The DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF: HOW SCIENCE FICTION CONQUERED THE WORLD

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9780684824055: The DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF: HOW SCIENCE FICTION CONQUERED THE WORLD
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From acclaimed science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch comes The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, a keenly perceptive account of the impact science fiction has had on American culture. As only a consummate insider could, Disch provides a fascinating view of this world and its inhabitants, tracing science fiction's phenomenal growth into the multibillion-dollar global entertainment industry it is today. If America is a "nation of liars," as Disch asserts in this dazzling and provocative cultural history, then science fiction is the most American of literary genres. American SF writers have seen their wishes, dreams, and lies accorded the same respect as facts. From the protoscience-fiction tales of Edgar Allen Poe, to the utopian dreams and technological nightmares of European writers H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and J. G. Ballard, to American conservatives Robert Heinlein and Jerry Pournelle, liberals Joe Haldemann and Ursula le Guin, flakes William Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, and outright charlatans Ignatius Donnelly and various UFO "witnesses," Disch emphasizes science fiction's cultural role as both a lens and a medium for the very rapid changes driven by modern technology, highlighting its powers of prediction and prevarication. Much more than a history of the genre, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of is an in-depth study of its ever-growing interaction with all aspects of culture -- politics, religion, and the fabric of our daily lives -- showing how it has become a cultural battlefield while helping us to adjust to new social realities, in everything from Star Trek's model of a multicultural workplace to Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Disch is full of high praise and trenchant criticism of the genre, but sees its darker expression in the appearance of suicidal and homicidal UFO cults that blur science-fiction-fueled fantasies with reality. Behind the spaceships and aliens Disch reveals the blueprints of the dizzying postmodern future we have already begun to inhabit.

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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.

About the Author:

Thomas M. Disch is the author of such classic works of science fiction as Camp Concentration, 334, Brave Little Toaster and On Wings Of Song, all of which are cited in David Pringle's Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels. His criticism appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, and the country's leading newspapers. The Castle of Indolence was a nominee in 1996 for the National Book Critic Circle's Award in Criticism.

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