The Continuing Genre War

In the Times Literary Supplement, Michael Saler shrewdly connects David Hajdu‘s history of the ’50s comic-book scare, The Ten-Cent Plague and Michael Chabon‘s collection of essays, Maps & Legends. Both throw light on the difficulties that genre fiction has had getting critical approval. Chabon attempts to collapse genre-bound distinctions, writing, “All literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction.” But not everybody’s hearing it. Saler writes:

Skirmishes do continue. Like Japanese soldiers fighting the Second World War long after it ended, some still draw a cordon sanitaire around “literature” to protect it from “genre”, regardless of how closely the two commingle. Jeanette Winterson proclaims “I hate science fiction”, even though her recent The Stone Gods includes robots and a post-apocalyptic future. Certain critics still insist that Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize primarily for The Golden Notebook (1962), even though this Guest of Honor at the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention considers her futurist “Canopus in Argus” novels “to be some of my best work”. (David Langford gleefully tracks anti-genre comments at

That Ansible link is well worth clicking on—it disputes the notion that most people understand that comics and science fiction are more than just kids’ stuff. The people who get the nuances are the people who least need convincing—folks who’ve already read Maus, Fun Home, etc.

Dept. of Self Promotion

So, that question I asked a little while back? I was being a bit mercenary in putting it out there–I’ve been cobbling together a piece about D.C. novels that’s now up on Washington City Paper‘s Web site. This may stoke the anger of people convinced that reviewers are “one of the lowest forms of life.” But to paraphrase something Walter Kirn wrote a while ago, if we’re not interested in arguing about books, why are we reading them?

I also have a brief review of David Hajdu‘s new book, The Ten-Cent Plague.