For instance, the book is written in “dippy omniscient,” which I define as “everybody’s point of view is covered, but nobody knows what the hell is going on.” Other readers had issues with the last two sections, which jump back and forth in time, but my real concerns for this book was this rather double-jointed
movement of point of view from paragraph to paragraph (and too many damn pronouns, that’s for sure) and the predictably sad and pointless futures of so many of the characters. I mean, there are people with pointless futures. I’m just not sure I want to read about them.
Another reason that 334 barely makes my list is that it is not so much a novel as a collection of stories and
novellas, all about people – often the same people – who live in a tenement building in the 2020s. I don’t
know. I think this might have worked better if the stories had been about entirely different people, giving a
bigger spectrum of experience.
The quality of stories was really uneven for the above reasons, but some of the stories were truly excellent, because Disch has a harlequin grasp of language. I really enjoyed “Bodies,” “Angouleme,” and “Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire” because the language and emotions were so fine. I found my next favorite single sentence, too: “He loved, and what seventh grader doesn’t, the abstracter foxtrots and more metaphysical twists of a Dostoevsky, a Gide, a Mailer.” But others were pointlessly tacky.
One of the things I enjoyed about this book was its premise was announced in the first few pages: the Dantean maxim that one creates one's own hell and carries it around with them. Also, I pleased myself by figuring out what an amorphous chart meant, the one that preceded the final time-hopping cantatas of 334. It mapped out where in reality and character the 40 little tales were. That was just going to nag me until the end of time if I hadn't realized what it was.
The lessons for writers: writing can be uneven, but it is better if it’s not. Describing a person in one or even a few sentences is an art. The woman who doesn’t remember the name of a lover who once got a vasectomy for her. The man as neat as a polka dot handkerchief. These are gems, although they do need to be couched in a fine story and good science fiction. If I could impart even a little of this to my stories, I would be pleased.