A genre is only as healthy as the men and women who create it, especially those newbies who'll carry the torch when our old masters have moved on. So why are people in a position to nurture that next generation doing their best to steer them away from writing science fiction? Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon recalls when it happened to him.
Aside from writing books like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Wonder Boys, Chabon has done both comics and screenwriting; he most recently took a pass on the screenplay for John Carter.
But he recalls when his college professors tried to beat the love of genre fiction out of him, a love that first blossomed when he read Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars when he was 11. Chabon grew up wanting to be a writer of the things he liked to read ... so why, once his dream came true and he became a professional writer, did so much of his first works look so stridently non-genre?
"I had a lot of shameful, cowardly answers for that question. Like, I had been taught early on in college and graduate school that I wouldn't be taken seriously if I wrote genre fiction, and not only would I not be taken seriously, but people just really didn't want to read it, like, my workshop mates and my workshop leaders. I had workshop leaders who just out-and-out said, 'Please do not turn science fiction in to this workshop.' That was discouraging, obviously, and if I had had more courage and more integrity, I might have stood up to it more than I did, but I wanted to be read, and I wanted to receive whatever benefits there were to be received from the people I was in workshop with, and the teachers I was studying from.
"And, you know, I wasn't looking for a fight, and it wasn't like I don't love F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Cheever, and Vladimir Nabokov, and Eudora Welty, and all those people. I love their work just as much—if not more in some cases—as Arthur C. Clarke, or Frank Herbert, or whoever it might have been. So I had just sort of allowed myself to fall into this channel as a writer that at some point I realized I didn't want to be limited to anymore."
It angers me to think that this sort of topical bigotry goes on. But more than that, it makes me sad, really, to think of all the writers who aren't strong enough to chart their own courses in the face of such overwhelming pressure to conform, writers who could've given us strange, wonderful new worlds.