(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

334 is a complex, tightly crafted work. The individual stories cohere thematically and dramatically as a novel. Characters, events, and places recur from story to story and propel the plot.

The complex formal structure of “334” and the other stories never becomes a detached aesthetic game for two reasons. First, the diagrammatic structure has thematic relevance, demonstrating how the MODICUM apartment building shapes the characters’ lives and how human lives are complexly interconnected. Second, Thomas M. Disch deeply empathizes with the losers in the brave new world of MODICUM and makes the reader feel their plights, hopes, and depressions.

It seems as though 334 is a grim depiction of life in a depressing world. The book begins with the deaths of Socrates and Birdie and ends with Mrs. Hanson applying for death. In Disch’s early novels, such as his first, The Genocides (1965), the universe is hostile to human life. In 334, human society itself is inimical to human life. As in most of Disch’s science fiction, people are powerless to improve the horrible situations in which they find themselves, but again in many of his other novels, especially On Wings of Song (1979), there are light places within the dark, usually because of artistic creation. The best moments in 334 occur when, despite their deadening society, characters have epiphanic, creative bursts. Although such moments are...

(The entire section is 487 words.)