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Michael Chabon on Nicholas Meyer and Walter Tevis

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Michael Chabon. Photo courtesy SF Gate.

Michael Chabon on Nicholas Meyer and Walter Tevis

In the last decade, Michael Chabon has emerged as a champion of genre fiction and comics. The American novelist has written essays about Sherlock Holmes and the Howard Chaykin series American Flagg! His short novel The Final Solution features Sherlock Holme; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a mystery set in an alternate world where the Jews, post-WWII, have settled in Alaska (they are “the frozen chosen”). He’s also written comic books, including a series about The Escapist, the fictional superhero invented for Kavalier & Clay.

Having grown up on comic books, science fiction paperbacks and John D. MacDonald thrillers myself, before discovering John Updike, Philip Roth and other so-called realists, I have come to admire Chabon even his devotion to these often maligned and ghettoized forms.

His latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, is set in the real world, more or less, but with some license (example: a fictional ’70s blaxploitation film series). And there are tons of pop culture references, from Star Trek to Marvel Comics to Quentin Tarantino. And two of the main characters own and operate a record store, so there’s lots of music references. (Oh, and there’s even a Barack Obama cameo, which is quite well done.) It’s kind of like High Fidelity but with jazz references instead of indie-rock and more midwifery. Lots more midwifery.

Anyway, I recently interviewed Chabon for a Vancouver weekly to promote his upcoming appearance at St. Andrews-Wesley United Church (Sept 26). Parts of the phone interview didn’t make it into the finished piece. Here is a selection of that unused portion, in which we discuss genre fiction and semi-obscure writers we both admire, Walter Tevis and Nicholas Meyer.

Nicholas Meyer and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

Telegraph Avenue book cover
Michael Chabon’s new novel.

SC: In an interview with Mother Jones recently, you mentioned Nicholas Meyer. He had an interesting career – the wrote a Sherlock Holmes novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and wrote and directed The Wrath of Khan, the second Star Trek movie.

Michael Chabon: That’s right, one of my favourites of all the Star Trek feature films. He was a big important figure for me. That first book of his, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution was a little light bulb over my head. It was the first piece of fan fiction I encountered, and in many ways I think it’s the supreme fan fiction, with pastiches that really do work and give you the feeling of reading something by Arthur Conan Doyle. And Wrath of Khan, when his name turned up on the credits I remembered how thrilled I was.

SC: And didn’t he make that time travel movie, Time After Time [1979]?

Michael Chabon: The one with Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, Jack the Ripper and H.G. Wells chasing each other… I love that movie.

Time After Time movie poster
Time After Time (1979), written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, features H.G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper in modern-day San Francisco. Meyer would later go on to write and direct the second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan.

I mentioned him at some point a long time ago, around the time when Kavalier & Clay was published. He got wind of it and sent me a note. And then he died shortly after.

Walter Tevis and The Queen’s Gambit

SC: Are you a fan of Walter Tevis?

Michael Chabon: He’s a favourite of mine. I love Mockingbird, and of course the chess book, The Queen’s Gambit. I’ve reread it three times since the first time. I’ve turned my wife [Ayelet Waldman] onto it too, it’s one of her favourite books. He was such an odd writer, his writing career had such an odd trajectory. The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth—and one of the greatest chess novels ever written.

The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis book cover
If you see this book, buy it. Read it. Love it. Treasure it. Then keep buying copies to give to friends.

Thanks to Michael Chabon for the chat. 

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