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Thomas M. Disch Biography

(1940– ), The Genocides, Mankind under the Leash, 102 H-Bombs, Echo round His Bones

camp sustained concentration fiction

American novelist, poet, and short-story writer, born in Des Moines, Iowa, educated at New York University. He has been a visiting lecturer at the universities of Minnesota, Michigan State, and Wesleyan. He is part of the ‘New Wave’ of writers which swept through science fiction in the 1960s. The Genocides (1965) was quickly followed by Mankind under the Leash (1966), 102 H-Bombs (1966), Echo round His Bones (1967), and Black Alice (1968). Disch made his reputation with his fourth novel, Camp Concentration (1968), which is, at one level, an allegory of the war in Vietnam. Camp Concentration imagines a world dominated by perpetual warfare between America and a host of Third World guerrillas. Its central character is Louis Sacchetti, an imprisoned poet and conscientious objector, who becomes the subject of a bizarre experiment to raise IQ, one of whose side-effects involves rapid physical deterioration. The book is a sustained meditation on the relationship between mortality and the Faustian will-to-power; alluding to Shakespeare, Rilke, Joyce, and a host of other writers, its concerns are essentially metaphysical, though its never loses sight of the contemporary political situation. In similar fashion, On Wings of Song (1979) deals with the tension between Christian fundamentalism and artificially induced out-of-the-body experiences; its ending is a sombre and harrowing evocation of the gap between quotidian life and spiritual yearning. Disch concentrates not on heroes but on the forgotten victims of social control. The Priest: A Gothic Romance (1995), a long and sustained critique of the Catholic Church, continues the effort to expand his thematic range. Formally innovative and often densely written, his books challenge our preconceptions about the limitations of the science fiction genre.

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