Disch is one of those authors I stumbled into rather than sought out. My Dad is a Sci-Fi short story fan, and he borrowed a copy of Fundamental Disch form the library about 10 years ago. I picked it up, Double Time, and was immediately hooked. My angsty, college-age self was attracted to the simplicity of the darkness Disch represented in his writing. At least, his short stories. The more works of his I read, the more I liked. Wings of Song and Camp Concentration can be ranked right up there, in my opinion, with Sci-Fi classics like Stranger in a Strange Land or Slaughterhouse 5.
Disch played a key role in taking sci-fi from the pulp stories to serious literature. Yet he’s rarely mentioned now with his contemporary heavyweights like Phillip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and the like. He’s won just as many awards, and in some cases more.The only thing that sets him apart from these more renowned writers is the lack of modern-day translation, like movies and TV shows. The closest Disch ever came was a children’s book called Brave Little Toaster, which was a staple cartoon movie for me when I was growing up. Why not Disch? His prose is a bit more “out there” than many of his contemporaries, and isn’t as concrete. He’s a lot less science and a lot more fiction, and that may be why he wallows in semi-obscurity.
And for you video game nerds, you can probably thank Disch for contributing to the idea of open-world format games, like GTA, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Shadow of Mordor, and the like. He helped script the ancient Commodore 64-era game Amnesia. It was the first game ever to feature an open world, in this case a chunk of NYC a player could explore without linear limits. So read his books, nerds.
So here’s why you should read Disch (Besides owing him for the best video games ever created):
1) Style – The man’s got it in spades. It permeates through his writing, making everything he describes feel cool and controlled. He’s got masterful control of his reader’s perception, particularly in his short stories. Nothing feels wasted, and every single word he writes has a meaning somewhere in the story. It gives his prose a depth that a reader happily struggles in vain to find the bottom of. There’s a timeless quality to the way he tells a tale. It pulls you in and refuses to let you go, and leaves you thinking at the end.
2) Discord – There’s a level of inherent crazy in just about everything he likes that makes the reader feel slightly off-kilter, not unlike Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a bit of an acquired taste to most consumers, but I find his crazy is subtle enough to make it more generally appealing to a reader. I’ve never been a fan of the weird kaleidoscopic drug fiction, but Disch doesn’t go quite that far. The unreality he creates is less LSD and more Hannibal Lecter. It gives a sinister edge to his work that I haven’t encountered anywhere else. May not be everyone’s cup of tea, but its a key component in his fiction that is prevalent throughout his work, and really sets it apart from any other writing of the time.
3) History – This is one of the fore-fathers of modern science fiction. He’s got all the chops of every famous Sci-Fi writer you’ve ever heard of and then some. I his time, Disch was on the cutting edge not just imaginatively but also functionally. He played with diction, delved more internally than the linear pulp sci-fi, and helped create science fiction in the conscious and the sub-conscious the way so many of the greats have. If you haven’t checked out Thomas Disch, and you’re any kind of nerd or sci-fi fan, it is your duty to at least check out something from the library and give it a shot. You might be surprised.
Disch is one of the greats. He’ll take your mind to a place you didn’t think it knew how to find. Go grab one of his books, or at the very least a short story. And then let the thank you notes rain.