Prior to picking this book up at a library sale in Benicia, CA, my only experience with Thomas Disch had been playing his text game *Amnesia* many years ago. After putting this book down upon concluding the final story, I wished that I had been reading his books instead of playing that game. If the stories contained in this volume are indicative of his skills as a thinker and writer, then Disch is a true luminary of SF.
The notes I took for this review are brief. The stories in this collection are all about people and about what it means to be human. The stories in this collection contain myriad examples of really great writing, inventive language, and novel turns of phrase. The stories in this collection encompass a variety of styles, all of which are handled deftly. And the stories in this collection explore a wide range of awesome ideas, reminding me once again why I've always liked smart SF.
A few of the stories that still stand out in my mind include the titular tale, in which people are required to become licensed in order to hold a conversation; "The Santa Claus Compromise" in which the extension of full civil liberties to children leads to some stunning "revelations" about Jolly Old St. Nick; "The Vengeance of Hera" explores themes of fidelity, estrangement, and how the gods (or in this case, goddesses) work in mysterious ways; "Concepts," the centerpiece of the anthology, breathes new life into the throw-away space aliens motif, and raises troubling questions about the nature of life and consciousness along the way; in "The Foetus" we encounter a demon-spawn hellbent on nuclear annihilation; and the brutally titled "Planet of the Rapes" views sexual politics through the prism of space age satire.
This is definitely a book for re-reading and a gift to all fans of smart AND brilliantly written speculative fiction.