Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Disch, Thomas M

 Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

(1940-2008) US writer who began his career with sf stories, the first being "The Double-Timer" for Fantastic in 1962, and who perhaps remains best-known for his sf novels. His work of fantasy interest is limited to some short stories, two books for children and some Supernatural-Fiction novels. The children's stories – The Brave Little Toaster (1980 F&SF; 1986 chap), filmed as The Brave Little Toaster (1987), and The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (1988 chap) – are told with a straight face, and can be read for their touching ingenuity. In the first volume, the Toaster leads its Companions on a trek to find their long-departed master; in the second the Toaster has adventures in space which culminate in a Christmas story (and a happy return to the USA). Both volumes can be understood as what one might call counter-factual fables, for they work also as Allegories of a USA blessed by a technological Theodicy, of a human race succoured by its inventions – which know their place.

None of TMD's other work suggests any sense that he subscribes to so hopeful a view of civilization and its discontents. On Wings of Song (1979 UK) depicts a self-consciously decadent (see Decadence) 21st-century New York on the brink of entropic implosion. The Businessman: A Tale of Terror (1984) is a Supernatural Fiction set in a contemporary Minneapolis haunted by (among others) the Ghost of the poet John Berryman (1914-1972), who (in real life) committed suicide in that city; in the central narrative, a murdered wife takes revenge on her husband, the eponymous businessman, though she is raped by him in the process, giving birth to an astonishingly destructive Halfling. In The M.D.: A Horror Story (1991), the god Mercury (see Hermes) gives to a lad a caduceus whose powers turn out to cost dear; the novel ends, as an AIDS-like plague decimates the USA, in utter bleakness. At its heart, The Priest: A Gothic Romance (1994 UK) is a Satire on the moral failings – which in TMD's view ravage the whole – of the Roman Catholic Church; the book features also a grotesque trans-temporal Identity Exchange, in which a medieval priest is liberated from the Inquisition to terrorize Minneapolis. [JC]

other works: The Tale of Dan de Lion (1986 chap), a narrative poem; The Silver Pillow: A Tale of Witchcraft (dated 1987 but 1988 chap).

Thomas Michael Disch


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.