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


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.


Just creepy enough to keep reading!


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!

Paul Brown

Nothing much ever happens.

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.


Very entertaining, snarky novel with a wicked sense of black humor.


Wildly imaginative, I found this fever-dream of a tale to be viscerally & profoundly disturbing. So naturally I read it twice. Can't say that about many other books.

♥ 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.

Robert Beveridge

Thomas M. Disch, The M.D. (Berkley, 1991)There's a scene about halfway through The M.D. that really shows why Thomas M. Disch, though not a household name in letters, is revered by critics and discerning bibliophiles. I'm usually the harshest of reviewers when it comes to message fiction, that strain of writing where the plot is stopped in order for the writer to advance a point of view. But there's a debate here between a tobacco advocacy group executive and a bright thirteen-year-old boy that is so sparkling, not to mention well-written, that it's actually one of the best parts of the book. And I don't even agree with the viewpoint that wins. Of course, this could be because unlike most message fiction, Disch actually manages to make this debate integral to the plot. Yes, I mean integral; it sets up a couple of things that aren't exactly plot points, but that the whole framework of the fourth part of the book rests on. This isn't just some guy ranting, it's some guy who's plotted his book out in such detail that he knows exactly how far he can go with this diatribe and still get away with it. That's the mark of a master, and make no mistake about it—Thomas M. Disch defines “master”. He's like the Einsturzende Neubauten of American writers; not well-known by the public, but hugely influential among those who do the same thing he does.The M.D. is the story of Billy, who is six years old and stuck in Catholic primary school as we start the book. After being told by a nun that Santa Claus doesn't exist, Billy contradicts her—after all, he's seen Santa Claus with his own two eyes. This exchange ends with Billy being sent to the office, but he never gets there. Instead, he runs away (without his coat in the middle of winter) to his private place, a secluded part of the local park, where we find out that maybe Billy isn't kidding, for Santa Claus appears to him again and promises that he's going to tell Billy a secret sometime soon. And when he does, this time appearing in the guise of the god Mercury, what a secret it is. Billy's annoying older brother Ned has created a makeshift caduceus in order to terrorize Billy; he took two twined sticks and tied a dead bird to them. Not your classic caduceus, to be sure, but where the sign of Mercury exists, he can invest it with power. And he bequeaths the caduceus to Billy, who can use it to heal. But it has a finite amount of energy. In order to replenish it, Billy must also make things sick...This is your basic three-wishes story, but unlike most stories of this type, we have a thoughtful protagonist who actually learns from his mistakes as he goes along. That alone would make it worth your time, for it's one of the few innovations that could make such a clichéd storyline worth reading again. But Disch writes with an eye to, well, just about everything. We often love writers for doing one thing exceptionally well; Stephen King's absolute mastery of characterization, Dorothy Dunnett's intricate plotting, James Michener's meticulous research. Disch has taken all of the ways in which a writer can specialize and balanced them. It all works here, and it all works exceptionally. My only problem with the book is something that couldn't have been foreseen in 1991; he sets the fourth part of the book in 1999, and as usual with such things, what it looks like on paper and what it actually looked like are such different things that I can't help laughing at it. Also, as you might expect from some of my comments above, Disch tends towards fairy tale-style language here. Most of the time it's not at all intrusive, and it lends the book an interesting, amusing tone for being the drama/medical thriller novel that it is. Once we get into the fourth section, though, and head into the world of fantasy/sci-fi, the mix falls flat. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the recent steampunk and mythpunk books that have done it so perfectly, but that part of the book doesn't work as well as the first three. Still, the obscurity into which this book has fallen is a crime. Not surprising, given that Disch is not the literary rockstar he deserves to be, but saddening anyway. Find a copy and discover, or rediscover, the wonderful world of Tom Disch. *** ½

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.


great book,

Stuart Chandler

Engaging horror/sci fi. Read it a long time ago but remember that I enjoyed it. Maybe I have a light morbid fascination when it comes to book selection.

Ashley (っ◕‿◕)っ

I really enjoyed it


Great book!

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