Sunday, July 06, 2008

Thomas M. Disch, 1940 - 2008

I just learned (here) that Thomas M. Disch, science fiction writer, poet and critic, died on July 4 at his own hand.

Disch's Camp Concentration is an absolutely fabulous novel (one of the books I've tried giving as a sampler to people who don't like SF, with some success). I posted* two of his many poems on this blog, the first three years ago ("Dreams: a Darwinian View") and the second just this January ("Waking Early New Year's Day, Without a Hangover"). You can read more of his poetry here. I found his book of poetry criticism The Castle of Indolence a lot of fun to read. While there is a lot of his work I haven't read yet, what I have read of it has meant a lot to me.

I met him a few times at Readercon; despite a reputation for being difficult to get along with, he was, on the occasions I spoke with him, friendly, charming and interesting. One of the times I talked to him he looked at my my name tag and said to me, "The worst story I ever wrote was a called 'If You Don't Frug Baby Then What Do You Do?'". He said it was a pornographic story he wrote under a pseudonym; and despite my repeated begging, he wouldn't tell me where it was published.

I just went to his livejournal and found that -- ominously -- the penultimate post was titled "Letters to Dead Writers" -- an idea for a book he said he'd never write. (The last entry speaks about inflation and food; people have started leaving goodbyes on it. I clicked on the "next" button, and the standard error message -- "There is no entry following this one." -- took on a darkness that it probably doesn't usually have.)

Just a few weeks ago I went looking for his essay (story? joke? what was it?) "Pyramids For Minnesota", and couldn't find it anywhere.** It's not in any of the Disch books I have, nor in any anthologies I could find, nor online (that I found). I remember it quite vividly -- and like it a lot, which is why I wanted to reread it -- but I haven't the slightest idea where I could have read it.

Locus has an obituary here. And Making Light has a thread on Disch here.

Rest in peace.

Update: Another anecdote from one of the occasions I chatted with him. (I assume this is common knowledge and he said it in interviews, but for all I know no one else knows.) Disch's first poetry collection, from 1972, was The Right Way to Figure Plumbing. Disch told me that he named the book that because a person named Tom Disch -- if I remember correctly, no relation that he knew of -- published a book in the 19th century called The Right Way to Figure Plumbing, and he was amused at the notion of some librarian (for some reason I remember him mentioning the NY public library -- maybe they had a copy?) holding the two books, by two Tom Disch's, and being absolutely baffled. I mentioned that I had an ancestor, S. Frug, who was a Yiddish poet, and must have mentioned that I wrote, because he encouraged me to find out the name of a book that Simeon Frug had published and to publish a book under the same title, for the same joke.

Update 2: There's a round-up of reactions/remembrances/what-have-you here. And here's one they missed, by Jim Henley.

Update 3: The New York Times obituary. And the Washington Post obituary. (Both via this thread.)

Update 4: Via, the eulogy from Elizabeth Hand at Salon. And John Clute's obituary for the Independent here.

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* Yeah, illegally reprinted. Whatever. I like 'em. Go read them and see what you think.

** Harpers has it online, but only if you have a subscription. Enough to let me correct the title, though (for, not in).

1 comment:

calimac said...

"Pyramids for Minnesota" is in his collection The Man Who Had No Idea. Funny, it was the first piece I thought to quote from on hearing of his death.