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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (May 4, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684824051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684824055
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,808,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, Thomas Disch does for science fiction what he did for poetry in The Castle of Indolence. First, he treats it not as a playground for idle dreamers, but as a branch of serious literature with significant cultural impact. Second, he brings the perspective of a seasoned practitioner to bear in separating the wheat from the chaff.

For example, if you ever wanted to know why L. Ron Hubbard managed to start a cult but Philip K. Dick didn't, Disch is your man. Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe, Disch elaborates a vision of science fiction as one of the twentieth century's most influential manifestations of America as a culture of liars. Among the frauds are the alien abduction stories of Whitley Strieber, the sadomasochistic dominance fantasies of John Norman, and the co-opting of cyberpunk by postmodern academics and avant-gardists trying to stay hip.

Disch plays very few favorites, and when ideology gets in the way of good writing, it doesn't matter what side you're on. Subliterary feminist fantasies of matriarchial utopias get slammed just as hard as subliterary conservative militaristic wet dreams. Not even one of sci-fi's most beloved Grand Masters, Robert Heinlein, is unimpeachable; Disch correctly nails Heinlein on his consistent sexism and racism, as well as his gradual descent into solipsism. One of Heinlein's last novels, The Number of the Beast, is described as "the freakout to which [Heinlein]'s entitled as a good American, whose right to lie is protected by the Constitution."

What does Disch like? For starters: Philip K. Dick, the British New Wave as exemplified by J. G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock, and Joe Haldeman's Hugo- and Nebula-winning The Forever War, described as being "to the Vietnam War what Catch-22 was to World War II," and which he believes deserved a Pulitzer as well.

Disch may confirm your suspicions, or he may raise every last one of your hackles. But one thing this book will definitely not do is bore you.

From Publishers Weekly

With pungency and wit, Disch (The Castle of Indolence) explores the enormous cultural impact that SF has had over the past century, placing it in the tradition of tall tales and lying, arguing that SF "has a special claim to be our national literature, as the art form best adapted to telling the lies we like to hear and to pretend we believe." He argues for Edgar Allan Poe as the father of SF and devotes a chapter to what he calls "our embarrassing ancestor," whose many stories anticipate themes common in later SF. Space travel, nuclear holocausts, Star Trek, drugs, sex and feminism, religion, politics, imperialism in space, and race relations are among the topics Disch trenchantly investigates in stories by many of the field's best-known figures, past and present. Their admirers are likely to be uncomfortable or enraged by some of his comments, which reflect a thorough knowledge of SF both as an insider and an outsider (Disch largely ceased writing SF two decades ago) and of the wider world in which it developed. His concluding chapter, "The Future of an Illusion?SF Beyond the Year 2000," offers a bleak perspective. More than half the top 10 grossing films of all time have been SF, but the economics of filmmaking dictate action-adventure and dumb plots, contends Disch. Similarly, the economics of book publishing favor undemanding series. Retailers should encourage SF buffs to buy this provocative account but should also encourage them to supplement it with two valuable companions: Brian Aldiss's Trillion Year Spree (1986) and Edward James's Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (1996).
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

A great degree of scientific fuzziness is present in all but the hardest SF.
Disch sometimes tries a little too hard to show you how clever he is, but, as I indicated earlier, his irreverent sense of humor saves the day.
Art Turner
All in all, a comprehensive book... well worth reading by anyone with a deep interest in the genre.
Aaron D. Lariviere

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes not only science fiction, but the idea of science fiction. It is a bleak look at the genre, and utterly infuriating at times. The arrogance of Disch's tone in attacking the value of writers from Mary Shelley to Robert Heinlein to Ursula LeGuin will leave many readers shaking in anger.
I think you'll love it, too.
It is a book that begs an argument on nearly every page. Disch clearly has favorites, and he happily ignores good books from writers he's busy bashing - LeGuin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" gets passing mention, while he denigrates "Always Coming Home" repeatedly. Same for Heinlein - few of his juvenile books, almost universally considered his best, are in evidence.
But while Disch's biases are pretty clear, the strength of his arguments, particularly on the popularization of the genre through Star Trek and the UFO mythology, are tough to refute. What makes this book so very different from others on the genre is its willingness to see what science fiction means to people in general, not just a small elite who read the "literary-quality" science fiction. It's a refreshing change from the books that try frantically to justify the genre, all the time preaching to the choir.
Disch almost goes a little too far from time to time - apparently, for example, if you don't like Hal Clement's scientific explanations, you're just another idiot who should go back to watching Star Trek.
But I promise you, this book will make you think. And who doesn't love a good fight?
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on September 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
Mr. Disch, a well regarded science fiction writer, poet, playwright, and critic, here gives us a critical history of the scifi genre that resembles nothing so much as a drive-by shooting. When he's done, the field is lettered with the shattered reputations of the field's hacks (from John Norman to Newt Gingrich), quacks (from L. Ron Hubbard to Whitley Streiber), feminists (Ursula K. LeGuin & company), fascists (Robert Heinlein), technophiles (Greg Egan), proselytizers (Orson Scott Card), and so forth and so on. Among the offenses cited, besides bad writing, are a tendency to pander to the ... fantasies of young men, a willingness to exploit things like UFO crazes and apocalyptic beliefs, extreme right-wing politics, extreme left-wing politics, dumbing down for the mass audience, jargoning up for the academic crowd, employing ludicrous science, jingoism, racism, ... speciesism, etc. Hardly anyone comes off well--himself, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Iain M. Banks, Joe Haldeman and a very few more, plus Edgar Allan Poe gets an ambivalent nod, given credit not only for inventing science fiction but for embodying it entire in his work, both its good and its bad aspects.
Mr. Disch is particularly drawn to Poe as perpetrator of hoaxes, a talent he think central to science fiction. In fact, he believes lying to be central to our national character:
America is a nation of liars, and for that reason science fiction has a special claim to be our national literature,
as the art form best adapted to telling the lies we like to hear and to pretend we believe.
In Mr. Disch's view, Poe and his successors mastered the art of telling people what they want to believe. And in stories like Mesmeric Revelation and The Facts in the Case of M.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Shepherd VINE VOICE on November 2, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are only a few published books that treat science fiction as something worthy of notice and critical evaluation. This book attempts to go even further by trying to prove a hypothesis that science fiction has become so invidiously entangled in the everyday world that is now a given, an everyday component that shapes many of the cultural tropes and the thought processes of Joe Everyman.

Disch starts by examining the beginnings of science fiction as a separate literary genre, starting with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allen Poe. He does an excellent job of examining the themes and ideas that Poe originated, making a strong case that Poe should be considered the ancestor of SF, rather than the more commonly cited Shelley. But in his examination of Shelley Disch displays the first evidence that this is not a work of critical evaluation of the first rank, as he dismisses her book merely because "An unread author is no one's intellectual ancestor", ignoring both the possible influence on other writers some seminal works have, commonly read or not, and the fact that Shelley is far from an 'unread author'.

This same sloppiness is exhibited in some of his research on other authors, most notably Robert Heinlein and Ursula K. Le Guin. While he correctly presents the oddity that Heinlein, normally considered a strong conservative, at one point in his life ran on the Democratic ticket for a California State Assembly seat and was heavily involved with EPIC, the socialistic movement championed by Upton Sinclair, he repeats (in multiple places) the gossip that Charles Manson was a Heinlein disciple, something easily disprovable by examining the court records of Manson's trial.
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