(1998) Thomas M. Disch, Touchstone, pbk, £8.99, pp256, ISBN 0-684-85978-5
There are a number of excellent critical reviews of science fiction for instance Trillion Years Spree by by Brian Aldiss is but one and I would never trade these for space on my bookshelf. Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of is quite different from any of these other reviews but, let me nail my opinions firmly to the mast and say, this book is a proverbial landmark!
Perhaps it is because SF is a ghetto genre shunned by main stream critics (for which read "artists without a shred of scientific qualification") that previous reviewers from within the genre have focussed on its positive points. However as with everything else in life there is a flipside: dirt swept under the carpet, those who will use the genre (and anything else) for their own nefarious ends and those of fandom (not all, but a disturbing subset including many who rule that s small pond) who are self-righteous, introspective and complacent (something we at Concatenation have long been concerned about regard a number of SF convention organisers).
Three cheers then for Disch who has drawn back the curtain, peered under the carpet, checked the grime behind the oven and shone a spotlight into the genre's dark corners. He has charted: how SF aclimatised us to the real horrors of the atomic bomb; where the real 'Big Brother' is (not just with 1984 but, for example, the selection process for those who will go into space be it real astronauts or the crew of the Enterprise (which Disch does speak warmly of as propaganda for good, real-life office relationships)); those who have used SF to propagate their political views; as well as those who have used it to underpin shakey religous beliefs either to fleece the weak-minded and/or as a crutch for their own mental fragility. He is damning.
If there problems with his review then it is because it is too damning. It portrays SF in such a negative light that one almost forgets how positive, liberating and challenging the genre can be. To take a trivial instance, the critical tone with which Star Trek uniforms are dismissed as pyjamas is unwarranted: in a space craft pyamas would actually be good flight garb. But then the point of the book is to re-address the balance, and here Disch has done an excellent job.
For this honesty, for this attempt to restore balance, for reminding us of 'the Dark Side of the Force', I mean genre's, Disch deserves much recognition. Fortunately SF does have its positive side. There are those in fandom who have their eyes open and awake. And so Disch has had his recognition with The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of winning a non-fiction Hugo and non-fiction Locus. This is an absolutely essential text for all who consider themselves a seasoned SF buff with a solid grounding in the genre in all its forms. If you are such a person and you've not got this book then stop surfing the net now and order it immediately.
Did you hear me? Stop what you are doing now AND ORDER THIS BOOK!
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