(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