Author of “The Genocides” commits suicide

Thomas Disch committed suicide on July 4th. I wouldn’t bother writing about this, except that offing himself was a perfect correspondence to what he tried to do to science fiction (the art form with which he was most associated).

Disch was bitchy, clever, and depressive — Oscar Wilde in the gutter but without the looking-at-the-stars part. His SF writing was bitchy, clever, and depressive too — much of it to the point of near unreadability even for me, a scholar of the field with a strong stomach. To actually enjoy it would have required a specialized form of masochism rare in any population other than English Lit majors.

Disch was very nearly a walking paint-by-numbers picture of the Western literary intellectual in a state of decadence: hard-left politics, check; critical essays politely described as ‘acerbic’ but often better characterized as petty and venomous, check; nihilistic self-pitying bitterness, check; rambling self-indulgent free-verse poetry, check. I’d be surprised if there weren’t a drug or alcohol problem in there somewhere.

It sucked to be Thomas Disch; even his admirers used words like “bitter”, “mean”, and “curmudgeon” to describe him. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it sucked to be affected or influenced by him, too. He was one of the stars of the “New Wave”, a movement of the 1960s and early 1970s that tried to “reform” SF from the superficialities of its pulp-genre origins. If you weren’t there, you may safely guess that these “superficialities” included most of what made SF appealing, then and to this day. The agenda of Disch’s writing and criticism was clear; he wanted SF to be just as incapable of joy and innocence and optimism as he was himself, and confused this bleakness with “maturity”

The SF field recovered from the New Wave in the early 1980s. Disch did not. As Patrick Nielsen Hayden observes, “Disch played the game of literary politics hard and sometimes lost badly.”

I would predict a swift descent into well-deserved obscurity for Disch’s work, except that the arts intelligentsia fetishizes people like him — now that he’s safely dead, he may well undergo the same sort of entirely undeserved canonization as (say) Philip K. Dick.

I risk uttering a cliche by observing that Thomas M. Disch died a broken man. The truth behind that is that he was never whole.

67 thoughts on “Author of “The Genocides” commits suicide

  1. I hate to chuckle at the dead, but the fact that he was on LiveJournal tops it all off.

  2. Interesting. I just found out he also wrote The Brave Little Toaster which became a Disney movie, to which the studio’s most recent warm ‘n’ fuzzy appliance tale, Wall-E, definitely warrants comparison.

  3. I think Disch deserves a bit more respect than you give him Dave and Jeff. Not that you’re obligated to give it to him of course, I just think you underestimate his importance. I also kind of suspect you haven’t actually read him (not Eric R, Dave and Jeff). I don’t know about the claim that he wanted SF robbed of all optimism- I only read his stories, so I don’t know to what degree he demanded that other SF writers match his moroseness.

  4. Tagore Smith,

    The last time Eric had such vitriol for another’s expression that I can recall was when he discussed smiley-face pipe bomber Luke Helder, and took the time out to mention Luke’s band Apathy, along with his guess that if their music were any good, then he wouldn’t have to resort to pipe bombs as an outlet.

    Besides, I think a bit of bitterness and depressiveness is warranted, given the current political and economic situation. If Disch’s recent musings on food (his last LJ entry before his demise) are any indicator, he could’ve been the poet laureate for the Collapse.

  5. I’ve never read Disch’s work, but after managing to get through Samuel R. Delaney’s Dahlgren, I can understand Eric’s antipathy toward the “new wave” of science fiction.

    But the lit crit folks who gravitate toward that kind of SF may have a point. Traditionally, SF has always been about world-building, often to the point of neglecting everything else, such as plot or character development.

    The best SF does manage to create compelling plots and characters while allowing us to live in strange new worlds. Dune managed to pull this off, and I dare anyone to read Heinlein’s “Tale of the Adopted Daughter” in Time Enough for Love without choking up.

  6. David Delony,

    To some degree, I have to disagree with you about Dune. I loved Dune because of its plot and intricate world-building. Unfortunately, Frank Herbert was a pretty unsubtle writer. Nearly all of the dialogue struck me as too expository and declarative. It was easy to detect Frank Herbert’s presence behind every character, and every line. And none of the characters were very compelling…what, precisely, was Paul Muad’Dib *bad* at? For that matter, what were the Fremen bad at? Why were the protagonists in Dune so exceedingly capable of doing everything, and having it turn out just as planned? I’m afraid that the unsubtly drawn characters and the contrived dialogue somewhat decreased my opinion of the book.

    For emotive, well-written SF and fantasy…Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson are some of the best ones I’ve read recently. Oh, and Heinlein goes without saying.

  7. ESR, thanks for the post. An awful lot of commentary on Disch’s death has been constrained by the “don’t speak ill of the dead” concept, but the fact is that this guy was very detrimental to science fiction and western culture.

    Many people look at the New Wave of science fiction from the Sixties and early Seventies and miss the point. While few outside of the literati would actually enjoy Disch and others like him, the usual tendency has been to say, “Well, it’s science fiction, so it’s OK to move outside the box occasionally.” The problem is, though, that at least for the hard core of the New Wave, like Disch and Moorcock, the New Wave was not intended as an alternative to Campbellian sf. It was intended to replace it, destroy it, and make it unacceptable as reading material for new sf fans.

    This was a marked contrast to the previous left-wing science fiction fan group, the Futurians. The Futurians, while they did consider themselves as an advance over Campbellian science fiction, did not want to do away with it. Futurian authors such as Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth used hard science fiction themes from ANALOG and ran in different directions (mostly left) with them. They also published in relatively mainstream magazines, GALAXY probably being the most common. The hard core of the Moorcock/Disch New Wave avoided mainstream magazines and published their own magazine, NEW WORLDS, naturally with UK taxpayers’ money (and then whined when their subsidy was slashed).

    (It was also a contrast to the “soft core” New Wave, such as Samuel Delaney and Harlan Ellison, who were quite willing to treat conventional sf as an equal. I’ve read an essay by Samuel Delaney in which he not only praises the work of Robert A. Heinlein–while openly acknowledging their huge political differences–but also, unlike even many Heinlein fans, goes out on a limb to praise his controversial later novels, particularly STARSHIP TROOPERS and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. So I have no beef with these people).

    If anyone doubts that Disch was, indeed, the enemy, one should read some of his essays in the NATION. In one essay (sorry, but I can’t give the date here), he referred to Newt Gingrich as “Speaker Moonbeam” and basically spent the whole essay saying, “Hah, hah, look at the nerd reading science fiction!” Among other things, he derided the large number of Christian conservatives who supported space colonization; he seemed to believe that both the possibility of space colonization and the Kingdom of Heaven were equally mythical. (After all, how would people on a spaceship have access to Starbucks?)

    (Ironically, there was a kernel of truth in this article. Gingrich was foolish to be so open about his science fictional dreams, and being so open cost him support among his base. He should have made his first priority the repeal of the assault weapons ban of 1994; after all, that was the reason the GOP had won the election in the first place. Instead, he pissed away his support by telling gun owners to take a hike, fiddled around with minor reforms such as a supposed ban on unfunded mandates, and then, having lost his base, tried, unsuccessfully, to force major budget cuts. The “Moonbeam” image, combined with his unwillingness to work with gun owners, made him seem like a weirdo who cared more about Martians than people; and, by so doing, made him less effective at freeing up the free enterprise system so as to make space travel more likely.)

    Nevertheless, Disch’s article is startling in the degree of bitchy animosity toward space travel, especially for a science fiction writer. He isn’t just after Gingrich; he wants to make sure that nobody ever sets foot on another planet ever again. This is a common sentiment on the far left (and by “common” I mean “universal to anyone who’s gotten the word). It tends to put the lie to their claim that their opposition to war is based in concern for the victims of war. They are just as emphatically opposed to peaceful expansion into unpopulated areas as they are to violent conquest. Their objection isn’t to the killing associated with territorial expansion, but rather to the expansion itself. I suspect this is because it makes them personally feel small.

  8. Most literature is about people. That’s a topic that the Asperger’s-afflicted bulk of the hard SF audience has great difficulty with. And I don’t think you can truly write about people, especially modern people, without a certain anguish that comes from grasping or glimpsing the terror of the situation.

    Even hard-SF favorite Vonnegut’s wit and spirit, indomitable by even the Dresden fire-bombing and the grisly aftermath thereof, was laid low by the vast, cruel cosmic joke that the election of “Bush and Dick” represented. I’m beginning to think that authors like Disch and Dick are really proverbial canaries in the coalmine, there to snap us out of our dreams of gleaming starships and exotic multi-breasted space vixens and show what will really become of us if we continue down the path we’re on.

    Disclaimer: I’m not familiar with Disch’s work outside of the poems he posted and the film version of The Brave Little Toaster; however, I have read a couple of PKD’s books and many of his short stories and I find his paranoid style utterly fascinating, especially in this day and age.

  9. >Most literature is about people

    This is a parochial 20th-century myth. To cite one large class of counterexample, a great deal of early literature is about gods who are specifically not supposed to have the limitations of people.

    >Even hard-SF favorite Vonnegut

    Huh? What are you smoking? Hard-SF fans generally despised Vonnegut.

    I am personally willing to admit that the man had a few moments of writing actual SF: The Sirens of Titan leaps to mind. But most other hard-SF fans thought the man was nearly as much of a wrecker as Disch, and not without reason.

  10. >And I don’t think you can truly write about people, especially modern people, without a certain anguish that comes from grasping or glimpsing the terror of the situation.

    This is the kind of self-indulgent, self-pitying crap I expect from English Lit majors in the throes of an excessively prolonged adolescence. The “especially modern people” is particularly silly, considering the conditions of pain, oppression, disease, and early death that almost all premodern humans endured. Aesthetes in air-conditioned rooms who’ve never had to worry about where their next meal is coming from have no fucking business talking about “the terror of the situation”.

  11. ESR, I think that is what Jeff Little is talking about. He seems to be obsessed with peak oil, global warming, etc. and believes that these things will destroy ‘civilization’ (his belief not mine) and bring humanity back to a pre-industrialized state of affairs. This is what I have gleaned from our lengthy conversations.

  12. Wow! Disch also was a scriptwriter for the Prisoner. He must not be all bad!

  13. Indeed, Phil; it’s hard to wax optimistic about vast starships making protracted interstellar voyages when people are trading in their SUVs for Vespas for lack of fuel and waging war over control of remaining fossil-fuel reserves.

    And the thing that I cannot stress enough is, unlike the Apocalypse or the Rapture whose arrival date keeps getting pushed back when it never arrives, the Peak has already come, right on schedule. (Late 2005 or thereabouts.) The collapse is happening now. Already a new criminal enterprise is burgeoning around stolen copper wire and automobile catalytic converters, the heavy metals from which are expected to fetch a tidy sum because we’re running out of those, too.

  14. >Disch also was a scriptwriter for the Prisoner.

    I didn’t know that, but I’d say it was a job perfectly suited to his talents and his limitations.

  15. >the Peak has already come, right on schedule. (Late 2005 or thereabouts.)

    Another myth. M. King Hubbert originally predicted that United States oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970. Later “Peak Oil” models pushed back the date at least four times as it unaccountably failed to materialize.

    In any case, the relevant economic issue is not when oil peaks but if and when when oil and its functional substititutes become too expensive to run an industrial civilization on. Given the rate at which entrepreneurs are making progress on synfuel from photosynthetic algae, I’m not at all worried. The remaining problems are just engineering.

    As for copper and platinum — they’re not destroyed by use, you know. We can mine landfills and junkyards for them; in fact that’s better quality “ore” than we could find when we had to pull them out of nature. And when those run out, asteroid mining.

    The trouble with doomsaying is that it leads to perversely bad prescriptions. We don’t need to slow down capitalism, we need to speed it up so it can innovate our way out of resource traps more quickly.

  16. >I’ve never read Disch’s work, but after managing to get through Samuel R. Delaney’s Dahlgren

    Note: Compared to most of the rest of the New Wave, Dahlgren was accessible. In particular, most of Disch’s stuff was even nastier.

  17. Vonnegut was never an “SF writer”. He was a mainstream writer who occasionally used SF elements in an ironic way.

    As for the desperate conditions reflected in Disch’s work: what desperate conditions? In 1940 there was a Depression on: 15% unemployment, and that was a 10-year-low. Infant mortality was 4.7% in the U.S. (today less than 0.7%). Great Powers – Germany and Japan – were waging explicitly genocidal wars of conquest, successfully. Russia was in the depths of Stalinism. Open racism was common in the U.S. – there were stlll lynchings.

    Yet the writers of Campbell’s Golden Age and their Futurian rivals did not wallow in despair.

  18. @jeffrread:
    We’re not running out of anything. Colorado has a trillion barrels of recoverable oil, in shale (at anything over $30/bbl), and that’s plenty to allow us to transit to algae and whatever.

  19. >Yet the writers of Campbell’s Golden Age and their Futurian rivals did not wallow in despair.

    That’s because they were men, not whiny spoiled brats with a degree of cowardice exceeded only by their narcissism. Being a man has since become unfashionable, thanks in large part to people like Thomas Disch and the “thinkers” Jeff Read looks up to,

    (A few of those writers were female. The point stands.)

  20. Interesting how cowardice and narcissism tend to go together. It seems counterintuitive, since cowards have so little to be narcissistic about. Yet it makes sense when you think about it. Cowards seldom expand their horizons, either in a physical sense (going new places and doing new things) or a mental sense (thinking outside their comfort zone); so after a while they notice that they are, in fact, big fish in their small pond. Which in turn convinces them that they’re special, and that they were right not to expand their horizons in the first place.

  21. >refute the critiques of the libertarianism from the webmaster of HardSf.org

    Aw, fer cripes sake. I went there expecting an intelligent critique and found the same old crap that doesn’t survive anyone’s first five minutes of getting public-choice economics. Disappointing. And not really worth my time, though I might respond to individual arguments if they were better framed and displayed actual knowledge of the subject matter.

  22. He also misses the reason that libertarianism is popular among sf authors. It isn’t because they’re authors, it’s because their sf. And it isn’t just the authors, but the readers as well. Basically, it comes down to the ability to envision unlimited space and unlimited abilities. If I’m orbiting a black hole, I won’t be consulting the latest Naderite rules. I’ll be busy enjoying the scenery (and surviving).

    For the record, I don’t consider myself a libertarian, but having been an sf reader most of my life, I have had enough of it rub off on me that I can hope for an end to the New Deal welfare state within my lifetime.

  23. Matt Lemmons said:

    “For that matter, what were the Fremen bad at?” Objectivity in the face of phenomena that were loaded with religious symbolism, that’s what. Jessica obtains a position of power with them easily by presenting herself as a religious figure.

    I agree with your comments about Dune, though it can be argued that despite its flaws, Dune was a masterpiece. It’s sequels (the five completed by Frank Herbert before he died), however, were not. The sequels were sufficiently repetitive and contained enormous absurdities that wreaked havoc with the suspension of disbelief (Luke Atreides as part-man, part-sandworm; why?) as to be nearly unreadable.

    And in case you haven’t found this out, stay away from the prequels and other Dune-related works Herbert’s son, Brian, is churning out with Kevin Anderson by mining his dad’s working notes. They’re both absurd and boring; awful doesn’t begin to describe them.

  24. Tagore, I haven’t read him. He may be a wonderful author for all I know. I just think it’s ironic that he used LiveJournal.

    The Brave Little Toaster was damned creepy, though.

  25. >The sequels were sufficiently repetitive and contained enormous absurdities that wreaked havoc with the suspension of disbelief (Luke Atreides as part-man, part-sandworm; why?) as to be nearly unreadable.

    I believe that Herbert was going to explain everything, but was prevented from doing so by his death. I managed to read the other books in the series and wondered whether he had ingested some interesting substances while writing them.

  26. >Trolling comes with the territory…

    Thanks. You’re correct, that was not me on that weird sex site. I’m not the sort of exhibitionist that would post something like that.

  27. I’d say it was an anon who really likes that Everybody Loves Eric Raymond comic.

  28. Cathy Raymond said:
    “‘For that matter, what were the Fremen bad at?’ Objectivity in the face of phenomena that were loaded with religious symbolism, that’s what. Jessica obtains a position of power with them easily by presenting herself as a religious figure.”

    Yes, but that was arguably a strength. It made them a unified, fanatically obedient fighting force…just as the apparent brutality of their culture did. They were perfect for the uses Paul and Jessica.

    That’s another point to make about Dune. The BG creation of helpful legends and prophecies came across as way-out-there. But certainly it’s a novel conceit, and if not for the complete accuracy of the myth relating to Paul and Jessica, it would have been almost believable.

  29. I really liked this writer, so I consider this bad news. IMO bitter is better.

  30. Matt Lemmons said:

    Yes, but that was arguably a strength. It made them a unified, fanatically obedient fighting force…just as the apparent brutality of their culture did. They were perfect for the uses Paul and Jessica.

    Depends on your point of view. That characteristic (being susceptible to manipulation through religious symbolism) made the Fremen a good tool for Paul and Jessica. But being manipulable in that manner is rarely a good thing for a race in the long run.

    That’s another point to make about Dune. The BG creation of helpful legends and prophecies came across as way-out-there. But certainly it’s a novel conceit, and if not for the complete accuracy of the myth relating to Paul and Jessica, it would have been almost believable.

    What is “way out there” about manipulating people through religious beliefs? What do you think Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, and other cult leaders do?

  31. ESR, did you read these specific arguments:

    2) Businesses Often Avoid Informed Competition
    Have you seen the ads put out by some companies? How many people actually think they are going to get laid if they use Axe Body Spray; they might assume it contains some pheremones or something that ‘heats up’ the opposite sex. Have you ever been victimized by a bait and switch scam?

    3) Sometimes The Best Solution For Businesses Is A Compromise Enforced By The Government
    In this part, the author actually details the experience of his employer and why it was created. That seems to be pretty good experience to me.

    4) Consumer Choices Aren’t The Best Means For Citizens To Make Binding Group Decisions
    In this part, he details the main mechanisms for private parties to influence corporations: purchasing and stockholder meetings. What he forgot to add was that only the first one applies to privately-owned businesses, so ‘the people’ have even less control over those enterprises. Purchasing seems a much less sure road to making a decision that government regulation. Hypothetical example: suppose I frequent a hummus stand that makes very good hummus but all the proceeds are donated to al-Qaeda to help it plan attacks against the West. You (and the majority of Americans) may not like this, but the only thing you can do is refuse to buy hummus there. If they can find enough people who like the hummus and do not care about the politics to remain profitable, they can continue to aid al-Qaeda.

    6) Economic Instability
    He makes a very good point that the US had experienced approximately six or seven depressions from the 1820s to 1929. It has been ~75 years since the New Deal began, and we have not experienced a major economic collapse since 1929.

    7) Prosperity
    Unfortunately I have heard a few libertarians make this argument: the US was more prosperous than the USSR, therefore capitalism ALWAYS leads to more prosperity than Communism/Socialism/etc., therefore Libertarianism will lead to the greatest prosperity of all. The author points out that you have to account for numerous other factors to make meaningful comparisons between systems of government.

    9) Bureaucracy
    He makes the point that any large organization will have bureaucracy. Have you ever had a frustrating experience with a company’s technical support staff?

    (13) Baking More Pies Vs. Competing Over The Same Pie
    How does gambling and speculative currency trading create wealth? Would it not be prudent for society to minimize the sectors of the economy that do not create wealth and emphasize the sectors that DO create wealth?

  32. >ESR, did you read these specific arguments:

    I did. They’re staggeringly dumb, in large part because they assume that the problems they’re describing are things that government action can actually fix reliably. Reality would be better described as follows: there is no form of market failure so egregious that political failure can’t make it worse, and such failure is the normal outcome of politics.

    There are intelligent arguments against libertarianism, mostly around the question of whether various sorts of transaction costs can be driven low enough to fold externalities into the market; this general problem shows up in discussions of pollution control, national defense, shared infrastructure, etc. This fool never reaches those issues.

  33. Reading this piece and the comments was refreshing. I more or less gave up on SF back in the 70s after encountering New Wave pessimism. I think I understood the literary quality of some New Wave stories and the gushing of the critics. But those were my high school years; my po-faced, 60s-vintage lefty teachers were already beating me over the head with society’s failings. I didn’t need to have my nose rubbed in the same mess every time I opened a novel. My free time was too valuable to waste on dark lectures.

    It’s interesting to learn after all these years that I wasn’t the only reader the New Wave failed to impress.

  34. >It’s interesting to learn after all these years that I wasn’t the only reader the New Wave failed to impress.

    The field did eventually recover from it. Have you seen my essay A Political History of SF? You might find it illuminating.

  35. Well, arguments 3 & 6 provide examples of where the government did fix problems reliably, IMO. Argument 4 also suggests that, while government regulation may not always be a good way to fix certain problems, it is better than any market mechanism.

  36. >Well, arguments 3 & 6 provide examples of where the government did fix problems reliably, IMO. Argument 4 also suggests that, while government regulation may not always be a good way to fix certain problems, it is better than any market mechanism.

    Right, blithely ignoring all the cases where the political fix failed, and the much larger category of cases in which political rigging created problems a free market wouldn’t have had at all. It’s selective blindness and it’s stupid.

  37. I’m declaring any further discussion of libertarianism qua libertarianism in this comment thread off-topic and subject to deletion. Discussion of libertarianism as it relates to SF is still on topic.

  38. ESR, fair enough, but I would like to dispute your use of the word ‘fool.’ From reading the rest of his site, I think the man certainly knows a lot about the natural world and how it relates to SF. Some of his arguments, especially #5, are not that good, but it does not mean he is a fool. It just means he has made a foolish argument like Ken “if I am orbiting a black hole, I won’t be consulting the latest Naderite rules.” Ken, I luv ya’, (actually I don’t know you, but you seem alright) but that was the silliest thing I have heard in a while. Do you think all fans of extreme sports are libertarians? My uncle definitely is not.

  39. “Fascinating, captain. Yet more vitriol speweth forth from The Mouth of Those Who Disagree With Me Should Die.”
    “Uhura: shut down hailing frequencies. Sulu: raise shields of ‘utterly unsurprised’.”

    So, let’s see — I admit that I haven’t read the author you so despise. And I admit that — based *entirely* on what little objective matter I can attempt to glean from your screed — he probably isn’t the author for me. But when you end your missive by showing that Philip K. Dick, too, was unworthy… well, then I begin to question your self-ascribed “scholarship.”

    Let me paraphrase, if I may: “I, ESR, do so state that anyone who writes anything I disagree with, and calls it science fiction, is better off dead, whereupon I will endeavor to do some mud slinging, anyway.” One would think that science fiction and its readers would utilize the book equivalent of Howard Stern’s favorite censorship device: the radio dial. Or, if that was too subtle, I’ll put another way: IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE, STOP READING IT.

    Advice I should have taken regarding your rants some many years ago. Good day.

  40. >Let me paraphrase, if I may:

    My, what an impressive hissy fit. Very little to do with anything I’ve actually written, of course, but it does have a certain style. I guess I’ll have to anatomize Philip K. Dick’s egregious failures as a human being and a writer in some future post.

  41. I don’t think all extreme sportsmen are libertarians. The same argument would apply to a (relatively) less extreme situation, like starting a farm on a planet around a distant star. It isn’t the physical danger that leads to that outlook, but the distance from any kind of authority.

  42. It would seem that someone here is a pretty dedicated Dick fan. Personally, I tried reading his stuff and found it both disturbing and logically impossible, but then, I only read one book. I believe it was FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID.

  43. Ken, I took your situation, especially the part about enjoying the scenery and surviving, to be something akin to climbing a mountain. The idea of regulating what one can or cannot do on a mountain is absurd and is only appropriate in the grossest (and not very funny) parody of regulatory agencies.

  44. ESR, apparently some of the comments have been deleted. What has happened? Can they be restored?

  45. >ESR, apparently some of the comments have been deleted. What has happened? Can they be restored?

    What comments? I inadvertently deleted some on 28 June, but not since. Alas, there are no backups.

  46. Jeff Read talked about Campbellian scifi and how it had lost its hope as many of its tropes (ftl and aliens) seem more impossible as time goes on. He then said that scifi will regain hope as it focuses on sustainable technology (crunchy granola co-op farms, solar panels and buckeyball homes).

    I countered that some of Campbellian tropes were not entirely impossible (traversable wormholes and Alcubierre Drives). I also mentioned space colonization and asteroid mining.

    Jeff then responded with the idea that space colonization is possible if the EROEI is high enough.

  47. ESR, if you are taking requests, the post about Phillip K Dick sounds intriguing.

  48. Phil: Maybe I fatfingered some approved comments again. Alas, the WP interface makes this an easy mistake to make and impossible to recover from.

  49. I second the request for exposition of PKD. I never got into the novels, but I remember the short stories. And damn, are they ever fertile ground for bland big-budget movies to rip ideas from. Perhaps that’s where the hate comes from?

  50. Well,m this kind of illiterate, arrogant know-nothingism is why I gave up on sci-fi and started reading real literature. It is certainly significant that both you and your opposite numbers over at the “feminist sf” blog agree – sf is only worthwhile if it advances some kind of agenda or is educational. In other words, agitprop. Libertarian realism, to coin a phrase.

    As for poor Phil, none of you are worthy to say anything about him. Yes, he was a drug addict. Please tell me how that makes him worse than all the alcoholic “hard sf”writers I used to see at SF conventions, stumbling around the hallways.

  51. The “intelligent arguments against libertarianism” esr mentions above seem to be more precisely objections to anarcho-capitalism. There are many deserving to be called libertarians, of a minarchist, gradualist, or pragmatic tendency, who can live with national defense, public roads, etc.

  52. >sf is only worthwhile if it advances some kind of agenda or is educational. In other words, agitprop.

    The fool who posted this likely won’t be back, but for the record: I don’t require SF to have an agenda, I’m OK with it being pure escapism. I have argued elsewhere that SF tends to come with a built-in agenda of its own, but I didn’t put it there.

  53. gotta agree with you re disch. but the New Wave wasn’t all bad. bester, zelazny, sladek, the utterly brilliant kornbluth: great stuff. remember “Tik Tok”?

  54. Oh I agree the New Wave produced some good work…surrounded by a vast ocean of self-indulgent crap. My favorite examples include Langdon Jones’s The Great Clock, Philip Jose Farmer’s Riders of the Purple Wage, and Fritz Leiber’s One Station of the Way.

    But in general, as with Leiber and Kornbluth and Farmer, the good work to come out of the New Wave was done by writers who had proved their chops in pre-New-Wave SF. They took the opportunity to extend the field’s boundaries, but they weren’t on a mission to trash its heritage.

  55. I think this post is rather unkind on a personal level. It seems Mr Dick lost his partner 4 years ago and was now being threatened with eviction from his rent-controlled flat. I wouldn’t wish depression on my worst enemy.

    As far as the literary side goes, I’ve been a pretty wide SF reader since childhood (including, I think, everything by Heinlein, plus Alexei Panshin’s Heinlein biography) and was never interested in “waves” per se, whether new or old. In general, I think it’s better to recommend work that one likes, and let the rest pass. Writing is so often poorly rewarded in material terms, that we shouldn’t add to its discouragements. In a sort of Darwinian way, whatever has a niche should survive, if it isn’t specifically targeted for destruction.

    I read Disch’s Echo Round His Bones and 334 soon after they were written, and both were rather depressing, especially the latter; but still interesting in some ways, especially the intriguing time-structure of the latter, which found a way to reconcile strict temporal order with a separate emotional sequence. I also thought 334 was notable in envisioning State limitations to/qualifications for the right to breed, for I think that may be an issue here in the UK one day.

  56. >I think this post is rather unkind on a personal level. It seems Mr Dick lost his partner 4 years ago and was now being threatened with eviction from his rent-controlled flat.

    Well, except he was like that long before these bad things happened. They didn’t change him; at best they confirmed what he already was.

  57. What a effing whiner! Easy to dis disch now that he’s ded. CHECK. Where are you published?

  58. >Where are you published?

    One of my books hung out on the New York Times’s Bestsellers List for a couple weeks, fool. Better than Disch managed. More to the point, it’s probably better than you’ve managed.

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