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OK, Fine, I Was Wrong About Michael Chabon

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On Monday I said I was a little disappointed that Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 2007. Though I think the novel is excellent, and certainly qualifies as scifi, I said it seemed wrong to give the coveted scifi award to an author who uses scifi tropes, but isn't immersed in the world of scifi. But I was wrong. Here are a few of the comments from the discussion thread that changed my mind. Illuminatus said:

Don't hate on Chabon. That guy is in the trenches defending SF and Fantasy. Check out Maps & Legends if you need proof. And he's bringing literary snobs (read, my former roommate) over to SF and Fantasy. He earned it . . . What you're saying is that it bothers you that the superior author won the prize. That's like saying Olympic gold medalists shouldn't be allowed to compete in other tournaments, because they are guaranteed the prize. It just isn't the case. Neither Cormac McCarthy nor Thomas Pynchon were even nominated, despite the fact that both The Road and Gravity's Rainbow are sci-fi books. GR even won the Saturn Award. This isn't some lit author slumming it to win an award, this is recognition of good writing in a genre the author respects and cherishes. Most big lit writers who try this sort of stuff fail miserably or, worse, are chastised for it. The Road and The Yiddish Policeman's Union are exceptions, not the rule. Goodness, 95% of the Hugo winners are hardcore SF writers, it's alright if once every two decades a "mainstream lit" writer gets one. It probably means they've earned it.

Then Pink Clerical Collar wrote:

And as for Chabon, he's never pulled a Vonnegut; he's too legit to quit, and after KAVALIER AND CLAY, he's a fanboy I trust to keep it real no matter how mainstream /slipstream / crossed streams he gets.


Ron Hogan added:

Annalee writes, "It felt a little wrong to me that the award went to somebody who writes mainstream literary fiction that merely borrows a few tropes from SF." TYPU does not "merely borrow a few tropes." It is a fully formed science fiction novel—and, apparently, one that both science fiction fans AND science fiction writers consider worthy of recognition as best in show, considering that Chabon also won the Nebula three months ago. Using the "merely borrows a few tropes" argument, by the way, one might conceivably argue that Charlie Stross wasn't doing science fiction when he wrote HALTING STATE, merely dabbling in technothrillery with a few futuristic touches.


Tim Faulkner asked pointedly:

If scifi fans don't want their favorite genre to be an ostracized ghetto, why do they insist on it being an ostracized ghetto?

Lightning Louie finally persuaded me completely by writing:

But here's the thing: "mainstream" is a total misnomer, a marketing term. The "literary fiction" section at your local retailer boasts plenty of fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as representatives of other genres, whether it's Winter's Tale, Little, Big, or Lonesome Dove. The notion of genre as a form of identity politics is just an excuse not to read more widely, and it's a surefire guarantee for boredom.


OK, you guys totally win. One of the foundational ideas behind io9 is that science fiction is mainstream pop culture, and writers like Chabon prove that's the case. It's sometimes hard to throw off that ghetto feeling when you're a scifi nerd. But even the Hugo voters who made Chabon this year's winner know that the world of scifi is changing. It's not just the genre of underground scifi conventions. It's everybody's genre, and has invaded literary fiction and Hollywood movies alike. So that's why I was wrong about Chabon. He represents the future of science fiction as popular fiction, and it's encouraging to see people both within and outside scifi fandom recognizing that.