An interesting book. Going in, I'd though I'd chosen another history book - like I'd wanted - only to find I was once again reading a series of essays connecting the real world to the worlds of SF. However, Disch's book is much more coherent than Hartwell's. Half the time I wasn't sure where Hartwell was going in his ramblings, though I was sure there had to be a point in there somewhere. Though occasionally it felt a little like Disch strayed a bit from time to time, I have to say, the man had some seamless transitions. He does stay on topic in relation to his chapter title, and that's really what counts.
Though I still want a history of SF, mostly to give me more structure in terms of SF's development through its authors and over time, this did offer some semblance of order given though the topics and time frames Disch decided to discuss. My favorite chapter had to be "How Science Fiction Defused the Bomb" in regards to the atomic bomb panic and radioactive possibilities. It's just that it's still a relative topic today, which is ironic because when Disch wrote the book, the scare had already died down and everyone learned to live with the bomb. We still live with it, but it's become a fear yet again and it's still bringing up monster movies (at least, atomic testing is one of the many theories beind the Cloverfield monster).
Throughout the book, I kept wondering what Disch would have to say if he'd written this today or even a year or two ago. Even though I consider 1998 to still be semi-recent (nevermind that it's already a decade ago), the book felt dated. I guess technically it is, another reason it would have been neat to see DIsch's thoughts on the now. Especially since NASA is still in full swing, SF/F movies have taken a firmer foothold in Hollywood than ever (and most of them directly from books), Star Trek is still loved, so much so that a new movie is coming out in 2009, computer graphics have become more fantastic than ever (often to my annoyance, in fact), and so forth.
The chapters were easy to get sucked into, the connections Disch made between SF and other areas of life/the world from religion to politics to wigged-out people committing suicide in the name of God-knows-what, all rather solid with great examples. Disch lived through most if it, I'm sure, and whatever he didn't deal with directly, he did his homework, something I admire because I'm certainly not as willing or likely to do so.
I'm not too sure I agree with him on Poe as the head of the SF bonanza, but he has a commendable argument. I can see his points and on several occasions, pulled out my fat, leatherbound everything-Poe book and read some of the pieces Disch referenced. I admit, I haven't yet had the chance to read all of Poe's work, so Disch has a one-up on me there, I'm sure. Maybe as I continue reading, I'll start to agree more. Still, I think there were too many before Poe that could collectively take the slot of parent(s) of SF, but again, I'm fuzzy on all my dates, so more research on my part would be needed. Now I just need a list of authors and to get motivated...
As a whole, a very good read and insightful, especially concerning the past. The present and future are easier for me to spot and connect (obviously) so seeing past events coupled with SF influence through a writer like Disch was enjoyable and a better read than Hartwell by far.
Currently: Dreaming of floating away and sleeping