Total inversion

“Talk of the changing relationship between the speculative genres and the mainstream surely predated Bruce Sterling’s now-canonical 1989 essay on slipstream, but the past several years have seen an enormous proliferation of collections based on Sterling’s concept or a related one. What now seems most significant is that, two decades later, slipstream is finally selling. Of course, not everyone is sold on it, so to speak, and slipstream is surely selling rather modestly in comparison with “mainstream” SF and fantasy. Even so, the anthologies are steadily accumulating, and “slipstream” is beginning to lose its scare quotes, at least in some circles. Fans, editors, and even writers seem less afraid to apply the label or have the label applied to them. For instance, James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel’s 2006 collection Feeling Very Strange soon lost its self-proclaimed title as “The Slipstream Anthology,” when not two years later Allen Ashley released Subtle Edens: An Anthology of Slipstream Fiction. (Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers’ Slipstreams, also 2006, seems to have kept a lower profile.) Many other anthologies and periodicals have tended to ignore the word “slipstream” even when voicing what are arguably similar ideas—and even when including many of the very same writers: a follow-up to Interfictions was released last fall, and ParaSpheres 2 is scheduled for release early this year.. They just keep coming!”

“Chabon’s earlier editorial work deserves our serious consideration now, not because it predated what may come to be known as “the slipstream boom” (or possibly “the slipstream bubble”), but because Chabon comes at the ongoing “slipstream” debates from a very different place and at a very different angle. If you’re at all interested or invested in these debates, his introduction to MECOAS may prove the most interesting part of the book. On the other hand, if you’re tired of the debates, skip Chabon’s intro and admire the selling point of another (possibly) slipstream anthology, Small Beer Press’s 2003 collection Trampoline: “does not contain a manifesto.”

“For those interested in the Great Debate, it’s worth looking at the concept behind MECOAS. Chabon makes the familiar gesture of locating the best contemporary fiction in a mutually fruitful synthesis of genre and mainstream: “it might be possible to argue… that our finest and most consistently interesting contemporary writers are those whose works seem to originate from both traditions”. Almost immediately, however, he shifts focus from a discussion of genre conventions and distinctions to the sheer pleasure of genre. One of the definitions usually proposed—and then dismissed—for slipstream is something like “science fiction with literary sensibilities,” but what Chabon seems to advocate here is the reestablishment of pulp sensibilities in any kind of fiction, whether genre or mainstream: suspense, heavy plotting, entertainment, and downright fun. Chabon’s introduction represents a total inversion of the way some science fiction writers and fans turn to concepts like “slipstream” out of some half-admitted desire to legitimize their endeavor. Chabon, without a doubt a mainstream figure, seems comfortable “legitimizing” the genres without appealing to any kind of literary sensibilities at all. In fact, he’s tired of literary sensibilities, because by now they’re just plain boring.”

A Look Back at a Tributary of the Slipstream Review of McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Michael Chabon, by T. S. Miller – Internet Review of Science Fiction, January 2010.

Image: Ed Valigursky, Amazing Stories May 1958, Brother Robot.

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