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Thomas M. Disch "The Squirrel Cage"


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Thomas M. Disch is one of the more eclectic American sf writers of the 60s; he could almost be considered a member of the elite part of British "New Wave" school that was very entertaining and not "quite" incomprehensible (perhaps closest to J. G. Ballard in his voice). His stories always surprise with their subject matter, and he writes very tastefully no matter what the storyline is. Did I mention that he is also a poet? This explains his perfectionist approach to style - in other words, his short fiction is very polished and highly recommended.






Thomas M. Disch
"The Squirrel Cage"
© New Worlds, Oct 1966
Under Compulsion, 1968
--foreign short story : 1970 Seiun W
--/ fourth place f story
--/ idea award
--/ style award


That story is so full of neat technical tricks and swell ideas that it feels more like a Japanese crazed robotics-produced steampunk-enhanced Victorian Faberge egg. OK, so maybe it's a bit less colorful, but once you read it, you'll see why it's just as memorable as these utterly unique Faberge creations. If you ever felt like you were in the proverbial "squirrel cage" of life, caught in a daily grind, this story will deeply affect your heart. You will become a better man, liberated, freshly-ground with an exhilarating smell, just like the Maxwell House coffee. You will have that extra spring in your step and a satisfied grin: "Oh my, that was quite a story I just read... almost as good as (fill the blank with whatever your kick is)". So, this is what the story is about: the writer sits at the keyboard and types away words... that he himself does not understand, unable to read, and not even sure if the machine registers what he types. His body is a slave to "tyranny of routine". His mind though is liberated in a very special, hilarious way, as he invents a zoo of characters specifically designed to combat futility. Who is this master which keeps the free-wheeling spirit in a squirrel cage? Could it be the same impersonal arrangement that Disch described in "Descending" (another awesomely morbid atmospheric piece), where a hero is caught in a succession of endless escalators - treadmill that extends so far that becomes the world itself? Only a poet could envision fiction like this.

But let one other fantasy critic speak. Connor Cochran (of Peter S. Beagle's Fund) thought that "this little story is... phenomenal stuff. Kafka, Beckett, or Duchamp — all of whom "The Squirrel Cage" owes a debt... Serious existential brain-bending. So I was all charged up for something modern, bright, and shiny, something that would put chrome on my eyeballs and neon in my hair." Yeah, and for me it just neatly took me out of the "squirrel cage", if only for a couple of days.
review: 01-Sep-07 (read in 1999)

(art copyright: Vladimir Kush)

READ OTHER REVIEWS FOR THIS WRITER

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COMMENTS:

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correction!

You write: But let one other fantasy giant speak: Peter S. Beagle thought that "this little story is... phenomenal stuff. Kafka, Beckett, or Duchamp — all of whom "The Squirrel Cage" owes a debt... Serious existential brain-bending. So I was all charged up for something modern, bright, and shiny, something that would put chrome on my eyeballs and neon in my hair."

I'm afraid that wasn't Peter S. Beagle speaking. That's me. It's a quote from a piece I wrote *about* Peter, and describing how I first encountered his work in an anthology immediately following the (wonderful) Tom Disch story "The Squirrel Cage."

-- Connor Cochran

1:54 AM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Connor! I adjusted the text, plus linked to your site. Peter S. Beagle is one of my favorite fantasy writers.

6:49 PM  

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