Saturday, August 02, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: 334 by Thomas M. Disch

334Continuing our tribute to the late Thomas M. Disch, the Book of the Week is 334, probably Disch's most influential science fiction novel. This is the 1974 first paperback printing and first American edition of 334 (previously published in hardcover in England in 1972).

334 is set in a future New York City, where the welfare state has successfully (sort of) addressed most material needs, but has utterly failed to provide its citizens a fulfilling lifestyle. The story is told through several interrelated novellas. The title refers to the address of the housing project where the primary characters live, as well as to structural aspects of the book. In addition, the title hearkens back to the year 334, which one character visits in a drug-enhanced role-playing game (even though 334 appeared two years before Dungeons & Dragons, which popularized role-playing games), suggesting a parallel between modern America and ancient Rome's period of decline. 334 was a Nebula nominee for best novel, losing to Ursula LeGuin's classic The Dispossessed.

As an aside, beware the 1999 reprint edition of 334 released by Vintage Books. Some dunderhead editors at Vintage ruined many of Disch's ironic uses of language; for instance, in Disch's future America Marines wear black masks and are called "gorillas," which Vintage changed to "guerillas," eliminating the intended pun.

Next week, we will complete our Disch tribute with a hard-to-find gothic novel published under a pseudonym but written in collaboration between Disch and another of my favorite authors.

1 comment:

Rillunan said...

Oh, my. Now that's what I call a blonde bimbo cover!