part from dealing with friends & family.)

& yes Thomas M. Disch should have lived in Denmark where he could have slagged Moslems, & had civil union with his inamorato & complete medical coverage & fair rent.

I remember an interview, some years back, where Disch was talking about visiting Brazil, & being so o'erwhelved by the experience that he was in the midst of a Lusophinico Brasiliania w.i.p.

A samba apocalypse! What a wonderful book that would be!

Parting thoughts:

Per John Barth (an extremely erratic writer):

The unexamined life is not worth living, & self-knowledge is a bummer.

For anyone experiencing sustained depression who can still get out of bed, make coffee or tea & check their voix mail or E-mail:
Volunteer work for clinics, hospitals, social agencies, or relief organizations is an eficacious way of putting yr problems in perspect, & as a bonus you get connected with the commonweal, & add to yr store of knowledge.

For anyone who is really fucking depressed: Talk to somebody, get help. (Easier said than done, but no less necessary.)

And let us all sit a negationist Kaddish for Disch, read our Chas Darwin & Jared Diamond, & get us some 2-buck Chuck Zinfandel.

To quote a great smart-ass, who Disch had expressed some admiration for, on the logistical problems of suicide:

You might as well live.

But then again I was not in grief, with an ambulatory life support system for an asshole at the door.

#97 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 05:00 AM:

R.V. Branham #96: And let us all sit a negationist Kaddish for Disch

"LET THERE BE LIGHT." -- Thomas M. Disch, ISBN-13: 978-1892391773

#98 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 11:01 AM:

Allen Varney #95: bartkid also used a wrong link, anchored to a Disch quote deep in comments at the BoingBoing post, linked here above; but in his defense I must say that their layout, here aggravated by the huge cover at the top left corner of the blockquote, doesn't make it easy to distinguish the quoted and original BB text.


sherrold #91: I've done what I could (unlike the usual flurry at the biographical articles, the only previous post-death edit was a bot; the Jonas NYT review is interesting) under a hour with a failing connection and having not read the book. You see... well, it's a long story:


M. D. apparently made it so big that it was even translated into Czech in 1993; I recall good reviews, but never read it myself.

I got hold of a battered copy of Camp Concetration some 8 years ago (when doing my military service :-) and honestly tried to like it; I remember very little (except the bit of A Litany in Time of Plague which finally explained to me where all those "Brightness Falls from the Air" come from, complete with a translation that jumped into my head full-formed), I think I was impressed by some bits but disappointed in the end. It happens often to me that I don't get literary SF that I should by all accounts like. Would it be better/different if I reread it now, I wonder?

Still, I bought a not too cheap Fundamental Disch when I had the chance to raid a good second-hand bookshop on a trip abroad; I never got around to actually reading it but came across it a few months ago looking for another title and leafed through it, thinking I really should find the time.

I saw the recent edition of 334 (plus other titles?) in an import bookshop couple of years ago; it was appropriately expensive. And yesterday, when I went to appraise for a friend and ended up buying myself (rather more expensively than I should have, oh well) the collection of a dying SF writer and translator of 1970s-80s generation, I found 334 there. I think I'll take it as an omen.

#99 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 11:10 AM:

It's interesting that the NY Times Disch obit is in their Top Ten stories (#6 when I looked this morning).

#100 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 11:48 AM:

I'm sad that my intermittent visits here now mean I only post on obituary threads, but I wanted to say something, even if it's all been said very well already. I guess unusually (here, at least) I've only read Disch as a poet and poetry critic, and he seemed to me very good indeed. I don't think much of major/minor poet discussions, but he was (for me) clearly a real poet, and I was almost always convinced of his ability to discriminate in that respect in regard to the work of others. I had a lot of sympathy for his critical positions.

I didn't know about his blog, and reading it now it is difficult to see anything but increasing unhappiness; and it's a shame (although perhaps not surprising) that he made enemies as well as gathering admirers. But all the tributes here have made me want to seek out the rest of his work, and that seems to me the right response.

Damn. As other people have said, it's distressing that he should have found this to be his best option.

Thanks, Patrick, for the link to some of the poetry. Does anyone know which is the most comprehensive (and/or up-to-date) collection of the poetry? I'm guessing it's Yes, Let's.

#101 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 11:58 AM:

#92, Uncollected Stories...

Given this, and all the poetry on his blog, and his reviews, and so forth, to say nothing of his quality, it strikes me that Disch would be a great candidate for a full-on collected edition, Sturgeon-style. Done properly, it would also give readers a sense of the many facets of his work that they might otherwise miss.

I hope somebody better suited to the task than I has had this thought, and is doing something to make it happen.

#102 ::: KevinW ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 02:31 PM:

"We put all of our geniuses into some kind of isolation ward" - Dr. A. Busk from Camp Concentration...

and if gay marriage were legal, Disch might have held on to the apartment, which was in Naylor's name...ironic as hell, thinking of the eviction scene in "334". Tom knew what he was in for.

I loved his work. I remember "Things Lost" from Dangerous Visions- "What is death if we're all immortal"? "Death is a symbol".

I did suicide prevention work for years. If he'd only directly reached out to someone. Some of the final blog postings drop clues in retrospect

#103 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 05:50 PM:

NPR's "Fresh Air" is today running a wonderful interview with Disch, recorded circa 1985.

#104 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2008, 09:05 PM:

That quotation from Genocides is beautifully ambiguous (though it might not be in context). At first I thought man was not prodigal. Then I caught the darker meaning.

#105 ::: metalseed ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:32 AM:

He is a god among men.

#106 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 01:46 AM:

The WashPost's official obit.

The obit's author's blog post on Disch.

And in Michael Dirda's Wednesday Q&A, he starts with:

"Welcome to Dirda on Books! It's a gloomy day here in Washington, for multiple reasons, some personal, some meterological, some public. Most of all, it's a sad time for literature since July 4, when my friend the multi-talented Thomas M. Disch shot and killed himself. Those of you who follow the Post can find an excellent obit/appreciation by Matt Schudel in today's paper or online. Tom was arguably the most versatile and gifted writer of the generation that came of age in the 1960s. He will be missed. But his books are still out there, and deserve to be read, studied, collected and honored."

And there are two comments on Disch:

"Lansdale, Pa.: Hi Michael, I too was very sorry to hear about Tom Disch. His series of books The Businessman, The MD, and The Priest have been on my to-read pile for too long. This unfortunate event will finally inspire me to read them."

"Lexington: Michael, By now most people know of Thomas Disch's death last Friday (an apparent suicide, from depression). Who can forget those seminal works of SF-"334" and particularly "Camp Concentration", out of print but certainly worth reading today in light of current events."

#107 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2008, 05:03 PM:

Sherrold #91 & Jan #98, thanks for thinking of this. I've done some more work on the WP page for the book, hope it helps.

#108 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2008, 01:46 PM:

It's going to feel very strange at Readercon

#109 ::: George Landner ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2008, 09:23 AM:

A very, very sad day indeed....

His work was something in the future we will never have the luxury. Many in todays society are too wrapped in the spoils of technology and forget the basic meaning of living.

Good Night Mr Disch..

Chaper closed

#110 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 07:28 PM:

Just finished Camp Concentration. Thank you all for convincing me I had to check this author out.

#111 ::: Daniel Black ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 12:16 PM:

Like nature's fits and kisses that made gods and Hell, the intersecting curves we tread simultaneously defy and commit us to scrutiny. I enjoyed The Brave Little Toaster as an extended epilogue, without having the slightest clue about its author. I somehow sidestepped any of Disch's other work, but by happy accident, not unlike the happy accident of eventually finding that the guy who runs textfiles.com is a co-creator of TinyTIM (somewhat transformational for me), I come to this site to learn about Disch, to extend the list of Things I Should Read, and, for larger consideration, to stop and look through the window on life you've all provided.

It comes at a time when I considering writing again, and considering how to do so. From the sound of things, I could do far worse than to learn from Disch's work.

So, thanks.

#112 ::: Edward Renehan ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 10:29 AM:

Disch was an outstanding, complicated guy ... and of course a superb writer. He's had a rough few recent years, but kept on writing, and writing superbly.

#113 ::: Camden McDonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2008, 05:44 PM:

He will be greatly missed by many of us over here in London. His writing was very inspiring, and I eagerly anticipate reading his final surge of creativity. The work is the important thing.

#114 ::: Holger Winkler ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 11:57 AM:

I had started to translate his "The Priest" into German, but it is far from beeing done. Now I will have to wait for some time before I can open that book again. TDM was great, he would have deserved better.

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