…check out this unusual, compelling and ultimately rather horrifying essay by Norman Spinraid on Tom Disch‘s posthumously published The Word of God. It’s in the review section of the latest issue of Asimov’s, although as Spinraid notes ‘review’ doesn’t really describe the piece. Though not in (say) Foster Wallace’s league, Disch was a consistently interesting and intelligent writer (1968’s Camp Concentration is especially good, if grim) as well as being an insightful and entertaining critic of sf as a genre (see his The Dreams our Stuff is Made Of) and also a poet. I didn’t think much of his poetry, personally, but some people rate it highly. Disch committed suicide last year.
Spinrad’s review details the extent to which Disch’s fatal depression was fuelled not only by the death of his partner, Charlie Naylor, but by a variety of professional bitternesses occasioned by the distorting-mirror of science fiction fandom and by, frankly, a corrosive envy of the achievement of Philip K. Dick, whom Disch knew, and who was (as he must have known) by far the more significant American novelist of the two. The tacit moral of this story seems to me important: if you want to make a career as a writer then one thing you absolutely must develop is some cognitive-behavioural strategy for dealing with the way being a writer will — inevitably — bash, ding and diminsh your ego. There is no way past this awkward truth of the profession; no amount of localised success (look at how many awards Disch won!) will innoculate you against it. Choose your preferred means of swaddling your ego (friends, family, lovers; Buddhism or Baseball; whisky or windsurfing; TM or TV) but choose one. Don’t rely on the writing to keep your ego safe. It won’t. [AR]