The M.D.

ISBN: 039458662X
ISBN 13: 9780394586625
By: Thomas M. Disch

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About this book

Exploring questions of guilt and responsibility, the second book in Thomas M. Disch's Supernatural Minnesota series, The M.D., is a satisfying mix of dark humor, biting social commentary, and terrifying horror. Given the power to heal or to harm by the Roman god Mercury through a magical staff, the caduceus, young Billy Michaels embarks on a lifelong journey of inflicting good and evil on those who cross his path. Wielding the caduceus, Billy, and later the grown-up, greedy physician William, can only cure in proportion to the amount of suffering he inflicts. From paralyzing his brother and mutilating schoolmates to wreaking a nationwide plague and running for-profit concentration camps for the sick, Michaels's powers spin quickly out of control.

Reader's Thoughts

Paul Brown

Nothing much ever happens.


A little out there but intriguing. It's been quite awhile since I read a book in the horror genre. While it wasn't scary, it was thought provoking.

Donna Staub

I enjoyed the book in the first half much more so than the second. It definitely did not go in the direction I thought it would, but I like the way it ended. The main character, Billy, definitely progressed into a horrible person as I thought he would. The weaving of all the characters together was well done yet I still felt like I didn't know them as well, or care about them as much as I have in other novels.

Wesley Young

Wonderful concept that was well excecuted.

Martin Bromirski

thomas disch is a new FAVORITE. read him.


The M.D. offers an intriguing premise: what if the ancient Greek gods were real? In mythology they often actively intervened in the lives of mortals. In this novel, the god Mercury offers godlike powers to young Billy Michaels in exchange for his worship. Billy receives the caduceus, the ancient symbol of medicine consisting of twisted sticks topped with the desiccated carcass of a bird, and with it can cast spells to heal and protect anything. However, much like anything so powerful, there is a catch. In order to keep the caduceus charged with its magical power, Billy must perform an equal amount of damaging spells with it. Hence, for every person he saves, he must injure another. When he grows up to become a doctor, he truly plays god.Thomas Disch offers many prescient insights of the "future", including a degraded environment, catastrophic plagues, climate change and worldwide economic meltdown. Impressive, considering this novel was published in 1991 and divides its setting between the 1970s and 1999.What comes across loud and clear is Disch's dislike of religion, both the organized and fundamentalist flavors. Readers of the same persuasion may find themselves knowingly chuckling along with his sly observations. And the character of Judge perfectly illustrates blind, fundamentalist devotion to dogma and demagoguery.While the story itself is interesting and I was excited to find out what became of the characters, the pace is uneven, flagging in the middle before picking up again at the end. The mix of politics, science, medicine, religion and family drama (almost all of the adults are remarried divorcees which makes keeping tracks of all of the family combinations a bit tedious) overwhelms the plot at times.Recommended for fans of science-based horror, such as the novels of Robin Cook, though this is much more far-fetched and requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief.


Where to begin? The beginning is great; creepy, well-written, draws you right into the family & all the characters. There is a lot of interesting foreshadowing. Then someone dies, book two begins & we're somewhere completely different. But it's okay, you get back into the rhythm of the story & persevere and it's pretty cool, although not as cool as before. And then someone dies, book three begins & we're somewhere completely different. And by that point you are tearing your hair out because enough is enough and nothing makes any sense any more. Somehow William has started this plague just because he can and he has a wife from out of nowhere who gets literally half a page of play before she's murdered, and everyone just dies, sometimes for no reason (see Ben and Madge and Lance/Launce/whatever his name is) and he has this son who's psycho & none of the foreshadowed elements actually had anything to do with the story & I threw the book across the room & shouted "Fie!"


Just creepy enough to keep reading!


horrible could not recommend it

Robert Dunbar

Newsweek called him our “most formidably gifted unfamous American writer.” Talk about damning praise. When Thom Disch shot himself in 2008, I felt the loss deeply, though I'd only met the man once and could hardly have called him a friend. But then I imagine that many of his readers reacted this way.Disch was always something of a phenomenon. His novels – especially The Genocides, Camp Concentration, 334 and On Wings of Song – loom among the classics of New Wave science fiction, and connoisseurs of the genre still speak of him in tones bordering on the reverential. Such an extraordinary body of work. The man’s versatility alone astonishes. Forget all the awards his fiction won. His six volumes of poetry were praised by critics, and his nationally published theatre reviews consistently displayed rare levels of erudition. (The legal problems his own play, The Cardinal Detoxes, encountered with the Catholic Church became the stuff of off-off Broadway legend.) Then – after more than 25 years as a respected figure – he suddenly turned his hand to horror. I think it was the last thing anyone expected. But in truth, though his oeuvre resists categorization, dark elements could always be detected. Early collections like Getting into Death and Fun with Your New Head infused the weary literature of dread with some desperately needed creative vigor, even going a long way toward providing a veneer of countercultural chic. But it was the science fiction magazine of the sixties that nurtured the man’s inconoclastic talent, and it’s this very background that continued to render him so radical a force. Whereas SF stems from a long tradition of enlightened speculation about the nature and fate of mankind, few horror novels since Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus can boast a philosophical basis. (This isn’t the time to editorialize on how reactionary the horror genre has become, but decades of popular novels in which some nasty creature of foreign origin or ambiguous sexuality menaces some nice family have all but defanged it. Buy me a beer sometime, and I’ll talk your ear off on the subject.) The MD may be nearly unique among contemporary works of supernatural terror – a serious and thoughtful novel that seeks to provoke a response altogether more complex than goosebumps. Though it possesses many of the elements of traditional horror (a creaking staircase in an old dark house, something ghastly hidden in the cellar), the fears it catalogues are not culled from folklore. As in the most intellectually valid forms of SF, those efforts rooted in Wellsian traditions of social commentary, Disch employed freewheeling invention to emphasize influences already present in everyday life, postulating an America in which public ignorance, governmental corruption, and industrial greed have collaborated in rendering the planet barely habitable. New diseases abound, and fundamentalist groups oversee concentration camps for plague victims. Horrible. The book ventures into that most alarming of speculative realms: the all-too-plausible future. The premise, however, remains as fantastic as any nightmare. At the root of all human evil, somewhere deep in the chromosomes, lie supernatural influences. One such malignant creature appears to young Billy, first in the guise of a pagan Santa Claus, later as the god Hermes. And his gift to the boy – a dead bird with some wire twisted about a stick – very nearly destroys the world, for this grisly Caduceus can truly heal but only in direct proportion to the extent that it first afflicts. Thus begins a savage dialectic on the corrupting influence of power. If the plot possesses a major flaw, that flaw lies in its vigorously schematic nature, but its rewards claim a similar source. The construction of The MD may appear convoluted, with its many asides and epiphanies of character analysis, but as it traces Billy’s growth to adulthood and his climb toward becoming the most powerful physician in the world, it attains a rare purity of function: it induces absolute horror.

♥ Marlene♥

Back in my Stephen King days I was always trying to find a writer like him. Well Thomas M. Disch is not like him but in his own way, just as good.It ha been so long since I've read this book (Read it in Dutch and still have a Dutch copy) but i do remember I loved this book.So If you like King, try this book. Very good blend mixing horror and fantasy.


Read this many years ago and have been trying to find out the name of the book and the author for ages. Finally found it, now I have to get my hands on a copy and read it again!


Ok, Heres a Doozy for ya.I had not went the Disch route before and quickly found that this guyis pretty darn GOod.The book is Intelligent and Cruel. The main character is a boy whosee's Santa Clause and is givin a wand stick(ITs Magic Baby) Well hesoon grows up enough and does not believe in Santa any Longer. SoSanta turns into something more believable. That Stick has some kindaVoodoo on it I tell ya. Only thing is, theres always that damn priceyou gotta pay for using it.I have to say the boy was a character you really cared and felt for.even though he kept innocently wrecking peoples lifes. his story wenton so long you wondered when Disch would finally get to the Adult partof his tale. Unfortunately when it does. The story seems rushed and hereally isn't someone you care about anymore. Freakin Dumbass with aMagic Stick.This story was still very well written for the most part and very Dark.Disch was obviously a very cynical man.(a recent suicide victim/May heRest in Peace)4 Hail Larrys outta 5


George: I read this a long time ago, but I remember it as being very good, unique and fast reading. I believe it is an excellent book that was overlooked by most people. It may be of most interest to guys.


"It is the oldest irony of the medical profession that doctors seem to profit from the misfortune of others."Though Tom Disch is a favorite of mine, I was a bit hesitant to delve into The M.D. because this late-career shift toward the horror genre seemed like a naked bid for Steven King-like success. But there's nothing watered down about this novel, which finds Disch at the height of his considerable powers. The dark humor, deft characterization, and intricate plotting of his best work are all present here. Like King's rustic Maine, Disch's Minnesotan stomping ground is a vivid setting, a wholesome-seeming place where evils both mundane and supernatural lurk.At heart this is a familiar sort of horror story, the kind that reminds us to be careful what we wish for. Young Billy Michaels has visions of a being with many faces who helps make Billy's wishes into reality. The consequences of these wishes, regardless of forethought or motive, tend to be dire. We follow him as a young man, as time and again he learns the wrong lesson from the results of these supernatural meddlings, then we skip forward nearly 20 years to see the world his wishes have made.Quibbles: I feel that we lose something in this 20 year gap. We don't learn until the end why Billy does some of the more ghastly things that he does, and the explanation underwhelms. Also, this last act strips Billy of his status as protagonist, and makes him a passive victim of circumstances like most of the other people in the book.

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