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30 May 2001



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June 2001

Thomas M. Disch: It's All Methane to Me

Thomas M. Disch is the author of Camp Concentration, 334, On Wings of Song, "The Brave Little Toaster", and Hugo-winning nonfiction The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World. His most recent novel is The Sub (1999). He lives in New York.

Excerpts from the interview:

"So many people who want science fiction to be respectable want to make the pitch for science fiction, but they're only willing to contemplate certain arguments, such as: 'This is going to help people understand science.' Well it doesn't. That's nonsense. ... But the science fiction that deals with political satire can be done more successfully. And that's the science fiction I mostly enjoyed writing myself. I have always been a science fiction enthusiast, and that's what allows me to be one of its harshest critics, because I know what it can do. I have a high standard to hold it to, and when somebody really messes up (or when they claim they're doing something they're not) it's fun to point out they're wrong!"

Photo by Beth Gwinn

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"For my generation, the New Wave people, the big disappointment is that they did not find an audience large enough to sustain their work and their careers. And what was worse is that they didn't inspire another generation to come up through the ranks and want to write with the same models of aspiration. The science fiction that succeeded was the kind we had no use for, and I still don't. What I see is a marketplace full of walls of Star Trek novels. Long ago, I wrote that essay about how science fiction is just juvenile literature. That's only a partial truth, but had a real kernel to it that people weren't admitting at the time. An awful lot of the best science fiction really was juvenile literature, and that was OK and very good as such classic stuff that I loved then and still do but people wouldn't admit it because they thought it wasn't respectable enough. A lot of the people who have been successful with science fiction in the new era have, as it were, acknowledged my sense of that, and written juvenile books including Ursula Le Guin. Orson Scott Card's books are juvenile adventures. I think history has born me out; that's what really did succeed. And space opera with it. The science fiction I dislike also bears that out."


''What I'm writing now is not science fiction. I guess you'd say it's fantasy. It's an afterlife novel that creates a consistent afterlife world, or a set of them. That's a tradition of its own. It's like science fiction in that it creates self-consistent worlds. I do have one story coming out, 'In Xanadu', that is proper science fiction yet connects to the afterlife fantasy I'm writing. It's a combination of cyberpunk and the major Romantic poets (especially the Coleridge poem) and Mahler, in that it's all strings and heartbreak. It voluptualizes death egregiously, like 'Ode to a Nightingale'. That story, which will appear in Al Sarrantonio's new anthology, Redshift, inspired the novel.

The full interview, and bibliographic profile, is published in the June 2001 issue of Locus Magazine.


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