20 March 2012


Fiction genres can be slippery. Supposedly there's a new genre called slipstream. According to wikipedia, "Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction/fantasy and mainstream literary fiction."

Slipstream has actually been around since at least 1989 when Bruce Sterling first discussed it: "Slipstream" in CATSCAN 5. He said, ...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books "slipstream." And "Slipstream" is a parody of "mainstream," and nobody calls mainstream "mainstream" except for us skiffy trolls. Read the article, it's interesting.

The reason I bring this up is "The Wall Street Journal" discussed slipstream in a book review from the end of last year: "The Future of Science Fiction" by Tom Shippey. I'm all for TWSJ discussing science fiction in any context. :) According to Shippey, "literary authors have started "slipstreaming"—to borrow Bruce Sterling's term—writing books with sci-fi scenarios." and he gives various examples including works by Iain Banks, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood. Shippey makes some good points:What slipstreamers seem to like in sci-fi is the scenarios, usually utopian or dystopian. Yet what's missing in Ms. Atwood's own speculative fictions is what sci-fi fans really like: explanation and analysis. Sci-fi futures need to show not just when and what but also how.

IMHO, trying to differentiate between "slipstream" and "Sci-fi" or whatever else you want to call it, is pretty much splitting hairs. Authors can call their work what they want. And if it helps them sell books, all the better.

What do you think?

1 comment:

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I've long tried to get a handle on slip stream and haven't yet.

The oddest definition I've seen involved something about how it makes you feel odd when you read it.

Sorry but WTF??

Yeah. I wish I was smart enough to get it.