Monday, August 4, 2008

SF Author, Critic, and Poet Thomas M. Disch, Died July 4th, 2008

Author Thomas M. Disch, who has been called one of the most important science fiction writers of his generation, fatally shot himself in the head on July 4th, according to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Friends said he was found dead inside his New York apartment. He had been plagued by personal problems at the time. Noted science fiction editor Ellen Datlow reports that Disch had been depressed for several years, especially by the death of long-time partner Charles Naylor, and worries of eviction from his rent-controlled apartment.

Three of his novels, "Camp Concentration," "334" and "On Wings of Song" were named in "Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels," a survey by critic David Pringle. Disch's nonfiction work "The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World" received a Hugo Award in 1999.

Born 1940,in Des Moines, Iowa, Disch published first story "The Double-Timer" in 1962. Notable early stories included "Descending" (1964), "Come to Venus Melancholy" (1965), "The Roaches" (1965), "Casablanca" (1967), and "The Asian Shore" (1970). First novel The Genocides (1965) was followed by two others before publication of classic Camp Concentration (1968), about an inmate in a US concentration camp who's treated with experimental drugs. 334 (1974, a Nebula finalist) was a set of linked stories set in a New York city apartment complex, while On Wings of Song (1980, a Hugo and Nebula finalist and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner), was a near-future satire about a device enabling talented singers to transcend their bodies. Disch also wrote TV series adaptation The Prisoner (1967). Story collections included Fun with Your New Head (1970), Getting Into Death (1975), Fundamental Disch (1980), and The Man Who Had No Idea (1982), which included notable stories "Getting Into Death" (1974), "The Man Who Had No Idea" (1978, Hugo nominee), and "Understanding Human Behavior" (1982, Nebula nominee).

Novella The Brave Little Toaster, first published in F&SF in 1980 and later issued in book form, won the Locus, Seiun, and British SF Association awards, and was adapted into a 1987 animated film. Disch published sequel The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars in 1988. Disch wrote two plays, Ben Hur (1989) and The Cardinal Detoxes (1990), as well as 1986 interactive software adventure Amnesia.

After 1980 collaboration Neighboring Lives with Charles Naylor, he wrote a quartet of contemporary horror novels: The Businessman: A Tale of Terror (1984), The M.D.: A Horror Story (1991, a Bram Stoker Award finalist), The Priest: A Gothic Romance (1994), and The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft (1999).

Disch was an acerbic, demanding SF critic, famous for defining science fiction as a branch of children's literature (in "The Embarrassments of Science Fiction", Science Fiction at Large, Peter Nicholls, ed., 1976) . His The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, subtitled "How Science Fiction Conquered the World", won Hugo and Locus awards as nonfiction book of the year. Essay collection On SF was published 2005.

He wrote poetry, bylined "Tom Disch" -- his long poem "On Science Fiction" won the Rhysling Award in 1981 -- with several collection included Yes, Let's: New and Selected Poems (1989) and A Child's Garden of Grammar (1997), and edited several notable anthologies, from The Ruins of Earth (1971), Bad Moon Rising (1973), The New Improved Sun (1975), and two with Charles Naylor, New Constellations (1976) and Strangeness (1977).

Disch had recently been writing more actively, with three books scheduled for publication within a year: novella The Voyage of the Proteus, published last December; short novel The Word of God, published this month by Tachyon Publications; and collection The Wall of America due from Tachyon in October.

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

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