Between The Fantastic And The Mimetic
September 6, 2006 12:57 AM   Subscribe

In the Chinks of the Genre Machine: it is slipstream week at Strange Horizons. Seventeen years after Bruce Sterling coined the term it has spawned two anthologies, ParaSpheres and Feeling Very Strange. (The later inspired by this blog entry.)
posted by ninebelow (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
David Soyka offers another perspective on ParaSpheres and Feeling Very Strange.

James Patrick Kelly, one of the editors of Feeling Very Strange, has a good but out of date post on slipstream here. Author Jeffery Ford discusses it here and here.

Critic John Clute prefers the term "fabulism" whilst others like "interstitial".

Oh yeah, and its nothing to do with this.
posted by ninebelow at 12:57 AM on September 6, 2006

Is this about how Asians get typecast as gangsters and ninjas and so forth?
posted by delmoi at 2:46 AM on September 6, 2006

The phrase is older than you think. I first heard it in 1972. on Tull's Aqualung album.
Release date: 19. March 1971 (UK) and 03. May 1971 (USA)
Recording location/date: December 1970 and February 1971 at Island Studios, London. Jethro Tull -

Slipstream (Lyrics)

Well the lush separation unfolds you --
and the products of wealth push you along on the bow wave
of the spiritless undying selves.

And you press on God's waiter your last dime --
as he hands you the bill.

And you spin in the slipstream --
timeless -- unreasoning --

paddle right out of the mess.
posted by Gungho at 4:19 AM on September 6, 2006

If the White House can't say "tar baby," then this is just as bad.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:39 AM on September 6, 2006

God, I wish I could get cast as a ninja or a gangster.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:20 AM on September 6, 2006

I just finished the slipstream anthology, Feeling Very Strange, and enjoyed it very much.

The story Bright Morning keeps circling in my head.

Great post ninebelow.

Tull, eh? (Anderson) Heh, gotta love him!
posted by nofundy at 5:24 AM on September 6, 2006

The phrase is older than you think. I first heard it in 1972.

Er, yes, the word slipstream dates back to the early Twentieth Century and the advent of aviation. This isn't really relevant to its use here though.
posted by ninebelow at 5:26 AM on September 6, 2006

Not to rehash the debate about whether slipstream is a genre or a fitting definition placed by Sterling upon certain writings, but it seems to me this style (which is unnameable?) precedes SciFi/fantasy. Thus to compare/contrast it to Scifi/fantasy in order to define "slipstream" as a genre feels inappropriate.
posted by nofundy at 5:31 AM on September 6, 2006

Does anyone have a concise definition of slipstream?
posted by delmoi at 5:55 AM on September 6, 2006

but it seems to me this style (which is unnameable?) precedes SciFi/fantasy.

It might precede modern genre SF/fantasy, however there is a great body of fantastic work that precedes this. Not to mention the birth point of SF is by no means agreed upon. More here.

Does anyone have a concise definition of slipstream?

My own concise definition would be literature that is neither wholly fantastic nor wholly mimetic. Sterling's definition is less clear but it seems to be a tri-part one, including things we would no longer consider to be slipstream.

Perhaps I should quote from my own brief intro to slipstream:

There are two great countries of literature; the fantastic and the naturalistic. The border where these two countries meet however is decidedly hazy. This no-man’s-land contains slipstream, books that are neither fish nor fowl. It’s a tricky thing to pin down but like a certain other genre we could mention it is easy enough to point to. These are the books that contain fantastic elements but are not fantasies, that are naturalistic but not rigorously so. The popular literary term ‘magical realism’ is simply a subset of these.

Bruce Sterling coined the term with Richard Dorsett and popularised it in his 1989 essay of the same name. That essay was decidedly ambivalent in tone and John Clute, who prefers the more scholarly sounding term fabulation, noted that ‘slipstream’ had inappropriately derogatory connotations. Even Sterling said he doubted the term would stick, parody of ‘mainstream’ that it was. However the term has survived, shorn of its negativity, and whilst not yet a marketing category is still a useful label.

Sneakily Sterling, taking his cue from Carter Scholz, tries to slide all SF written by ‘mainstream’ authors under his umbrella which seems a mistake. There is nothing slipstream about The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, a science fiction novel in the long line of literary dystopias. In short we should not consider the writer but the work. Slipstream fiction is as likely to be written by those nominally placed on one side as those on the other; writers traditionally considered genre such as M John Harrison and Lucius Shepard feel the pull as strongly as Peter Ackroyd and Rupert Thomson. Equally writers such as Jonathan Lethem and Iain Banks can work on both sides of the great divide whilst only occasionally dipping their toes into slipstream.

Of course it isn’t necessarily a case of slipstream being the best of both worlds. For example, Lethem’s lone slipstream novel As She Climbed Across The Table is the least impressive of his body of work. Slipstream is as variable in quality as everything else. It can however produce uniquely interesting books.

posted by ninebelow at 6:05 AM on September 6, 2006

Mereley pointing out that he didn't 'coin the phrase' just applied it to Sci-Fi writings. IMHO The Slipstream has been the moments between sleep and dream
posted by Gungho at 6:20 AM on September 6, 2006

Great definition ninebelow.
If slipstream is to be a genre then I wish to propose it's expansion.
Let me suggest:
Richard Brautigan - In Watermelon Sugar
The Bible - Jonah and the Whale, etc.
Tom Robbins - several writings
[your suggestions here]
All have that difficult-to-define crossing over from realist to unreal which takes you by surprise when it works and fits well into the story.
posted by nofundy at 7:12 AM on September 6, 2006

ninebelow: excellent post.
posted by cstross at 7:28 AM on September 6, 2006

Slipstream is if anything a precursor to science fiction, resembling extremely strongly (as the definition overlaps) the adventure/exploration fiction which spawned the modern SF genre. Fantastical settings were originally imagined within the existing and nonfictional world, set at the pole or atop a mountain or below the earth, etc etc, and eventually authors transitioned to just creating wholly new worlds.

This of course applies only if you are attempting to define slipstream itself, which is difficult and perhaps futile. The term is more defined referentially to existing and well-established genres; any book with this tendency to slip into "the chinks in the genre machine" can qualify as slipstream.
posted by mek at 3:27 PM on September 7, 2006

« Older Stolen art exhibit   |   Wait, so lawbreakers can be unethical too? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments