Conversation from the Shadow Lands

Charles Yu Interviewed by Lev Grossman

“I once thought as you do. Lately I’ve been getting more interested in borders. I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing the different conventions of literary fiction and fantasy off each other.”

Part I

LEV GROSSMAN: People describe you (as they do me) as a writer who works in the shadow lands between literary fiction and science fiction. Is that how you’d describe yourself?

CHARLES YU: As much as I like the idea of being some kind of creature lurking in the shadow lands, I can’t say I do think of it that way. I wish to politely yet firmly deny the premise of the question. There’s a kind of “implied map of fiction” embedded within the whole way of thinking about this—the idea that “literary” is Norway and “science fiction” is Sweden. Not only do I not think those two sovereign nations are mutually exclusive; I don’t think they are even well-defined territories, right? I don’t believe in the genre distinction.

It’s not as if I sit around classifying myself. When I sit down to write, I don’t think, Today I shall write fabulist-inflected literary fiction, etc. It’s more like, Unnngggh, and, Grrrrr, and, I can’t believe I squeezed out 150 words today and they all suck. But maybe that’s just me.

I’ll flip the question back to you: how do you describe yourself?

LG: I once thought as you do. Lately I’ve been getting more interested in borders. I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing the different conventions of literary fiction and fantasy off each other, and I feel like you can’t do that unless you’re committed to the idea that somewhere out there there’s a line between them. Though I wouldn’t want to have to actually point to it.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Lev Grossman is the author of the New York Times best-selling Magicians trilogy, which is often described as “Harry Potter for adults.” The third volume, The Magician’s Land, was published in August 2014. He is also the book critic for Time magazine.

Charles Yu writes science fiction, but he does it by taking science fiction apart, turning all the pieces around, then putting them back together so it’s 2,000 percent weirder, smarter, more meaningful, and more fuel-efficient than it was before. He is the author of the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and the short-story collections Third Class Superhero and Sorry Please Thank You. Also, he’s a lawyer or something.


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