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The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World

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From one of science fiction's most acclaimed novelists comes this engrossing journey through the books, movies, and television programs that have shaped our perspective of both the present and the future. In an uncompromising, often irreverent survey of the genre from Edgar Allan Poe to Philip K. Dick to Star Trek, Thomas M. Disch analyzes science fiction's impact on techn From one of science fiction's most acclaimed novelists comes this engrossing journey through the books, movies, and television programs that have shaped our perspective of both the present and the future. In an uncompromising, often irreverent survey of the genre from Edgar Allan Poe to Philip K. Dick to Star Trek, Thomas M. Disch analyzes science fiction's impact on technological innovation, fashion, lifestyle, military strategy, the media, and much more. An illuminating look at the art of science fiction (with a practitioner's insight into craft), as well as a work of pointed literary and cultural criticism, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of reveals how this "pulp genre" has captured the popular imagination while transforming the physical and social world in which we live.


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From one of science fiction's most acclaimed novelists comes this engrossing journey through the books, movies, and television programs that have shaped our perspective of both the present and the future. In an uncompromising, often irreverent survey of the genre from Edgar Allan Poe to Philip K. Dick to Star Trek, Thomas M. Disch analyzes science fiction's impact on techn From one of science fiction's most acclaimed novelists comes this engrossing journey through the books, movies, and television programs that have shaped our perspective of both the present and the future. In an uncompromising, often irreverent survey of the genre from Edgar Allan Poe to Philip K. Dick to Star Trek, Thomas M. Disch analyzes science fiction's impact on technological innovation, fashion, lifestyle, military strategy, the media, and much more. An illuminating look at the art of science fiction (with a practitioner's insight into craft), as well as a work of pointed literary and cultural criticism, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of reveals how this "pulp genre" has captured the popular imagination while transforming the physical and social world in which we live.

30 review for The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    I have so many problems with this stupid book that I think just listing them out is probably the best way to include most of them (and I'll still forget a few, I'm sure). I'll just add more as I think of them. So: 1. Thomas Disch, who was a lifelong author of science fiction and presumably reader of science fiction and, with this book, "historian" of science fiction, HATES science fiction, and people who write science fiction, and especially people who enjoy reading science fiction. 2. Disch opens I have so many problems with this stupid book that I think just listing them out is probably the best way to include most of them (and I'll still forget a few, I'm sure). I'll just add more as I think of them. So: 1. Thomas Disch, who was a lifelong author of science fiction and presumably reader of science fiction and, with this book, "historian" of science fiction, HATES science fiction, and people who write science fiction, and especially people who enjoy reading science fiction. 2. Disch opens with the truism that golden age of science fiction is 12 (specifically 12 year old boys. Not girls. Girls don't belong here, but more on that later. Also, only white boys.) This isn't in order to deconstruct or just laugh at that assertion, though - this is one of Disch's central points. 3. Chapter two deals with the origin of the genre (why not chapter one? I don't know. More on that later also). Many (some? most? I don't know. Aldiss and Luckhurst, at any rate) point to Frankenstein as the first modern science fiction novel. Not Disch. Why? Because even though most people are familiar with the story, not many have read it.* Also no one would have ever taken Mary Shelley seriously if it weren't for her wealthy parents and her husband, who was a superior writer. ... ... You heard me. So who does Disch select instead? Edgar Allen Poe, who is an obvious choice because I (and I'm sure all of you) have read all of his science fiction works, like "The Raven" and "The Telltale Heart" and his one novel, _The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket_. Wait, no, none of those are science fiction. Disch is referring, of course, to the very well-known and widely-read Poe story "Mesmeric Revelation." You've read "Mesmeric Revelation," haven't you? God knows it is not only more popular than _Frankenstein_, but also has infiltrated the popular consciousness more fully. There's also a weird reference to Poe's other immensely popular and widely known "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" (1839) and the contemporary event in... Hiroshima? (To be fair, because of his often muddled and confusing prose, he might have meant Hiroshima was contemporary to the 1990s, although...?) 4. "Mesmeric Revelation" brings us to Disch's other main point (and the chief focus of chapter one): Poe was into mesmerism, which was a hoax, and science fiction is therefore the genre most suited to lying (as in "Suvinian novum = a lie" which is just one of many bizarre logical leaps Disch subjects us to), and America is now a nation of liars. Now, you and I might think to point out that fiction is, by definition, not "true," but to be frank this chapter has little to do with science fiction in general other than setting the scene for the rest of this book's kind of rambling non-sequitur presentation, and allowing Disch to spend a lot of time complaining about scientology (which makes some sense) but also Heaven's Gate (which doesn't make a lot of sense) and Aum Shinrikyo (which makes no sense at all given the fact that this is, I think, the only time ANYTHING having to do with a country other than the US or England is mentioned in the whole stupid book). 5. Disch is also pretty sure that books are a dying medium, because at the time of his writing (the late 1990s) special-effects technology was finally (and cost-effectively) catching up with the human imagination, so who would prefer books anymore to films or TV? 6. Disch also takes a certain breed of SF author, starting with Robert Heinlein, to task for promoting libertarianism and acting as shills for the military-industrial complex. This was the only interesting point that Disch had to make. 7. Disch also takes feminist SF authors to task for... being women in a man's game, essentially? Someone else on goodreads writes that "The chapter on feminism would have been offensive if it wasn't so absurd as to be amusing," which is absolutely true - this section really has to be read to be believed. Disch's biggest target in this section is Ursula K. Le Guin, who no one reads for fun (??) and who put together a Norton anthology of science fiction but, because of her RADICAL FEMINIST AGENDA, unfairly stacked the table of contents for her "one-volume affirmative action campaign" so that 26 out of 67 authors were women, "remedying the genre's perceived historical neglect of women and other exemplary victims" (so, just to be clear, Disch thinks that 38% of a volume consisting of stories by women is TOO MANY WOMEN! THOSE RADICAL FEMINISTS!!). Oh also that slim number of stories by men? RADICAL FEMINIST Le Guin made sure to select "relatively feeble or ephemeral stories by older big-name male writers" in order to make the women look better. Disch also mentions on one page that UKL unfairly left out British authors (despite the fact that one of his central arguments is that SF is a definitively American concern) and also some American "fellow-travellers" of the New Wave such as himself. He then, with no apparent hint of shame, reveals a page later that Le Guin solicited one of his stories for the book but that he turned her down. Like, seriously, Disch seems to be honestly aggrieved that he was not included in the anthology but has decided that this was not because he TURNED THEM DOWN but because of an unfair bias against men who write well. This is some MRA bullshit. 8. The chapter on race is mostly about white men writing about the 3rd world, and then we learn that Octavia Butler's "intense conviction coupled with a total lack of humor" allows her to "invent compelling, if implausible, plots." Butler's moral, then (that "miscegenation is a good thing, albeit very unpleasant") is something that Disch thinks should be called out, but, "[a]s SF's only prominent black writer who has chosen to focus on racial concerns, Butler is not about to be challenged for being politically incorrect." This concludes Disch's summation of the life and work of Octavia Butler, which took all of a single paragraph. He then spends two pages talking about Heinlein's _Farnham's Freehold_, which is a novel in which a nuclear war somehow throws a white family forward through time into a future where the Earth is ruled by cannibalistic black folk (this, it bears mentioning, apparently strikes Disch as a much more plausible plot than anything Butler came up with). He does admit that this plot might be just a little bit racist, but he insists that "the enjoyment of witnessing a taboo artfully broken is contagious." This is some reverse-racism bullshit. Samuel Delany is the only other author of color mentioned, and Disch decides that he's more of an academic than an SF author (and Disch, surprise surprise, despises academics). 9. Speaking of Delany: "One of the genre's many teen prodigies, his first novel appeared in 1960, when he was twenty." [note: not only is 20 not a teenager as far as I am aware, but this novel came out in 1962, not 1960] Were he alive today I guess Disch would be a big proponent of Jon Stewart's stupid Rally to Restore Sanity or whatever it was called, given his insistence that feminists are as bad as sexists and that African Americans should just, you know, Calm Down about racism and so forth. He comes right out and says, in fact, that "ideology" or political positions have no place in science fiction, which he thinks should be reserved for dumb meaningless escapism - missing the fact, as all good centrist liberals do, that his outlook is just as much an ideology as any other. This is garbage. Perhaps I should get in the habit of automatically dumping books that use the phrase "politically correct" in earnest. * An unsubstantiated claim, just like most claims made here. This is what makes reading journalism/popular works of nonfiction kind of frustrating for me sometimes, and is particularly infuriating in this kind of personal-memoir-cum-historical-review-essay.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I am Stil in two minds over this book - there is no doubt that Mr Disch is both a talented and proficient author but I am struggling to figure out if that is tinged with something else. The book like many others of it style is a personal reflection of the genre and by that very fact the people who populate it from fans to progenitors. In the case of this author it feels like it it swings from awe and pride (how many authors has he met both living and now dead who could be considered SF royalty) I am Stil in two minds over this book - there is no doubt that Mr Disch is both a talented and proficient author but I am struggling to figure out if that is tinged with something else. The book like many others of it style is a personal reflection of the genre and by that very fact the people who populate it from fans to progenitors. In the case of this author it feels like it it swings from awe and pride (how many authors has he met both living and now dead who could be considered SF royalty) to almost condescending criticism and dismissal. I appreciate that Mr Disch considers himself among those ranks, however I wonder if this is a celebration or dissection. Yes there are dark corners to this genre and by its very nature it should try and shine a light in to those corners, I guess its how you approach them and what you do with what you find there. Now I guess I should balance out this review- there is a lot to learn from this book and at the end of the author has taken his thoughts and put them in to words something I doubt I could do myself, let alone have the strength to then stand by them. Also this highlights the very personal nature of what interests and appeals to an individual (after all the emphasis should be individual) and how one persons heaven could be another idea of hell. One thing that is not in doubt is the fact how influential Science Fiction has been and still is. Like all books that reflect on a genre, as soon as they are published they feel like they are dated. Nothing stands still after all. But the fact that someone has tried to capture what SF means in real terms is refusing (if a little uncomfortable to read at times) after all when I started reading SF it felt like an embarrassment or at the very least a tawdry impersonation. Now you realise that this is not the case and you are not alone.

  3. 4 out of 5

    J.

    What starts off promising to be a provocative and interesting history of science fiction's effect on modern life--a profound topic deserving a thorough treatment--devolves about halfway through into a personal and political bitchfest, and not a very entertaining one. Thomas M. Disch's work is marred by his copious barrels of sour grapes garnered over years as an also-ran, and his insistence as a political activist on conflating political agendas with personal and artistic integrity. More honest- What starts off promising to be a provocative and interesting history of science fiction's effect on modern life--a profound topic deserving a thorough treatment--devolves about halfway through into a personal and political bitchfest, and not a very entertaining one. Thomas M. Disch's work is marred by his copious barrels of sour grapes garnered over years as an also-ran, and his insistence as a political activist on conflating political agendas with personal and artistic integrity. More honest--and readable--critiques of the science fiction in-culture have been penned by people such as Brian Aldiss (who, though not lacking in anger, is far more eloquent and thoughtful in his critiques). Though worth a read, particularly in the earlier chapters, the depth of nihilism and bitterness that seeps out between the lines is both startling and highly unpleasant, an experience mirrored in the rest of Disch's work past this point in his career. His earlier fiction fared much better in terms of both artistic merit and quality of thought.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Nichols

    The late Thomas Disch left behind a respectable body of fiction, mostly in the genre of science fiction (e.g. THE GENOCIDES, CAMP CONCENTRATION), but his best book may be this 1998 study of the relationship between SF and American popular culture. DREAMS is not an academic book, and its narrative tends to ramble or veer into autobiography, but Disch's tight prose style and breadth of cultural knowledge keep the reader's attention and maintain the book's relevance. One may summarize Disch's overal The late Thomas Disch left behind a respectable body of fiction, mostly in the genre of science fiction (e.g. THE GENOCIDES, CAMP CONCENTRATION), but his best book may be this 1998 study of the relationship between SF and American popular culture. DREAMS is not an academic book, and its narrative tends to ramble or veer into autobiography, but Disch's tight prose style and breadth of cultural knowledge keep the reader's attention and maintain the book's relevance. One may summarize Disch's overall argument by repeating Orson Scott Card's observation that science fiction is a form of religious literature, though Disch develops this theme much more thoroughly and objectively. Like many religions, sci-fi attracted a cult-like following of socially underdeveloped true believers (fandom), a few actual cult leaders (L. Ron Hubbard and Shoko Asahara being the best examples), a few half-mad holy men like Philip K. Dick (whose religious fugues Disch describes in considerable detail), and a larger group of grifters, hucksters, and fabulists like Whitley Streiber, who delighted in “assisting...the deception of the self-deceived” (39). It is also, however, a visionary genre offering both personal transcendence and sublime terror to the initiated. SF writers and movie makers delight in over-the-top special effects, the use of space travel as a metaphor for heavenly ascent, and speculation about humans' spiritual evolution – either through descriptions of alien intelligence and psychic powers, or through the use of time travel and future history. Science fiction, Disch continues, interacted in productive ways with the anxieties and movements of the era in which it thrived (roughly, 1950 to 1990). The sci-fi monster movies of the 1950s used cathartic terror to help viewers deal with the dread of the nuclear age. The military sci-fi writers of the '60s and '70s, like Heinlein and Pournelle, offered their fans the chance to project the American “death wish” of the atomic era into a more expansive domain, and to indulge their paranoid fantasies about Big Government and ethnic Others. Star Trek, which acquired most of its fan base in the 1970s and '80s, offered its younger adherents a comfortingly bland, conformist future similar to the office jobs they one day expected to occupy – a spacefaring utopia they could more easily imagine themselves inhabiting than the dreary space program of the real world. Feminist sci-fi, to which Disch devotes a somewhat ill-tempered chapter, began with Ursula LeGuin's critique of earlier sci-fi's sexism but then morphed into a more inclusive form, as writers like Cherryh and Bujold converted women in SF novels from passive healer-helpers into explorers and warriors. Finally, the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s offered the disaffected dead-enders of Gen X a future whose compensations, namely computers, soft drugs, and goth clothing, were things they already enjoyed in the present. Disch's predictions for the future of SF seemed reasonable at the time they were written (1998), though most have not come to pass. Science fiction, at least of the spaceship-and-planet variety, has largely disappeared from TV and movie screens in the last ten years, replaced by superheroes, zombie apocalypses, and other reactionary genres. The interactive novel has failed to emerge as a replacement for the conventional novel, which consequently remains more or less alive; ebooks have killed off bookstores but not (yet) actual authors, publishers, and readers. And to everyone's surprise, dystopian science fiction has emerged as the au courant young adult fad, which suggests that Generation Y is still interested in the future but that its vision thereof is rather bleaker than mine. At least their fantasies no longer revolve around sparkling vampires.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Thomas Disch was an acclaimed Sci-Fi writer, but from the tone of the essays in this book it appears that he was a self-hating Sci-Fi writer. The book in general attempts to illustrate how science fiction has shaped/influenced modern (mostly American) culture. Some of his conclusions are: Sci-Fi is responsible for sociopathic klller/suicidal religious cults; Feminist Sci-Fi writers are Rushian feminazis; Heinlein was a bomb-loving racist; If you believe in UFOs, then obviously you must be a reader o Thomas Disch was an acclaimed Sci-Fi writer, but from the tone of the essays in this book it appears that he was a self-hating Sci-Fi writer. The book in general attempts to illustrate how science fiction has shaped/influenced modern (mostly American) culture. Some of his conclusions are: Sci-Fi is responsible for sociopathic klller/suicidal religious cults; Feminist Sci-Fi writers are Rushian feminazis; Heinlein was a bomb-loving racist; If you believe in UFOs, then obviously you must be a reader of Sci-Fi; The original Star Trek was pajama-wearing propaganda for office-working drone-ism; Ray Bradbury is a perpetual child-man like Pee-Wee Herman (??? The same man who wrote the Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man & Fahrenheit 451 is really a Pee-Wee Hermensch? I would say that Bradbury is like Spielberg, both of whom create stomach turning family-values, child-like innocent pablum at one point, then create frighteningly adult masterpieces). The fine points of the book are the sections on The New Wave & Cyberpunk. I expected more analysis of the literature of sc-fi, rather than its influence upon pop culture. That was my mistake coming to the book. Disch’s mistake was in writing it (is that too harsh?). Ok, perhaps his mistake was in twisting or padding the evidence to conform to his thesis. And his tone does feel hateful towards sci-fi, which offended me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Skimmed and it sat on the shelf until due (a couple of months). Not for me! Read a couple of the negative reviews before you take it on, such as https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... "I have so many problems with this stupid book that I think just listing them out is probably the best way to include most of them ... 1. Thomas Disch, who was a lifelong author of science fiction and presumably reader of science fiction and, with this book, "historian" of science fiction, HATES science fiction, an Skimmed and it sat on the shelf until due (a couple of months). Not for me! Read a couple of the negative reviews before you take it on, such as https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... "I have so many problems with this stupid book that I think just listing them out is probably the best way to include most of them ... 1. Thomas Disch, who was a lifelong author of science fiction and presumably reader of science fiction and, with this book, "historian" of science fiction, HATES science fiction, and people who write science fiction, and especially people who enjoy reading science fiction." etc, etc. Pretty entertaining diatribe.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John

    A nonfiction sci-fi polemic, this book was much fun to read. For someone like me, a sci-fi dilettante with no real understanding of the genre's history, the early chapters were an interesting discussion of the 19th century roots of science fantasy. Disch is wonderfully opinionated and this book sometimes reads like an erudite editorial. And, as with most editorials, I didn’t always agree with his conclusions, though I kept lapping it up page after page.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

    This is a Karen 3 star book not a Jasmine three star book. I mean I didn't dislike it as much as books that I usually give three stars. Today three stars is good. It is a good fun book. It is written by the guy who wrote the brave little toaster, yeah I know who knew the brave little toaster was actually a book. Why didn't I just read that you ask? it appears to be heavily out of print and difficult to find. However I found it on demonoid and will read it eventually. I am very excited about the This is a Karen 3 star book not a Jasmine three star book. I mean I didn't dislike it as much as books that I usually give three stars. Today three stars is good. It is a good fun book. It is written by the guy who wrote the brave little toaster, yeah I know who knew the brave little toaster was actually a book. Why didn't I just read that you ask? it appears to be heavily out of print and difficult to find. However I found it on demonoid and will read it eventually. I am very excited about the prospect. This book is about low culture scifi. The Disch lists his favorite authors and specifically says that he won't be talking about them because they are not the type of authors with mainstream pull (John Crowley is in this list). Scifi according to Disch is written by perpetual twelve year olds, this is constantly directed at ray bradbury among others. Authors who age become old news. He also talks about the necessary productivity of scifi authors. A book a year is the rule. There is an inherent culture in scifi that separates it from the more literary aka John Crowley and Atwood. although some literary gentlemen are very important to scifi for him mainly ballard and burroughs (william not agusten). This book is about how scifi comments on and shapes the directions of technology. He says that the moon figured majorly in scifi novels until there was space travel. When the moon could no longer be imagined we had to move further out eventually into warp speed. This eventually leading to cyberpunk. The discussion of cyberpunk seems well done to me but since I don't know cyberpunk I can't be positive. another interesting aspect of this book is it's age. historically Scifi was much bigger than it is now. Now people have fallen heavily into fantasy and vampires. When I was growing up I was obsessed with ray bradbury but now if I recommend him to a young girl people look at me like I have two heads. This book was written in the era when scifi was super popular by a writer who made his living writing it. It is a very inside history which I think sometimes makes the book a little boring or difficult for people like me who aren't there to grasp. There is an interesting premise that scifi is a truly american genre based on american's belief in the right to lie. I can't do this argument justice but I think he is probably mostly right regardless of the fact I prefer british scifi. He also has a long argument about the fact the Poe is the father of scifi not a few other people who at the moment I can't remember who are. basically an interesting collection of thoughts by an author who is probably trying harder to understand his own place than to convince us of it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katalili

    This is a great review of SF and it's impact on pop culture. It's razor sharp, some of it's views will probably leave you with a sour taste, Disch is very rigid in his reviews of some prominent authors in the field. Still, any reader with a dose of criticism will enjoy this take on SF. His dissection of "feminist" and "military" SF will be insightful to anyone willing to probe the genre with a clear mind. I must say I was startled at first with some of his views(like the one that the majority of This is a great review of SF and it's impact on pop culture. It's razor sharp, some of it's views will probably leave you with a sour taste, Disch is very rigid in his reviews of some prominent authors in the field. Still, any reader with a dose of criticism will enjoy this take on SF. His dissection of "feminist" and "military" SF will be insightful to anyone willing to probe the genre with a clear mind. I must say I was startled at first with some of his views(like the one that the majority of SF is trash) but at the end I must agree with him. He still regards the "great" authors as valuable (Heinlein, Dick, Asimov, Clark) but not without flaws. Surely he does not view an author's opus as infallible, e.g. you can't compare the early works of Clarke with some of his last exploits ("The last theorem" was rehashed old ideas, and lacking any "edgy" ideas). Anyway, I think this book will help any SF lover searching for a critical view of the field, opposed to some other reviews that praise the genre lacking any criticism and cool headed approach. He does have a point when he talks about the SF fandom resembling a sort of introspective group that sees itself as "above" the average reader. As does any group that loves to differentiate itself from it's surroundings, creating a false feel of "uniqueness".

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alix J

    Sloppy and offensive at every turn. Skimming for case studies, and looking forward to the end. Disch presents himself as so unlikable I'm feeling skeeved about how many times I watched The Brave Little Toaster as a kid.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Greggs

    The subtitle of the book should be Lies and Liars that We Like. Marvelous performance by Disch.

  12. 5 out of 5

    JA

    I picked this up in a discount book store several years ago, but it didn't hold my interest so it got set aside. Still, it seemed like such a good concept that I wanted to give it another try (even knowing that such things don't necessarily age well, and a book about science fiction and culture published in 1998 is bound to seem a bit dated more than a decade later). So, I finally picked it up again several months ago, and have been reading it very, very slowly, in between and amongst other thin I picked this up in a discount book store several years ago, but it didn't hold my interest so it got set aside. Still, it seemed like such a good concept that I wanted to give it another try (even knowing that such things don't necessarily age well, and a book about science fiction and culture published in 1998 is bound to seem a bit dated more than a decade later). So, I finally picked it up again several months ago, and have been reading it very, very slowly, in between and amongst other things. Overall, it is not impressive. The word rambling might sum it up. Quite often, the logic of the connections that Disch tried to make completely eluded me. Often the best parts are his gossipy asides about the many science fiction writers that he has known personally. The chapter on feminism would have been offensive if it wasn't so absurd as to be amusing. He seems to have a very personal animus (and indeed paranoia) directed at Ursula LeGuin. He starts off with a flat statement that "no one reads her books for fun". *pause to let that sink in* He then goes on at length about an anthology that she edited -- very important, according to him, although I'd never heard of it -- and insists that she deliberately picked inferior (and short) works by male authors in order to make the selections by female authors look better. Now that's dedication to a cause! Similarly, I was rather entertained while also appalled at his (apparently quite serious) conflation of fandom with cult religion. And so on. Overall, I'm not sorry I finally ploughed my way through it, but I can't say I recommend it. Perhaps someone else will (or has already) taken a similar concept and done it somewhat better...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Olav

    My copy of The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of is dog-eared and well-loved, having been loaned out to literally dozens of SF fans. It's a book that offers richness after multiple readings. Thomas M. Disch writes a history of Science Fiction from the perspective of someone who knew all the key players amongst writers and fans for most of the 20th Century. It's written with evident affection for the genre, but he does not shy away from legitimate criticism. As one of the few openly gay SF authors writ My copy of The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of is dog-eared and well-loved, having been loaned out to literally dozens of SF fans. It's a book that offers richness after multiple readings. Thomas M. Disch writes a history of Science Fiction from the perspective of someone who knew all the key players amongst writers and fans for most of the 20th Century. It's written with evident affection for the genre, but he does not shy away from legitimate criticism. As one of the few openly gay SF authors writing in the 1960s, Disch faced significant prejudice from within the community, and his experiences inform the work. By the time Disch wrote this, he had moved away from most narrative work, and was focusing on poetry. His use of language is rich and vibrant, thoughtful and nuanced. Some of his analysis of the genre helped me rediscover old classics in new ways, and helped me appreciate how the works of one author might be responses to the works of others. This is not a definitive history of the genre or of fandom, but is a deeply personal work. Disch is upfront about his biases, but also makes a persuasive case for his interpretations. I recommend this book highly to any fan of Science Fiction. I was already a World Con attending, serious fan when I first read it, but it still helped me appreciate the genre more fully.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Invadozer Misothorax Circular-thallus Popewaffensquat

    THE STUFF OUR DREAMS ARE MADE OF/an overview of how science fiction changed the world. Includes Newt Gingrich and Reagan saying outrageous predictions on how to use the US taxes to become overlords of the universe. Hypes, rightly, Haldeman's FOREVER WAR book. Says STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was required reading for the Manson kids, and has the chapter that includes a 4 way which was edited from the book. I skimmed over the Wells and Poe section to hit the religious section which was good pay dirt. There' THE STUFF OUR DREAMS ARE MADE OF/an overview of how science fiction changed the world. Includes Newt Gingrich and Reagan saying outrageous predictions on how to use the US taxes to become overlords of the universe. Hypes, rightly, Haldeman's FOREVER WAR book. Says STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was required reading for the Manson kids, and has the chapter that includes a 4 way which was edited from the book. I skimmed over the Wells and Poe section to hit the religious section which was good pay dirt. There's a lot on PK Dick and Hale Boppers, but the Unarian religion of El Cajon CA is left out entirely. They have the most fantastic promo videos for their space religion where 'we are all brothers' under the universe and have lived many glitter robe covered lives on many planets. The Ted Sturgeon 3 way and nudist thing is mentioned in about one sentence with no juicy bits. This is an overview of well written officially from a guy who knows almost all the players. PS:You can blame John Campbell for hyping Dianetics with buddy Hubbard so hard in his magazine to have the awful ball start rolling on the Scientology gravy train...the jerk.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eli Bishop

    This is a rambling book about the history of science fiction and, especially, how it's affected life in America, by a very good SF writer and poet and critic. It's kind of a bleak picture; Disch didn't see much promise in the current state of SF, and he thought the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Heaven's Gate suicides were inevitable results of the American style of fantasy. But what he loved, he told about well, especially when talking about the '60s and '70s since he was there. Whether o This is a rambling book about the history of science fiction and, especially, how it's affected life in America, by a very good SF writer and poet and critic. It's kind of a bleak picture; Disch didn't see much promise in the current state of SF, and he thought the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Heaven's Gate suicides were inevitable results of the American style of fantasy. But what he loved, he told about well, especially when talking about the '60s and '70s since he was there. Whether or not you agree with his readings of particular authors (skeptical admiration for Philip Dick; impatience with the politics of Delany and Le Guin; less about Theodore Sturgeon's books than about his sex life), it's heady reading, especially when he gets mad. (In particular, the chapters about right-wing SF, from Robert Heinlein to Jerry Pournelle to Newt Gingrich, for all their calm detail, read as if Disch had to keep stopping to laugh hysterically and throw things at the wall.)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ian Banks

    Mr Disch comes across in this book as a sneering elitist. What he is, though, is just a snob. A contradictory snob at times, but a snob nonetheless. What he dislikes is work that takes an easy way, or one that has a particular barrow to push. He’s a slightly more articulate - and readable - version of Holden Caulfield, but here we get a glimpse at what Disch does enjoy, as well as glimpses into the contradictory self-awareness that arires from it. He has a wide knowledge of the field and the pers Mr Disch comes across in this book as a sneering elitist. What he is, though, is just a snob. A contradictory snob at times, but a snob nonetheless. What he dislikes is work that takes an easy way, or one that has a particular barrow to push. He’s a slightly more articulate - and readable - version of Holden Caulfield, but here we get a glimpse at what Disch does enjoy, as well as glimpses into the contradictory self-awareness that arires from it. He has a wide knowledge of the field and the personalities that inhabit it and while he is harsh on authors that he sees as being of less worth than others (many of whom are, if I can be permitted a snide aside, younger and more successful than him) he does place his razor-like gaze (if I may be permitted a mixed metaphor) on the giants of the field whom he accuses of being successful on the coattails of an agenda. His piece about Ursula le Guin has angered many, but his annoyance seems to come largely from the fact that she was pushing a political vision in much the same way that others like Heinlein or John Norman were. Disch has no truck with agendas, it would seem. And, given his written work in this book about L. Ron Hubbard and his contributions to SF literature, it would seem that he can hardly be blamed. While it does seem churlish to blame professional storytellers for being economical with the truth, the examples he chooses are almost entirely ones that do not present a vision of our beloved literature that is entirely honest and truthful or accurate. And I admire him for that: not many people can marry their idealism to as bitchy a tone as Disch, but he manages it and provides an interesting read along the way.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maik Krüger

    The shrill, hysterical reviews are almost as entertaining as the book itself. Unlike the reviewers, Disch presents well a thought out, cynical, provocative and personal analysis of the science fiction genre and its connection to society and the politics of its time - much of what he lived through and partook himself. This is not so much about technology, but rather the fascinating aspect of human nature that wants to believe in their childhood dreams so much ("a nation of liars") that we will ma The shrill, hysterical reviews are almost as entertaining as the book itself. Unlike the reviewers, Disch presents well a thought out, cynical, provocative and personal analysis of the science fiction genre and its connection to society and the politics of its time - much of what he lived through and partook himself. This is not so much about technology, but rather the fascinating aspect of human nature that wants to believe in their childhood dreams so much ("a nation of liars") that we will make them real sometimes. SF authors have been writing about rocket ships, robots and distant worlds for decades, and while the space adventure subgenre has slumped a bit after the moon landing, we're still following those "predictions" the best we can. Disch takes a poignant look at the ideology and politics the authors mirrored or injected over the times, such as the angst of a nuclear holocaust, utopian ideas like Star Trek as a Lifestyle, feminism, racism and aliens, religion (hello scientology), military (aka Republicans in Space -- Reagan did actually have a Star Wars program trying to build an orbital missile defense system) and pretty much every other aspect of human society. The final chapter contains his own outlook into the 2000s (the book was published 1998) and is quite insightful.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Viktor

    One of the great titles for a book ever. Subtitle, notsomuch. Like his "On SF", Disch here unloads his dissatisfaction with SF. However, this book is a less full of anger than it is of sorrow. It seems that we all disappoint Disch with are likes and dislikes. If you want to be offended, Disch will offend you. Every chapter will have much to annoy the reader -- one can easily and cheaply pull offensive quotes from every page -- but that's not the point. Let Disch play it out. You may still disagree One of the great titles for a book ever. Subtitle, notsomuch. Like his "On SF", Disch here unloads his dissatisfaction with SF. However, this book is a less full of anger than it is of sorrow. It seems that we all disappoint Disch with are likes and dislikes. If you want to be offended, Disch will offend you. Every chapter will have much to annoy the reader -- one can easily and cheaply pull offensive quotes from every page -- but that's not the point. Let Disch play it out. You may still disagree, but Disch was a very smart guy and he may surprise you like he did me. No, Poe isn't the source, but I can see what he's saying. No, Oliver North did not give American a "license to lie", but I get his point.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erin Becker

    I was excited by the introduction, but then the first chapter turned into an incoherent ramble about how American society idolizes lying (with a bunch of honestly bizarre examples of faked accounts of rape and childhood abuse alongside UFO abductions, Watergate and Vietnam??). The second chapter was similarly incoherent, if at least marginally more on topic. The third chapter about humanities obsession with space travel was actually quite good. But I skipped ahead and read the chapters on women I was excited by the introduction, but then the first chapter turned into an incoherent ramble about how American society idolizes lying (with a bunch of honestly bizarre examples of faked accounts of rape and childhood abuse alongside UFO abductions, Watergate and Vietnam??). The second chapter was similarly incoherent, if at least marginally more on topic. The third chapter about humanities obsession with space travel was actually quite good. But I skipped ahead and read the chapters on women sci-fi writers and immigration/race and sci-fi and, oof-da, this guy has some heavy duty axes to grind. I won't be finishing this book or anything else of his. Total ugh.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Unfortunately, this book wasn't what I was expecting. I thought it would be more about the ways science fiction influenced the world (science discoveries or breakthroughs, new inventions, etc.), but it ... isn't? Sometimes I think he's about to make a point along those lines (he mentions science fiction space travel, sooo... NASA? Nope, not really), but then he veers away. It was a decent book, but there are too many books on my to-read list to take the time reading a book that's only decent. Mov Unfortunately, this book wasn't what I was expecting. I thought it would be more about the ways science fiction influenced the world (science discoveries or breakthroughs, new inventions, etc.), but it ... isn't? Sometimes I think he's about to make a point along those lines (he mentions science fiction space travel, sooo... NASA? Nope, not really), but then he veers away. It was a decent book, but there are too many books on my to-read list to take the time reading a book that's only decent. Moving on.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nader Elhefnawy

    Like most of what one finds when they go looking for a history of science fiction, especially when it's by a maker of that history (as a New Wave big name), Disch's Dreams Our Stuff is Made of is very much a collection of his personal views and observations on the subject, rather than a piece of historiography such as the title seems to promise. And I have to admit that there is a lot here that I don't altogether agree with. Still, the book never fails to be interesting, and has at least its fai Like most of what one finds when they go looking for a history of science fiction, especially when it's by a maker of that history (as a New Wave big name), Disch's Dreams Our Stuff is Made of is very much a collection of his personal views and observations on the subject, rather than a piece of historiography such as the title seems to promise. And I have to admit that there is a lot here that I don't altogether agree with. Still, the book never fails to be interesting, and has at least its fair share of insights.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Kunzelman

    This book is equal parts searing, scalpel-like analysis and strange reactionary political statements from someone who seems to think anyone left of center has gone too far. Many chapters devolve into specific (obviously personal) fights, and that's instructive in its own way. A great book about Disch. Not a great book about SF more broadly.

  23. 4 out of 5

    SSShafiq

    I had to give up on this. DNF at 20% so I won’t be rating this. I couldn’t get into this as the tone was belligerent and dismissive in places so I could not get more than a couple of paras in at a time without having to put this down and de-stress. The central premise of how sci-do reader and writers were basically the same as charlatans was too far fetched for me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rj

    Disch's book is a look at American SF writing based on themes he sees used in SF books. It really is an interesting read that at times is more polemical than informative. Nonetheless he offers some fascinating insights into the greater world of SF writing and publishing.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    I anticipated a history of science fiction', of it's effect on modern life. What I got was hateful ranting about things political and personal, and not any I cared to read; not entertaining. The author seems quite bitter, it seems to seep out of every page. Recommend giving this one a pass.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jenel

    Disch - sarcastic , judgemental, unpleasant, uninspiring, uninformative.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    Kind of disappointing. Maybe it's the nature of essays. It seemed heavy on the opinions and light on the facts. I'd have preferred more objective analysis. Some of the chapters didn't seem strongly connected to Science Fiction. The chapter about America being a culture of lying for example. Hoaxes and con artists are a big part of American culture. Examples of this connected with SF are UFO hoaxes and various psychological/psychic cons, like Scientology. But, the connection seems loose to me. Als Kind of disappointing. Maybe it's the nature of essays. It seemed heavy on the opinions and light on the facts. I'd have preferred more objective analysis. Some of the chapters didn't seem strongly connected to Science Fiction. The chapter about America being a culture of lying for example. Hoaxes and con artists are a big part of American culture. Examples of this connected with SF are UFO hoaxes and various psychological/psychic cons, like Scientology. But, the connection seems loose to me. Also, there was a chapter about Poe being SF's primary ancestor. His argument seemed kind of weak, to me. Most of what Poe is known for wouldn't be called SF. He didn't really talk much about later SF authors being influenced by Poe. He attacked the claim that Frankenstein wasn't SF's primary ancestor. And, I tend to agree with him there, but he missed something. He said that because the Frankenstein in the public consciousness isn't Shelley's. But, Shelley is certainly the ORIGIN of the Frankenstein story, even if the generally known one has changed. So, it's still the ancestor of the story. And, later in the book, he talks about much SF being either a technological savior or destroyer story. Shelley certainly influenced a lot of authors who wrote a Frankenstein(destroyer) type-story. I was kind of disappointed about the SF as a religion chapter. Too much of it was about Scientology. I know about Scientology, so I didn't really learn anything from that stuff. The discussion about other religions, like Heaven's Gate, Manson's Family, and the Japanese death cult that released the sarin gas in the subway. I found it particularly interesting that Manson required all his followers to read Stranger in a Strange Land. He talked about trends in publishing that were kind of depressing. Like, a VERY large(and increasing) percentage of the SF published is part of some franchise(like Star Trek). Considering the depth of most of the franchise books, that is sad. Also, it's the same case for series books. While I like to read a series, too. I also like standalone books. If I REALLY like an author, I want to see what NEW things he can show me. And, you can't see as many new things in the same world. However, series books can be good for more complicated plots or expanding on other ideas, so I'm not as upset about this as about the franchise books. I guess I can see the trend on the bookshelves at the bookstore. I suspect those books come and go quickly, because it sounds like the percentage of sf books that are franchise is higher than the percentage I see in stores. Which would seem to indicate a lot of people like them, but consider them somewhat generic. That has been my impression from hearing authors talk about writing in those universes. It seems like the publisher maps out a plot for lots of books and inserts subgenre authors(like military SF). It seems like the authors are considered generic by the publisher. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of creativity in that kind of process. I'm reading another book about SF. I thought I should at this point of comparison. While I considered this to be an academic book, its academic in the same kind of way your pot smoking professor is. Disch makes intelligent literature references, but he also makes jokes about sex and drugs.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Benedict-Nelson

    Really 3.5 stars. I don't know if I've ever read a critical work on science fiction before, so that in itself is refreshing. At first I thought Disch would just be another fanboy set out to prove that SF is Important with a capital I. Instead, he merely takes it seriously, treating it as a real literary genre while also acknowledging its limitations (for example, he explores the real implications of the old joke about the golden age of science fiction being 15). I was impressed by his efforts to Really 3.5 stars. I don't know if I've ever read a critical work on science fiction before, so that in itself is refreshing. At first I thought Disch would just be another fanboy set out to prove that SF is Important with a capital I. Instead, he merely takes it seriously, treating it as a real literary genre while also acknowledging its limitations (for example, he explores the real implications of the old joke about the golden age of science fiction being 15). I was impressed by his efforts to find a literary pedigree for SF that doesn't over-reach; he comes to the conclusion that the true ancestor of the genre is Edgar Allan Poe, which makes one think about the genre in a different way. He also does a good job of parsing the political meanings in various SF books and films without reducing them to allegories. But a few chapters seemed dated (the book is a little over 10 years old now) or disappointing. I was left cold by his analysis of "SF as religion" because it seemed entirely negative -- to me, it seems as if the wonder evoked by SF has to be a part of any plausible religion. That lack of wonder would in fact be my main beef with Disch. Though I know it is a feeling he must surely share -- he's the guy who wrote The Brave Little Toaster, after all -- it doesn't seem like an analytical lens he employed in this volume. Therefore, certain writers who to me seem essential, like Ray Bradbury, are discussed as having achieved their successes through a perpetual adolescence. There is some truth to this, but simply because much of Bradbury's work forces us to adopt a childlike perspective doesn't mean he doesn't have anything interesting to say. Overall, this is a book I enjoyed and learned a lot from, but I'm not sure it helped me better understand what I like about SF and what I don't.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Oh, this book. It's quite an, ah, assortment of things. Overall, I think Disch proves his thesis about SF and how it has become woven inextricably with our day-to-day lives. It is a bit outdated here and there--published in 1993, and Disch has since passed away--but that perspective is sometimes unintentionally funny. Did you know Newt Gingrich wrote SF? I'm pretty sure no one mentioned that earlier this year. I think that the major problems of this work (and they are major, for one is an entire Oh, this book. It's quite an, ah, assortment of things. Overall, I think Disch proves his thesis about SF and how it has become woven inextricably with our day-to-day lives. It is a bit outdated here and there--published in 1993, and Disch has since passed away--but that perspective is sometimes unintentionally funny. Did you know Newt Gingrich wrote SF? I'm pretty sure no one mentioned that earlier this year. I think that the major problems of this work (and they are major, for one is an entire chapter) is that Disch wrote about what he knew. Not necessarily a bad thing, as his work with Poe and Heinlein is excellent, but it also means his chapter on feminism and SF is pretty awful. I don't mean interpretive-wise, I mean downright factually wrong. In fact, the entire chapter reads like a misinformed attack on Ursula K. Le Guin. The most absurd of which is Disch claiming that Le Guin used the Norton Book of SF as a feminist conspiracy, trying to knock down the male bigwigs of the genre by purposefully choosing "feeble" stories of theirs and putting in "too many" women writers. Considering that women make up 39% of the anthology and that Le Guin didn't really make any claims to feminism in the same way as Joanna Russ did (see Amy Clarke's Ursula K. Le Guin's Journey to Postfeminism), such a claim seems quite silly. So, skip that chapter entirely. The information on Mary Shelley also veers into dangerous territory with claims about how Shelley cannot be the ancestor of SF, because no one reads her work for pleasure (save for academics) anymore. I'd counter that claim with pointing out that very few people read Chaucer for pleasure, but there is no dispute that he is one of the Big Three of English literature. Basically, when Disch is good, he's great, but when he's bad, good grief, it's awful.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    This book is a virtual history of science fiction, organized in sections by how SF and popular culture influenced each other. I love science fiction, and there are many SF novels among my favorite books. Re-reading some of the books I loved, though, often results in disappointment: sometimes I find that a novel that I remember being a thoughtful exploration of possible futures actually seems to have been meant to serve as a justification for xenophobia, a call to militarization, a blueprint for a This book is a virtual history of science fiction, organized in sections by how SF and popular culture influenced each other. I love science fiction, and there are many SF novels among my favorite books. Re-reading some of the books I loved, though, often results in disappointment: sometimes I find that a novel that I remember being a thoughtful exploration of possible futures actually seems to have been meant to serve as a justification for xenophobia, a call to militarization, a blueprint for a religion, or can't imagine a future that doesn't have the exact same racism and sexism that existed in the author's time. This book explores those issues, and describes how they've been a part of SF since its beginning. It's honestly sort of depressing to see how SF, like any human endeavor, carries along lots of baggage. As a consumer, part of your job is to examine books, movies, TV shows, and anything else, with a critical eye: don't just accept the story at face value, but dig deeper and see what subthemes the author is including. This book is well worth reading for anyone interested in SF, though is does have a few small weaknesses. While I was reading it, I had the feeling that it was somewhat covering the topics at a shallow level -- no big surprise, since on some level the subject matter is all of science fiction from its beginning until now.

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