Slipstream sounds more like a term one might read in aeronautics, but it’s actually one in contradistinction to mainstream literary fiction. Bruce Sterling1 coined the term in 1989 for a movement arguably motivated by Carter Scholz’s observation that the “brain-dead” science fiction of 60s and 70s had lost the opportunity to become “worthy literature.” Sadly, bankrupt attitudes toward science and technology, which were increasingly divorced from any kind of reality, remained: “I have no hope at all that genre science fiction can ever again have any literary significance.”
Originally, slipstream was a contemporary writing whose very heart is anchored against reality; i.e., fantastic, surreal, illogical and with a “postmodern sensibility.” There is no sense of wonder that is found in classic science fiction. It is very strange and often “sarcastically tears at the structure of everyday life.” Slipstream, like postmodernism, questions identity, meaning, and representation.2 Sterling compares M. C. Escher to be the graphic equivalent of slipstream. Nine Below identifies three key observations to Sterling’s definition: science fiction written by non-genre writers, fiction that straddles work with one foot in science fiction and the other in mainstream, and fiction that has a strong post-modern sensibility.3 It is interesting to note that the latter point might have been softened. For example, Wikipedia simply puts slipstream as a “kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction/fantasy and mainstream literary fiction.” My operating definition is a slightly expanded version of this—cross-genre writing where the genres are speculative fiction and literary fiction, which is consistent with Mary Anne Mohanraj’s interpretation at Strange Horizons.4 Sterling’s column1 contains a list of 114 authors and their works considered to be slipstream.
(Some folks don’t even consider slipstream a true genre, but a style. James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, editors of Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology,5 argue that “cognitive dissonance is at the heart of slipstream, and that it is not so much a genre as a literary effect, like horror or comedy.”6 Kelly argues in Asimov Science, “I know what it feels like when I’m writing science fiction and fantasy; I understand what it takes to build the worlds and complicate the plots. But when I write slipstream, I find myself adopting different strategies, shifting my expectations. I don’t understand everything; the writing feels different. Strange. I suppose that’s not a very useful description, but there it is. So on a personal level, I can say that my slipstream has its own techniques, its own possibilities, and its own rewards.”7)
Maybe the cross-genre or interstitial fiction is a safer association because it doesn’t carry the perceived negative baggage of speculative fiction does to some in the literary arena. Slipstream stories have a feel of magical realism, which makes the familiar strange by taking a familiar context and disturbing it with science fiction and fantasy elements, but it’s far more jarring in slipstream.8 In the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute refers to slipstream as fabulation, which is magical realism written by non Latino writers (who established that genre firmly in literary circles).7
I bring this up because the newer interpretations of slipstream arguably parallel what has happened with magical realism identified as fabulation. That is, slipstream written by the literary folks is appearing as new wave fabulation,9 a term coined by Conjunctions.10,11
Clearly, slipstream prose may be graceful and eloquent, as noted in a blog12 referring to Reader’s Digest comments. And who can argue with that when prestigious literary publications are recently nominating this type of writing, albeit under the cloak of cross-genre writing, for awards such as 2010 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature by Salt.13
In the original context of slipstream, the references in citation 1 have many examples, but I prefer the broader context of what might be considered slipstream today—cross-genre speculative fiction with a literary flair. And yes, my work does have underlying meaning and doesn’t cater to postmodernism views. Below are some examples:
Before the Dawn, the Stars Would Sing. The magic of fairy tales is blended in this fantasy/romance flash fiction rich with poetic swaths (Enchanted Conversation, 2010).
Fervent Heat. This impressionism poetry was stimulated by abstract digital art in a collaborative work with Lisa Marie Peaslee (Silver Blade 2010).
Drenching Rains. This contest-winning surreal fantasy poem features trolls (Liquid Imagination 2009).
Coyote. This poem blends bizarro and fantasy with elements of humor (Silver Blade 2009).
Painting Myself into a Corner. This is a poem of surreal expressionism (Silver Blade 2009).
The Magical Realism of Astrology. This prose poem is bizarre as well as fantastic (Liquid Imagination 2009).
Raven-Black Dreams, http://www.liquid-imagination.com/JohnCMannoneRaven.html. This is heavily literary. It is a contest winning horror poem with echoes of Poe (Liquid Imagination 2008).
1. http://w2.eff.org/Misc/Publications/Bruce_Sterling/Catscan_columns/catscan.05 (July 1989)
2. Ashen Wings, http://www.ashenwings.com/virtues/slipstream.html (2004)
3. Nine Below live journal, http://ninebelow.livejournal.com/169856.html (May 2010)
4. Strange Horizons, “Avoiding the Potholes: Adventures in Genre-Crossing,” http://www. strangehorizons.com/2001/20010702/editorial.shtml (July 2001)
5. Reviews of Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology by James Patrick Kelly, http://www.librarything.com/work/930149
6. Slipstream Quarterly: http://slipstreamquarterly.com/?p=3 (February 2010)
7. Asimov Science Fiction, http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0312/onthenet.shtml (December 2003)
8. Ask Metafilter, http://ask.metafilter.com/143822/What-is-Slipstream (January 2010)
9. The Future of the Fantastic: New Wave Slipstream Fabulism by Eric Rosenfield, http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=node/134 (March 2007)
10. The Writer’s Chronicle, http://thewriterschronicle.blogspot.com/2009/06/recently-ive-been-thinking-alot-about.html (June 2009)
11. Conjunctions http://www.conjunctions.com/archives/c39-ps.htm
12. Reader’s Digest, http://www.everything.com/WD-Youre-Now-Entering-the-Twilight-Zone/#axzz0rzNuYlf0)
13. Warwick blog, http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/ttooulig/entry/a_prize_for (February 2010)
John C. Mannone is a widely published award-winning poet nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize and for the 2010 Rhysling Poetry Award. His poetry and short fiction appear in numerous literary and speculative fiction journals such as Pirene’s Fountain, Aethlon, Skive Magazine, The Linnet’s Wings, Eclectic Flash, Silver Blade, Liquid Imagination, Enchanted Conversation, and Astropoetica. Professor Mannone is a nuclear consultant and teaches college physics in east Tennessee.