Alright, did you miss me?
I did more stuff this past weekend, then I think I have in the last two weeks put together. I finished Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon, and I have to say, although it was not as good as Kavalier and Clay, it was still a good book. The last ten pages or so are a bit of a let down, as everything gets resolved and yet unresolved, but that is hardly the worst thing I could say about a 400 page novel. For most of the book I was engrossed in the characters and the action, and was pulled through the book. I found the first 50 or so pages a bit of a struggle, but after that it was a lot of fun.
I have to respect Michael Chabon, if for no other reason then he is a serious writer (read: gets critical praise) who writes incredibly beautiful sentences and is still invested in writing a page turner. He doesn’t shy away from genre fiction, doesn’t feel it needs or warrants the stigma that the term brings to mind, and that is a thought that makes me happy. I like genre fiction (although I hate that term), I like plot. I’m a very plot oriented writer. I want to immerse myself in a world and feel myself pulled into the action. I look for writers who mix an affection for plot and genre with the ability to write very interesting language and compelling dialogue.
That’s what writers like Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon bring to the table. They have innovative and interesting ideas, they’re writing about more than just the story they are telling, but the story is still set at the center of it all. They don’t shy away from writing “genre” fiction, which is good, neither do I. What I would like to know is at what point did writing science fiction or fantasy or detective fiction or hell, even romance novels become something less than writing general fiction?
I know the standards set for these idioms are somewhat more lax than one might like, hell, I can’t stand most of what passes for fatasy fiction these days, for every George R. R. Marting there are thirty hacks who can barely comprehend English, let alone write it. And don’t even get me started on Harlequin Romance or the rest of that dreck. But just because it’s a genre doesn’t mean it has to be bad, does it? Frakenstien was science fiction before there was such a thing. John Wyndham and George Orwell wrote science fiction, but it wasn’t called that at the time, it was “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” or some other ridiculous term that means science fiction but doesn’t have the same stigma.
So, what do you think? Is the fact that the overwhelming majority of a given genre is crap mean that the genre itself is crap? I don’t think so. I think it makes the gems sparkle all the brighter for surpassing what is expected. Are critics unfair towards sci-fi fantasy? Of course, but really, who gives a fuck about the critics? Does any of this rant change anything or mean anything at all? Not really.
Yiddish Policeman’s Union is the latest in a long series of gumshoe detective novels that started with Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler and continue even now. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but does mean that we might need to rethink our own prejuidices against certain types of stories.
Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it, and as always, you have no choice. Tell me what you think about any of this. Tell me what book you think is mis-classed at your local big book store. Tell me what romance novel you thought was actually worthwhile, what science fiction yarn used the potential of the idiom to transcend that very idiom. Tell me what books you like, and why, and why they are just as deserving of awards as the latest slice of life semi-autobiographical girl learns the true meaning of life, “fiction.” Tell me what to read after I’m done with Spook Country (already started) and after I’m done editing the crap out of my own book.
Go forth and bring me new things to read that don’t get the press they deserve.