Rebutting Yann Martel

This past week­end I spent 2½ all-too-short hours with ten oth­er Man­i­to­ba writ­ers in a round­table with Man Book­er-prize win­ning author Yann Mar­tel. There was a great deal said about writ­ing: the whys and where­fores, the hows, the fact that no one real­ly writes for mon­ey. (Mon­ey’s nice, but you write to write. To exor­cise demons, to enter­tain, to process the world — all these come long before mon­ey, assum­ing that mon­ey ever comes.)

There were at least three genre writ­ers there, and the dis­cus­sion came up of lit­er­a­ture vs. genre. I was pleased that Yann was­n’t the snob­by type that gazes down his nose at the appar­ent ghet­to of genre. (In fact, I may be snob­bier — he read The Da Vin­ci Code to its end, where­as I gave up on it at about page 60.)

One point that he made, how­ev­er, kind of stuck in my craw. He claimed that lit­er­a­ture can wring emo­tion from a read­er far more effec­tive­ly than SF, or fan­ta­sy, or mys­tery ever can. He posit­ed that in 100 years’ time, Stephen King will be large­ly for­got­ten, but Dick­ens will live on, because the read­er con­nects on a deep­er, more emo­tion­al lev­el. He said he can’t think of a sin­gle SF nov­el that’s made some­one cry.

Well, here are two nov­el that suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing me tear up:

  • Cir­cuit of Heav­en, by Den­nis Dan­vers — It’s Romeo & Juli­et for the mind-upload­ing set, in essence. Star-crossed lovers, sep­a­rat­ed by the life that may come after death.
  • The Dark Tow­er, by Stephen King. The chap­ter that did it for me is “In This Haze of Green & Gold”. If you’ve read the saga, you know why. (Also, “ ‘Olan” kind of got me, too.)