My poetic tribute to Thomas M. Disch, "Ascending," is scheduled to go live at Strange Horizons
this coming Monday.
When I read the poem aloud to the No Shame Theatre audience last year, I assumed, correctly I'm certain, that no one in the audience would be familiar enough with Disch's career to catch the references the poem makes, so I included a lengthy introduction that touched on them all.
Mark Rudolph and I discussed whether to include that introduction with the poem when it appears at SH
; Mark told me his preference is to let the poem stand alone, but he also proposed what I consider to be a wise compromise. The key to the poem won't be published at SH
but the plan is to include a link there to this blog entry
, which will unveil all the poem's references for those readers who want such a thing.
And so, without further ado, the companion prose to the impending poem, omitting the opening references to Disch's suicide, which I'm sure anyone who would read this is very well aware of:
I first encountered Thomas Disch's writing as a kid, when I read a devastatingly creepy story called "Descending," about a man who becomes trapped on an infinite escalator that only rolls down. The man dies a Kafka-esque death, unable to escape, never understanding why this horrible thing has happened to him. That's heavy stuff to digest when you're around ten years old.
Tom was famous for other stories, including "The Roaches," in which a woman discovers she has a telepathic link that allows her to control the roaches that infest her apartment, and "Casablanca," a story about an American prone to red-faced temper tantrums who discovers his angry rants aren't much use abroad once his home country perishes in nuclear fire.
His novels included Camp Concentration, about war-time dissenters imprisoned and used for mind-altering experiments; On Wings of Song, which imagines people using technology and music to achieve out-of-body travel; and his last book, The Word of God, in which he arbitrarily proclaimed himself a deity and argued that because he had done this, all of his satirical writings must be considered Holy Writ.
In his book Disch claimed to have become the Christian God, though a more appropriate role to assume in his case might have been Momus — the Greek god of satire. His final novel makes liberal use of real people and real incidents and offers mercy to no one. He portrays the late Philip K. Dick as a tortured soul unleashed from Hell to assassinate the newly ascended divinity, and Disch's own mother meets an outrageous fate at the hands of a homicidal rapist.
He also wrote many poems, among them one called "On Science Fiction," winner of the 1981 Rhysling Award for speculative poetry, which he begins by telling all his fellow sci-fi misfits, "We are all cripples. First admit that."
I was lucky enough to meet Disch a couple years ago and tell him in person how his "Descending" affected me when I read it as a youngster. I did not know then it would be my last chance to ever speak to him.