Monday, October 26, 2009

Fantasy by Another Name

A few things have come to my attention while reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. The most obvious is that he is amazing and pretty much on my 'just buy it' list assuming this book is indicative of the rest of his work. (Sometimes I feel he is trying a bit too hard, especially when it comes to humor, but all-in-all, it's really good stuff.) The second issue that comes to mind is the genre of the book it self. I'll be the first to say, genre doesn't matter to me. I've said many a time before that good writing is good writing is good writing and genre doesn't play into it. But I do find it interesting how marketing departments put their spin on a book that is deemed to have mass market appeal even if the book in question is in an 'unsuitable' genre.

Alternate history, contemporary fantasy, or any other term that will be used in the future is all just a cover. It's misleading to readers. I don't see how it could be an offense to author: call a spade a spade and put the book on the fantasy self.

There is a good deal of modern fiction that contains strong fantasy elements. Sometimes I feel if publishers want the work to be successful or perhaps respectable in the eyes of the literary elite (NYT reviewers, book award committees and such) that there is a need to obscure a books true roots if it comes from a speculative genre. Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Chabon and others are almost never billed as speculative fiction, or derivative, and almost always their books are branded, "A Novel" on the cover. As if such a designation is a cover all gesture that establishes legitimacy by way of disowning ugly origins.

"A Novel, by Author X," read: something greater than mere fantasy...

What I'd really like to consider is whether or not the industry is correct in their efforts with these particular books. Perhaps it does lead to increased sales, wider cross-over appeal, and higher recognition for a writer that is greater than the genre in question. But if all of this is the case, then I wonder why isn't all speculative fiction presented in the same light as the afore mentioned writers.

This is not to say all speculative fiction writers are as good as Chabon, but lesser writers have sold more, and better writers have won awards and respect while gaining virtually no sales. What is good for the goose aught to be good for the gaggle, right?


Terry Weyna said...

You can combine short stories with Michael Chabon and read McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories and McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. While Chabon is the editor rather than the authors, the collections show his touch and make for some good reading.

Chad Hull said...

There you go again, adding to my 'list.' You seem to have a very good knack for doing that! I shall look into these short stories presently.

The self appointed task of diversifying my reading with short stories has been great. Up till now I have stuck with fantasy. I'm looking to broaden my new found literary interest with other genres, but that will come after I pursue this McSweeney fellow...

As you've read exponentially more of everything than me, my lastest pick ups may not interest you, but I recently got Nocturnes by John Connolly (short stories), The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes, The Wizard Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy (Short Story Collection), and The Chains you refuse by Elizabeth Bear (more short stories).

Oh and my Daniel Abraham I mean, M.L.N. Hanover, is waiting for me at the Library.

I'm sitting on two door stoppers right now that I'm determined to get through, before 2010 and probably the Hanover as well, but two months out and next year is looking good.

Terry Weyna said...

Actually, all four of the books you mentioned are in my library, and I've read The Chains that You Refuse (liked it very much) and Wizards (if it's the anthology I think it is), which I also liked. Haven't yet read the other two.

My copy of Interfictions 2 arrived today, speaking of short stories!