Gundam Wing

The Earnestness of Genre Fiction

I wrote a novel.

Technically, only the first draft is finished, but that just means I wrote a really shitty book. When people ask me to describe my novel (or when I try to subtly bring the subject up in conversation like an arrogant asshole), I tell them:

The book is about a lot of big themes. Part of it is about the disempowerment of young men in the modern economy. Some of it is about the mind-body problem, in particular how the body is extensible through the use of tools.

But primarily the book is about giant robots fighting each other.

Laughter normally ensues. The joke proves I have a hip, ironic detachment with my work. Giant robots cannot have thematic value.

I am a fucking coward. The ironic detachment protects me and hides the truth: I wrote a book called Mecha Americana because I love Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion. To this day, I wish I could pilot the Gundam Epyon or Eva Unit-01, so I wrote a story about a white dude whom appropriates Japanese culture and technology to save the day.

But if I was to admit that, people might call me a nerd. I would be even less successful with the ladies than I currently am1)God, I am so lonely.. And I would experience the crippling fear for people laughing behind my back. So I pretend Mecha Americana is basically a joke project.

Not only does this protection extend to the book’s topic but also its quality. Mecha Americana is my first novel, so it most likely will be filled with terrible writing. But using irony, I can pretend the writing is intentionally bad, an act put on by a genius writer. Satirical bad writing is hip and cool, whereas genuinely bad writing would expose me as a fraud.

But I have to be vulnerable and admit the truth2)However even in this confessional blog post, I ensured a subtle amount of humor to serve as an escape plan. If anyone was to read this essay and confront me in real life about my genuine love of mechs, I could still play it off as a joke. He or she would then refer to this footnote, and the discussion would become extremely meta. This entire post is a facade. I am being honest, but not really.: I put a lot of work into this novel and would love people to read and enjoy it. The main concept comes from a childhood fantasy of mine, and I think it can really connect with some readers.

Mecha Americana is genre fiction which gets looked down upon by the entire culture, including myself. The cool kids would rather be seen reading difficult, postmodern literary works. But deep down, we only crave good, simple stories about fundamental human problems.

David Foster Wallace explained it best:

…What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human…is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile…

Which is why I prefer to think of Infinite Jest not as some satirical, post-postmodern masterpiece but as a science fiction book about drug addicts, tennis-playing teens, and a magical video tape.

Readers, at least the type that read The New Yorker, respect Gravity’s Rainbow. But for the most part, Pynchon’s magnum opus is a fantastic opening line3)“A screaming comes across the sky.” followed by a thousand pages where you have no idea what is going on. On the other hand, people love Harry Potter. The adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione have brought more joy to the world than any piece of postmodern lit.

Looking down on genre fiction is easy. At my last job, a girl I worked with would spend her breaks in the office reading a young adult fantasy series. Oftentimes, I would sit on the other side of the room reading some more classy literature like The Crying of Lot 49. And I would think my book selection was so much better and smarter than hers.

I was an asshole, but the problem with being an asshole, as Plato argues, is not just that you hurt others, but you also damage your own soul. And so I was reading great pieces of literature from authors like Vonnegut. Yet I was also turning my back on plenty of other great pieces of literature in “lesser” genres and lessening my own possible enjoyment.

Eventually, I did look in the pleb sections of the bookstore and got back into fantasy and sci-fi. Currently, I am reading Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson and loving it.

Science fiction and fantasy are “generally pathetic…forever infantile”. Their stories are “unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone”. But they are also human. Someone only needs the courage to write about wizards and robots.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. God, I am so lonely.
2. However even in this confessional blog post, I ensured a subtle amount of humor to serve as an escape plan. If anyone was to read this essay and confront me in real life about my genuine love of mechs, I could still play it off as a joke. He or she would then refer to this footnote, and the discussion would become extremely meta. This entire post is a facade. I am being honest, but not really.
3. “A screaming comes across the sky.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *