Second Childhoods

From its beginnings, science fiction (bastard offspring of fantasy) has exerted a vulgar appeal. Some of its proponents have never shied away from this and, if anything, have celebrated the intelligent child's outlook, as witness the career of Ray Bradbury. The majority of science-fiction writers have grown into an awkward adolescence in which conquering the universe provides an uneasy substitute for sexual identity and the avoidance of bankruptcy—a constant theme of Barry Malzberg. But there remain a surly few who refuse to settle for anything less than full maturity, that sterile condition where senility must ultimately replace the sense of wonder. Such apostasy has been the theme of Thomas M. Disch for some time: his goal is not to leave but to reform the genre.

Dark Verses & Light is a poetry collection that carries an endorsement by Thomas Fleming, who identifies Disch's writing as "irreverent with a satire that is savage in its restraint." Neighboring Lives is a novel about 19th-century writers, intellectuals, and artists back when it meant something to live in Chelsea. The M.D. is a horror novel drawing on much fantasy, a little science fiction, and the kitchen sink (or in this case, the scrub basin) to reach the reading audience that really matters: the fans of Stephen King, whose endorsement graces the back cover. Of the three, the most successful happens also to be the most...

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