Sunday, July 06, 2008

Thomas Disch, R.I.P.

Ellen Datlow is reporting that Thomas Disch has died by taking his own life.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies The New Wave became the most controversial era in the history of science fiction. Many traditionalists abhored it, many New Wavers felt an almost religious duty to change the form into something far more experimental and meaningful than the old pulp formulas.

I was excited by a lot of it. The novels Terry Carr published in his Ace Specials line, for instance, remain on my shelves today. Not all were great but most were very good and a few turned out to be lasting contributions to the genre.

The first novel I read by Thomas Disch was Camp Concentration when it was serialized in the British magazne New Worlds, the Bible of the New Wave. I haven't read it in a few decades but back then I was struck by the purity of the concept and the skill of the execution.

I can't say I kept up wth his novels. For all their skill, even genius, there was a bitterness in them that put me off. I'm sure this marks me as hopelessly square but so be it. He was easier to appreciate, for me, in shorter form and he wrote many excellent short stories from early on to well into his later career.

He was a witty, cultured, often brilliant writer and the field is certainly the poorer without him. Fortunately, he left a large body of work behind him for future generations to enjoyand admire.

Here's are excerpts from Wikipedia .

As mentioned, Disch's New York began with a string of blue-collar jobs, working full-time while attending college. While he worked those jobs, he was trying his best to leave behind the influence of his father, a traveling salesman; he dipped into a wide variety of jobs - almost anything that would keep him afloat - while he investigated his many interests. Some of these jobs paid off later - doing grunt-work in New York theater culture allowed him to both pursue his life-long love of drama and led to work as a magazine theater critic. Before his critical and non-fiction work, however, he started with short stories, poetry, and eventually novels.

His first published poems, though reaching print later (the first in 1964, though not collected until 1972), were written alongside the stories and novels which made his name in the 1960s. Although he presented his poetry presented to a different audience than his fiction — even simplifying his by-line from Thomas M. Disch to Tom Disch — both genres emerged from the same expanding mind and changing times. Disch entered the field of science fiction at a turning point, as the pulp adventure stories of its older style began to be challenged by a more serious, adult, and often darker style. This movement, called "New Wave", tried to show that the ideas and themes of science fiction could be developed past the simple desires of an audience of twelve-year-olds. Rather than trying to compete with mainstream writers on the New York literary scene, Disch plunged into the emerging genre of science fiction, and began to work to liberate it from some of its strict formula and narrow conventions. Much of his more literary science fiction was first published in English author Michael Moorcock's New Wave magazine, New Worlds.

During his long and varied career, Disch found his way into other forms and genres. As a fiction writer and a poet, Disch felt typecast by his science fiction roots. "I have a class theory of literature. I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from."[5]


Randy Johnson said...

Camp Concentration was the first thing I read also, although in book form. I even thought his Prisoner novel was a step up from that form at the time.
He will be missed, but there's a lot f work to catch up on for us all.

Fred Blosser said...

The 60s were an interesting time of ferment for SF and fantasy. You could pick up an issue of the old FANTASTIC and find one of Disch's acerbic gems alongside one of John Jakes' Brak the Barbarian pulp tales. Disch was a thoughtful writer; it's sad to read about his death.

Todd Mason said...

Cele Goldsmith, later Cele Lalli, wasn't interested in setting a single agenda in her magazines. So, her magazines ended up being one of the launching pads for the "New Wave," along with Avram Davidson's F&SF and Ted Carnell's NEW WORLDS and SCIENCE FANTASY (before the fuller efflorescence in Moorcock's NW and Bonfiglione's SF...and GALAXY and F&SF and eventually the Harrison, Malzberg and White FANTASTIC and AMAZING).