May 11th, 2008


Why I forgive Michael Chabon

I'm well into The Yiddish Policemen's Union now. I'm enjoying it, in spite of the present tense. I don't entirely understand why Chabon went with present tense, as to me, it doesn't add anything, but I forgive him. This book is clearly alternate history, a subgenre that science fiction claims as its own, and Chabon handles it well. Sometimes when non-genre writers commit genre, to use Ursula LeGuin's phrase, they fall into pitfalls that genre writers learn to sidestep.

LeGuin points out an example in her review of The Stone Gods, a science fiction book by literary writer Jeanette Winterson. LeGuin refers to the phenomenon known here in the U.S. "As you know, Bob" (although she calls it, "As you know, Captain") in which one character explains something to another so that the reader will understand it, even though it is in fact something that everyone in the invented universe already knows. LeGuin forgives Winterson for falling into this particular pitfall because she is witty, but Chabon needs no such excuse. His story unfolds in its own time and space, and the reader learns his invented history by inference or by his characters' actions or reminiscences on their past lives, not by reading info dumps. Also, apparently Winterson has her characters vocally despise science fiction, something for which LeGuin chides her.

I must say, as complimentary as LeGuin is in her review, I had no desire to rush out and buy The Stone Gods. There are lots of well written science fiction books; I don't have to give my money to someone who trashes my genre while trying to make a buck (or a pound, in this case) out of it.
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