Sunday, July 13, 2008

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

Camp ConcentrationThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch. We are putting aside Regency Books for a couple weeks to pay tribute to Mr. Disch, who last week took his own life at the age of 68. Disch had three new books coming out this year, but was apparently nevertheless despondent over his failing health, the death of his partner of thirty years, poet Charles Naylor, and a series of financial and housing difficulties.

Thomas Disch was one of the leading voices of the New Wave of science fiction, which in the 1960's and 70's helped to lift SF out of its pulp roots with more mature themes and styles. I believe Disch will ultimately be best remembered for his New Wave SF, although his most commercially successful works were a set of horror novels (The Businessman, The M.D., The Priest, and The Sub). He also wrote historical fiction, gothics, at least one mystery novel, quite a lot of poetry, literary and theater criticism, and even some children's books, notably The Brave Little Toaster, adapted by Disney into the animated film. (Disch is also sometimes credited with the original concept for Disney's The Lion King. I cannot confirm this, nor am I sure it would be much of a distinction if true, since The Lion King was an uncredited but blatant rip-off of Osamu Tezuka's Japanese series Kimba the White Lion.)

Camp Concentration, first published in 1968, is my favorite Disch novel. It is a satire told in the form of the journal of a prisoner unwillingly made part of a government experiment to augment human intelligence, at the expense of a shorter life span. The experiment works rather better and worse than intended. Camp Concentration is widely regarded as one of Disch's three most influential novels, along with 334 and On Wings of Song, all three of which made David Pringle's widely-cited list of the 100 best SF novels of all time. Disch also wrote a great deal of short fiction, including the stories collected in next week's BOTW.

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