Horn tooting first: Both File 770 and SFSignal have linked to me today, and for two different items (!)so it should be a good day for stats. (One mentions my praise of the Cordwainer Smith website, the other the release of Chapter 9 of Pulp Comic Fairy Tale)
I’d still like more commentary though. I could engage in the hubris of assuming that since there are not that many comments, most folks agree with me (cause you know that silence IS tacit approval – right?) which means that my finger is firmly on the pulse of the world.
I just posted chapters 8 and 9 of Pulp Comic Fairy Tale. The STUNNING conclusion is about half finished (I’m just looking for one more perfectly juicy cover). My brain is filled with pulp mag imagery right now – each and everyone one of them inspires in some way or another. I think the next thing I do with them will be a retrospective on pulp heroines wielding whips – seems to be a common theme…
Michael Chabon is my new hero. Google alerts picked up on his LA Times interview and I thought – cool, I’ll be able to get this out there before most everyone else – only to find that waking up at 6 am instead of 3 am put me behind the SFSignal eight ball.
Nevertheless, Chabon has become my new hero because he advocates for genre fiction (comics, sf, detective) from the ‘highly respected lit’rury’ podium.
Someone, somewhere categorized his advocacy as ‘highbrow meets lowbrow’ – which is a quick way of summarizing while still managing to dis genre fiction.
Chabon’s general concept seems to be that all of it falls under the rubrick of ‘entertainment’ and that by the achievement of having successfully entertained, the definition of genre becomes unimportant. He also seems to be saying that ‘literary works’ often forget the entertainment aspect despite all of their wonderful prose and high-falutin ideas, and that it’s not necessary to write fabulous prose in order to entertain.
I hope Michael formalizes these thoughts in some physical/internet fashion, like a website or some such where “high brow and low brow writers can get together in praise of entertainment” .
I do know that he ought to get together with Gary Wolf who has often expressed many of the same sensibilities and has similar cred.
Here’s where Chabon’s argument gets summed up:
Let’s talk about this in a specific instance — Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road” and its reception.I thought it was an excellent novel. The least interesting thing to me as a reader was that it was science fiction. It presented a very pure example of post-apocalyptic literature, pared down to the essentials of a post-apocalyptic vision. But it’s nothing that anybody reading science fiction over the last 60 or 70 years hasn’t seen done many, many times before — maybe not by writers of McCarthy’s caliber.In terms of the vision it was presenting, it was notable only for the intense, McCarthy severity.
In fact, I responded to it much more as a work of horror fiction. But the response you saw out there generally was the sort of oh-my-God isn’t this incredible, Cormac McCarthy has written a science fiction novel! Sometimes a little bit of a panic sets in, where critics aren’t sure what to do about it or say about it.
And when this happens, when a writer of unassailable literary reputation, like McCarthy, does produce a work of genre fiction, under his own name, unlike say John Banville, the critical machine prints out and issues a pass to a writer: “This isn’t science fiction, because it was written by Cormac McCarthy.” Or, “We think all science fiction is bad, unless it’s written by a Margaret Atwood or Cormac McCarthy.”
In some ways the book may be closer to a work of prophecy, biblical prophecy, than anything else, and that’s what we’re responding to.
Ultimately with any great work of art, whether it was written by a Ray Bradbury or a Philip K. Dick or Cormac McCarthy, it’s really the intensity with which it’s been imagined and been brought into language.
Hmmm: Genre writers are the ones who come up with the nifty ideas and sometimes mainstream writers render those ideas with beautiful prose and their own, unique, compelling style, and then confound the critics because they’re playing in the mud…
It takes equal parts nifty idea and cool presentation. I also think – at least on the part of the critics – that it takes a willingness to recognize that good works DO NOT have to feature sterling prose to qualify. If you get that without it interfering with the story – bonus.
Another way of looking at it is this: high literature is obsessed with the crafting of a sentence and the words themselves. Genre fiction is obsessed with the idea (Chabon alludes to this with his comment about genre writers writing ‘too fast’); I often think that many SF writers are racing like hell just to get the visions in their head down on paper, while the literary writer is flipping through the thesaurus and the OED, spending days on a single sentence to establish just the right emotional tone.
And it is only when the two come together in proper balance that we end up with a real masterpiece that transcends the whole genre vs mainstream discussion. And that can be accomplished (and has been) by any writer, regardless of their stripe.