Super Sunday Smackdown: March Madness Concludes!
This is Part 2 of my March Madness-style tournament to determine which author I would save from nuclear holocaust or some other global disaster requiring that we hide out in a bunker for a while. If you want to read Part 1 to catch up, click here.
Elite Eight Round
(1) John Irving vs. (4) Richard Russo
This is going to be a close one. Irving is my most favorite author, but Russo is right up there as well. Irving wrote two of my favorites The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. Russo wrote my favorite Nobody’s Fool and lesser favorites Empire Falls and The Risk Pool. Irving won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for The Cider House Rules. Russo’s film credits include Twilight (1998—no vampires!), Empire Falls (the HBO miniseries), and The Ice Harvest. Irving lives in Vermont and Russo lives in Maine. So on the whole they’re pretty evenly matched. Perhaps the main difference is that Russo won a Pulitzer for Empire Falls, which for a writer is probably more important than having an Oscar.
Winner: It’s not a huge upset but Russo wins by a nose. In Part 1 I said that in later rounds I would start to include factors other than their writing into the decision-making process. One of those factors is age. Russo is 61. Irving is 68. They’re both older but all else being equal, the younger guy should be around longer in the bomb shelter with me. Of course I’m not a doctor and I haven’t examined them, so who really knows how that would play out. As well, as I indicated, having a Pulitzer is a good trump card. If you’re going to save someone from global destruction, why not someone with a major award in his field? As well, I recently parted ways with Irving after one too many bad books. That would make things awkward.
(3) Elizabeth McCracken vs. (2) Michael Chabon
This is going to be another close one. McCracken wrote my favorite The Giant’s House. Chabon wrote perhaps my second-favorite book ever The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. McCracken also wrote my lesser favorite Niagara Falls All Over Again while Chabon wrote lesser favorites Wonder Boys and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh—the former of which was turned into an excellent film and the latter, not so much. McCracken has one volume of short stories; Chabon has two—at least. Chabon has a Pulitzer while McCracken I don’t think has any hardware. They’re both in their 40s so age is not really a factor in this matchup.
Winner: McCracken. You know, I’m sure Chabon is a really cool guy and all, but his post-AAK&C career has annoyed me. He’s done movies, a children’s book, mysteries, essays, comic books—everything except a goddamned literary novel. I expressed quite a bit of angst about this in my review of Yiddish Policeman’s Union, a mystery-thriller-alternate universe book that infuriated me to no end. If we were stuck in a bomb shelter together eventually this angst would come out and then things really would get awkward, if not downright homicidal. I don’t have a grudge like that against McCracken, though I wish she’d get another novel going.
(1) Terry Pratchett vs. (5) James Alan Gardner
There’s no other parallel universe where this matchup would ever take place. I mean, if you ask sci-fi/fantasy fans they’ve probably heard of Pratchett. Unless you’re asking Canadian fans they’ve probably never heard of Gardner. On the surface then it would seem to be a pretty easy decision to make.
Winner: It is easy: Gardner wins. In terms of non-literary factors there’s a very big one deciding this matchup. That is that Pratchett announced some time ago he has an Alzheimer’s-like ailment. So obviously as much as I enjoyed the Discworld series I can’t take him into the bomb shelter with me. Life is cruel that way.
(3) Timothy Zahn vs. (2) Neil Gaiman
This one actually is more difficult to decide. Zahn wrote the Thrawn trilogy of Star Wars books and four other Star Wars books that weren’t bad. In terms of Star Wars books he is THE MAN. Seriously, no one else is even close on this. His other books like the Conqueror’s trilogy, the Cobra Trilogy, and Angelmass were good space opera yarns as well. Gaiman wrote American Gods, which I liked and Anansi Boys that I liked a little less. He also co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, which is a hilarious book. In terms of films and hardware Gaiman has a lot more awards and to my knowledge none of Zahn’s books have been turned into films while Gaiman has Coraline that was nominated for an Oscar.
Winner: I’m going with Zahn for sentimental reasons. The age factor would favor Gaiman as he’s only 50 while Zahn is 59. (Though from his Twitter feed I know Gaiman recently had a nasty bout of flu.) The deciding factor for me, though is that I’ve read a large number of Zahn’s books. I’ve only read 2 ½ of Gaiman’s and that was only starting about a year ago. I also read a comic book script in an anthology. Despite following him on Twitter and Goodreads, I’m not sure I know enough about him to put him in my bomb shelter. This verdict might change in a few years if I get around to reading more of his stuff. But for today Zahn carries the day.
Final Four Round
(4) Richard Russo vs. (3) Elizabeth McCracken
I think we’ve pretty well summarized all the factors to this point. We’ve gone over the books they’ve written and the awards they’ve won. Obviously in terms of awards and honors Russo has the advantage. In my opinion the quality of the work is pretty well even.
Winner: McCracken. Youth trumps experience! Granted 44 vs. 61 isn’t necessarily a huge difference, but still I’ve got to be ruthless here.
(5) James Alan Gardner vs. (3) Timothy Zahn
Somehow, improbably two space opera writers have managed to make it this far into the tournament. It’s probably because in terms of SF I’m just a bloody savage. Anyway, I think Zahn has the edge in awards. The age differential of 55 vs. 59 isn’t really a huge deal in this matchup.
Winner: Zahn. In this case when it comes down to it the main deciding factor is quality of the body of work. I’ve never given any of Zahn’s books lower than 3 stars. I’ve given 2 of Gardner’s a rating of lower than 3 stars: those would be Commitment Hour and Ascending. Plus if the shit is hitting the fan it might be tough for me to get across the Canadian border to find Gardner.
(3) Elizabeth McCracken vs. (3) Timothy Zahn
I can pretty much guarantee you’ll never see these two authors mentioned in the same sentence anywhere else. So when we get down to it, McCracken is one of my favorite literary authors, even if she has a small body of work. Zahn is my favorite space opera author. They have pretty much nothing in common except that I’ve read and enjoyed their work.
Winner: McCracken. First off there’s the age factor. 44 vs. 59. It might not be a huge deal, but you never know. The other is the gender factor. First off, women live longer than men, so there’s a very high probability that if we were in a bomb shelter she’d outlive me. Second, if the fallout or whatever ends in a couple of years we’re going to need women to repopulate the Earth. Though I’d hope we could find someone better than me for her to repopulate it with. I don’t mean to be gross there, but obviously when you’re thinking about end of the world scenarios you have to think of these things. Though I’m sure she’d rather be in the bomb shelter with her husband and kids and stuff like that.
Well, what a long, strange trip it’s been. Of course I don’t have an actual bomb shelter so this is all pretty well moot. That and if I showed up at an author’s door screaming about they have to follow me down to the bomb shelter before the end of the world they’d probably have me committed. It has at least been a good logical exercise.
Now cue up “One Shining Moment.”
Tuesday I examine that bugaboo for a lot of aspiring writers: the outline. Then Thursday I examine the reality of reality in fiction. So plenty more to come!