In The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of
, Thomas Disch does for science fiction what he did for poetry in The Castle of Indolence
. First, he treats it not as a playground for idle dreamers, but as a branch of serious literature with significant cultural impact. Second, he brings the perspective of a seasoned practitioner to bear in separating the wheat from the chaff.
For example, if you ever wanted to know why L. Ron Hubbard managed to start a cult but Philip K. Dick didn't, Disch is your man. Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe, Disch elaborates a vision of science fiction as one of the twentieth century's most influential manifestations of America as a culture of liars. Among the frauds are the alien abduction stories of Whitley Strieber, the sadomasochistic dominance fantasies of John Norman, and the co-opting of cyberpunk by postmodern academics and avant-gardists trying to stay hip.
Disch plays very few favorites, and when ideology gets in the way of good writing, it doesn't matter what side you're on. Subliterary feminist fantasies of matriarchial utopias get slammed just as hard as subliterary conservative militaristic wet dreams. Not even one of sci-fi's most beloved Grand Masters, Robert Heinlein, is unimpeachable; Disch correctly nails Heinlein on his consistent sexism and racism, as well as his gradual descent into solipsism. One of Heinlein's last novels, The Number of the Beast, is described as "the freakout to which [Heinlein]'s entitled as a good American, whose right to lie is protected by the Constitution."
What does Disch like? For starters: Philip K. Dick, the British New Wave as exemplified by J. G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock, and Joe Haldeman's Hugo- and Nebula-winning The Forever War, described as being "to the Vietnam War what Catch-22 was to World War II," and which he believes deserved a Pulitzer as well.
Disch may confirm your suspicions, or he may raise every last one of your hackles. But one thing this book will definitely not do is bore you.
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From Publishers Weekly
With pungency and wit, Disch (The Castle of Indolence) explores the enormous cultural impact that SF has had over the past century, placing it in the tradition of tall tales and lying, arguing that SF "has a special claim to be our national literature, as the art form best adapted to telling the lies we like to hear and to pretend we believe." He argues for Edgar Allan Poe as the father of SF and devotes a chapter to what he calls "our embarrassing ancestor," whose many stories anticipate themes common in later SF. Space travel, nuclear holocausts, Star Trek, drugs, sex and feminism, religion, politics, imperialism in space, and race relations are among the topics Disch trenchantly investigates in stories by many of the field's best-known figures, past and present. Their admirers are likely to be uncomfortable or enraged by some of his comments, which reflect a thorough knowledge of SF both as an insider and an outsider (Disch largely ceased writing SF two decades ago) and of the wider world in which it developed. His concluding chapter, "The Future of an Illusion?SF Beyond the Year 2000," offers a bleak perspective. More than half the top 10 grossing films of all time have been SF, but the economics of filmmaking dictate action-adventure and dumb plots, contends Disch. Similarly, the economics of book publishing favor undemanding series. Retailers should encourage SF buffs to buy this provocative account but should also encourage them to supplement it with two valuable companions: Brian Aldiss's Trillion Year Spree (1986) and Edward James's Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (1996).
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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