Thomas M. Disch, an author, poet and critic who twisted the inherently twisted genre of science fiction in new, disturbing directions, including writing his last book in the voice of God, died on Friday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 68. His friend Alice K. Turner said Mr. Disch shot himself. She and other friends told how his apartment had been devastated by a fire; then his partner of more than 30 years died; then his home in Barryville, N.Y., was flooded; and finally, he faced eviction after he returned to the apartment. He also suffered from diabetes and sciatica. “He was simply ground down by the sequence of catastrophes,” his friend Norman Rush, the novelist, said Monday.
Photo: Ann Monn
Here are the final posts he made on his Live Journal blog
. For the full text of a Thomas Disch story, start reading here and continue via the link:Understanding Human Behavior
By Thomas M. Disch (30 July 2001)
He would wake up each morning with a consciousness clear as the Boulder sky, a sense of being on the same wave length exactly as the sunlight. Innocence, bland dreams, a healthy appetite -- these were glories that issued directly from his having been erased. Of course, there were some corresponding disadvantages. His job, monitoring the terminals of a drive-in convenience center, could get pretty dull, especially on days when no one drove in for an hour or so at a stretch, and even at the busiest times it didn't provide much opportunity for human contact. He envied the waitresses in restaurants and the drivers of buses their chance to say hello to real live customers.
Away from work it was different; he didn't feel the same hunger for socializing. That, in fact, was the major disadvantage of having no past life, no established preferences, no identity in the usual sense of a history to attach his name to -- he just didn't want anything very much.
Not that he was bored or depressed or anything like that. The world was all new to him, and full of surprises: the strangeness of anchovies; the beauty of old songs in their blurry Muzak versions at the Stop-and-Shop; the feel of a new shirt or a March day. These sensations were not wholly unfamiliar, nor was his mind a tabula rasa. His use of the language and his motor skills were all intact; also what the psychologists at Delphi Institute called generic recognition. But none of the occasions of newness reminded him of any earlier experience, some first time or best time or worst time that he'd survived. His only set of memories of a personal and non-generic character were those he'd brought from the halfway house in Delphi, Indiana. But such fine memories they were -- so fragile, so distinct, so privileged. If only (he often wished) he could have lived out his life in the sanctuary of Delphi, among men and women like himself, all newly summoned to another life and responsive to the wonders and beauties around them. But no, for reasons he could not understand, the world insisted on being organized otherwise. An erasee was allowed six months at the Institute, and then he was dispatched to wherever he or the computer decided, where he would have to live like everyone else, either alone or in a family (though the Institute advised everyone to be wary at first of establishing primary ties), in a small room or a cramped house or a dormitory ship in some tropical lagoon. Unless you were fairly rich or very lucky, your clothes, furniture, and suchlike appurtenances were liable to be rough, shabby, makeshift. The food most people ate was an incitement to infantile gluttony, a slop of sugars, starches, and chemically enhanced flavors. It would have been difficult to live among such people and to seem to share their values, except so few of them ever questioned the reasonableness of their arrangements. Those who did, if they had the money, would probably opt, eventually, to have their identities erased, since it was clear, just looking around, that erasees seemed to strike the right intuitive balance between being aware and keeping calm.
He lived now in a condo on the northwest edge of the city, a room and a half with unlimited off-peak power access. The rent was modest (so was his salary), but his equity in the condo was large enough to suggest that his pre-erasure income had been up there in the top percentiles.
He wondered, as all erasees do, why he'd decided to wipe out his past.