#113 = Volume 38, Part 1 = March 2011
NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE
Suggested Further Readings in the Slipstream. To supplement this special issue, I asked SFS’seditors and consultants for lists of up to ten works of slipstream published since 1989, when Bruce Sterling’s original essay, with its own list, appeared. The results that follow suggest future lines of investigation into the complex crossbreeding of mainstream and genre fiction today.—Rob Latham, SFS
Brian Attebery: One line in Bruce Sterling’s essay on slipstream best sums up the category (though the definition depends on an understanding of which “you” his hypothetical recommender is addressing): “This isn’t SF, but it sure ain’t mainstream and I think you might like it, okay?” If “you” are like me, you like books that convey a sense that the world is not what it seems: that realism is, as Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in 1972, “the least adequate means of understanding or portraying the incredible realities of our existence.” I agree with Sterling that slipstream, to be a meaningful category, can’t be simply sf or fantasy written by a mainstream author and published without the genre label. I usually avoid those books. When I read them, I am often irritated or disappointed. A good recent example is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), a beautifully written cloning story that makes no sense in terms of world-building or, so far as I could see, as any sort of metaphoric treatment of real issues. With that caveat in mind, here is my list:
1) Karen Joy Fowler, Wit’s End (2008). I would have picked Sarah Canary (1991), but, like its author, I read that book as sf. This metafictional mystery looks more realistic, but Fowler makes us too aware of the constructedness of fiction (without ever falling into postmodern framebreaking clichés) to read it as entirely real.
2) John Crowley, The Translator (2002). Like Fowler, Crowley writes stories that allow reading in realistic or fantastic terms: this is a richly realistic novel about the Cold War that is at the same time the story of an angelic struggle.
3) Ursula K. Le Guin, Sea Road (1991). Le Guin’s most mainstream book is too aware of its proximity to the ocean to remain entirely within realism. Whatever ordinary lives people try to live in the seaside town, the sea is always there to sweep away what they build and to cast up messages in foam.
4) China Miéville, The City and the City (2009). One of the bizarre realities created by modern politics is the divided state, which Miéville renders in an eerily detailed fiction that never quite crosses the line into fantasy.
5) Molly Gloss, Wild Life (2000). One of the best novels about Western history takes a writer of scientific romances into a haunted wilderness where she meets both Sasquatch and herself.
6) Richard Powers, The Echo Maker (2006). Powers manages to be a mainstream writer who writes genuine science fiction, but this novel uses science in a different way. A character’s brain injury demonstrates how precarious is the balance of neurological functions that allows us to perceive normal reality.
7) Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000). There isn’t much to say about this widely admired tour of the twentieth century through the lens of comic books, except that it finds something new to say about the way symbolic characters such as the Golem interact with merely real ones.
8) Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (2002). If your reality includes aliens, sinister embodiments of Colonel Sanders, and talking cats, this is a perfectly realistic novel. And whose reality does not?
9) Geoff Ryman, The King’s Last Song (2006). A ride on Ryman’s prose is always moving and deeply unsettling. In this novel we ride through Cambodian history, ancient and modern, though no character literally moves through time except the human way, from birth to death.
Russell Blackford: I’m not confident that we yet have a good understanding of the relationship(s) between genre sf and fantasy, on the one hand, and other modern forms of non-mimetic narrative on the other. Nor am I sure that “slipstream” is the best term to apply to non-genre, non-mimetic narratives or to non-genre narratives that are informed by the emergence of science: such a broad category may be used to elide many complexities. That said, the following is a list of recent authors whose careers have generally developed outside the “industry” of genre sf and fantasy, while spinning off narratives that should attract the interest of sf scholars. In each case, I have suggested one or two recent novels.
1) Peter Carey, The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994) and Parrot and Olivier in America (2010). Carey has been working across literary borders and in the genre interstices for many, many years.
2) Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2 (1995) and The Echo Maker (2006). A literary novelist whose work is deeply informed by science.
3) James Bradley, The Deep Field (1999). Love, loss, and life extension.
4) Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009). Atwood denies writing science fiction, but novels such as these would surely fall into any plausible definition of the genre based on formal characteristics.
5) Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day (2006). The ultimate slipstream blockbuster.
Equally interesting are writers who have worked within the “industry” but moved away from its icons and expectations. Notable examples are Neal Stephenson, William Gibson (especially the Bigend trilogy, beginning with Pattern Recognition ), China Miéville, and Connie Willis (especially Passage ).
Mark Bould: Was there a slipstream cinema when Sterling coined the term? Maybe nouvelle vague sf movies, such as Godard’s Alphaville (1965) and Week End (1967), Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime (1968), Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), and Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face (1960). Maybe Hiroshi Teshigahara’s collaborations with Kobo Abe: Pitfall (1962), Woman in the Dunes (1964), The Face of Another (1966), and The Ruined Map (1968). David Cronenberg and David Lynch, of course, and such animators as Jan Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers. Lars von Trier, Werner Herzog, and Alex Cox some of the time, and Atom Egoyan most of the time but never quite, really. If there is a slipstream cinema now, these are some of the directors/titles to consider:
1) Craig Baldwin, Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1992). Found footage alternative history of US imperialism in Latin America, inspired by the Shaver mysteries. See also Baldwin’s RocketKitKongoKit (1986), Spectres of the Spectrum (1999), and Mock Up on Mu (2008).
2) Lynn Hershman-Leeson, Teknolust (2002). A delightful film about cloning, coding, contagion, color-coordination, and love. See also Conceiving Ada (1997).
3) Richard Kelly, Southland Tales (2006). Sprawling apocalyptic comedy about the present conjuncture, sadly less than the sum of its parts, many of which are fabulous. See also Donnie Darko (2001).
4) Cory McAbee, Stingray Sam (2008). Commissioned to make a film for viewing on any screen, from cell-phone size upwards, McAbee—ukulele and autoharp-player and vocalist for The Billy Nayer Show—returns to his true vocation: making westerns in space, with songs, beguilingly. See also The American Astronaut (2001).
5) Guy Maddin, My Winnipeg (2007). A fabulist “docufantasia” and happily self-contradicting alternative history of Maddin’s home town. See also Careful (1992), Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997), and Heart of the World (2000).
6) Vincenzo Natali, Nothing (2003). What if you could just make it all go away? All the hassles of daily life, the annoying people, the cops, everything. Absolutely everything. The most genre-oriented director on this list, Natali has an adaptation of Ballard’s High Rise (1975)in development and has just been hired to direct Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984). See also Cube (1997), Cypher (2002), and Splice (2009).
7) Shinya Tsukamoto, A Snake of June (2002). A troubling and moving film about repression, cancer, photography, obsessive-compulsive displacement activities, stalking, and semi-sentient organic-metallic snake-like strap-on dildos. Tsukamoto explores again the unhomeliness of the modern city and the agony of communication, uncovering weirdness in the cracks. See also the Tetsuo series (1989, 1992, 2009), Vital (2004), and Haze (2005).
8) Kevin Willmott, C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004). Pseudo-documentary alternate history set in a world in which the South won the Civil War—only a lot of the racist adverts and PSAs it includes are not pseudo at all, but genuine American cultural products. See also Bunker Hill (2008).
9) Nicolas Winding Refn, Valhalla Rising (2009). Winding Refn leaves behind the Danish underworld of no-hope criminals to make a film about religion and war as interlocked forms of brutality. It is all oddly ambient, as if Tarkovsky had made a Conan movie. See also Fear X (2003).
Not a tenth title but ten more titles: Afterlife (1998), Bad Boy Bubby (1993), The Bothersome Man (2006), 4 (2005), Last Night (1998), Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo (2010), Possible Worlds (2000), Primer (2004), Special (2006), waydowntown (2000). Oh, and TV’s Fishing with John (1991). And Charlie Kauffman’s scripts.
Andrew M. Butler: Here are some recent slipstream titles well worth reading by sf scholars:
1) T. Coraghessan Boyle, Collected Stories (1999). I’ve only once asked a bookseller for a book, you know, with a brown spine, and a picture on the cover, it was over there and was about that thick … well, only once seriously, and remarkably they pointed me to the right book—Boyle’s first three collections of short stories. I’ve never got on with his novels, but these early stories gave me the same buzz I got from Howard Waldrop.
2) Richard Brautigan, Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942 (1977). Some of the late 1960s and 1970s metafictions I read as a teen or twenty-something seem a little insufferable to me now, so I’m not sure if I could go back to Trout Fishing in America (1967) or In Watermelon Sugar (1968). This is a Brautigan I discovered recently—a detective narrative that moves beyond parody with a sense of transcendence.
3) Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (1977). I’ve never read as much Carter as I should have, in part because so many people were working on her and I couldn’t hope to compete, and research drives my genre reading. I really enjoyed this apocalyptic tale of sex changes and want to read more than the two or three others I’ve sampled.
4) Geoff Ryman, “Was…” (1992).A moving story of several Oz-es—an actor prepares for a final role as the Scarecrow, Judy Garland tours vaudeville as a child, and the real Dorothy Gale, who had no rainbow to escape over.
5) David Seabrook, All the Devils Are Here (2002). Psychogeography narrativizes geography and history, in a way that isn’t entirely paranoiac, and there are many fine examples by Iain Sinclair. Less well-known is the late David Seabrook’s account of Dickens, Dadd, Hawtrey, Hepburn, Eliot, et al., in Kent (and London)—murder, madness, homosexuality, fascism, and poetry.
6) Emma Tennant, Hotel du Dream (1976). Tennant’s short novels are a rich brew of metafiction, fantastical towns and landscapes, and explorations of female sensibilities.
Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.: Who the hell knows what slipstream is? Science fiction without the commitment? Science fiction shooting the moon to the genre? Science fiction as one slop of hue on the palette? I don’t know. So here is my list:
1) Chingiz Aitmatov, The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years (written in 1980, published in English translation in 1988). Utopian/dystopian space story as one of three slices of time in late Soviet Kazakhstan. The first sf fully folded into serious lit in Russia since the 1920s.
2) Victor Pelevin, Buddha’s Little Finger (2000). Time-schism in a contemporary Russian mental hospital. Is it real chronoclasm or just hallucination? Pelevin is the contemporary satirical master of Russian slipping around.
3) Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome (1996). The “true history” of the discovery of malaria. Western science slips into “another reason.” Ghosh is a great contemporary “realist,” but this one slides away. (Can this be done without quotation marks?)
4) Gwyneth Jones, Life (2004). A realist novel catalyzed by an sf premise. Everything is excruciatingly realistic except the thing that makes things happen.
5) Jeff Noon, Nymphomation (1997). There was a nanosecond when people thought Noon was writing cyberpunk. Har! har! In Noon’s Vurt novels, sf stands in for the real world; phantasmagoria for … phantasmagoria.
Neil Easterbrook: Even if we restrict our lists to ten texts, they could never be complete or acceptably representative. So here I list favorites—some predictable, others not—to help us continue to think seriously about a literature that uses sf devices for, perhaps, either mainstream or innovative purposes.
1) Russell Hoban, Fremder (1996). Hoban is known for Riddley Walker (1980), but Fremder is more overtly a work of sf. Like that earlier book, Fremder uses sf conceits to revel in the rich possibilities of literature itself as the technology of change, growth, and imaginative rejuvenation of the self.
2) Cees Nooteboom, In the Dutch Mountains (1984; in English translation, 1987). More pomo stories-within-stories, but this magical-realist novella captures the imaginative impulse to write and the great results that come from writing, itself rewriting a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Certainly more fantasy than sf, but it’s analytic fantasy—hard on the outside and immediately accessible within—which is sort of how his surname translates into English.
3) Christine Brooke-Rose, Xorandor (1986). Two young children, a sentient rock, and various experiments in narrative form. Several of the books on my list share this interest in formal innovation, and this one is just possibly also accessible to young adults.
4) Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2 (1995). By one of the under-appreciated masters of modern fiction, this novel provides a funny and profound meditation on consciousness, especially in attempts to master aesthetic complexity (in the context of doctoral exams in a university English department). Recognizing that we cannot “see everything” nor can we ever decontextualize—a paradigmatic postmodern lesson—the novel liberates and empowers rather than producing cynical despair.
5) Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day (2006). Discussed at length in this issue.
6) William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003). Gary K. Wolfe called this an example of “non-sf sf,” and I think it Gibson’s best and only fully postmodern book.
7) Haruki Murakami, Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985; in English translation 1991). Two imbricated stories, one sf and one fantasy, by one of the most entertaining and inventive of contemporary novelists.
8) David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2004). A magnificent demonstration of the power of formal patterning in narrative (and so reminiscent of Calvino). Mitchell develops many of his scenarios and patterns from expressly literary sf.
9) Raymond Federman, The Twofold Vibration (1982). While Sterling and later Lawrence Person include this on their slipstream lists, neither got the title right (and Person couldn’t get the author’s name right). I read it the year before I entered doctoral study, which included work with Ray, who exhibited an overwhelming passion, a real joy for literature I’ve never seen in another professor; that real-life persona is wonderfully present in the fiction. In this exuberant, joyous story, the nominal sf topoi are used simply to explore the glorious conceits of narrativity.
10) Denis Johnson, Fiskadoro (1985). Johnson is far better known for other books, though I think this his best. (Haven’t read Nobody Move  yet.) A richly poetic post-apocalypse, reminiscent of Riddley Walker but more concerned with characterization and emotion than language and interpretation.
11) Samuel R. Delany, Atlantis: Model 1924 (1995). The sf community continues to venerate many of Delany’s sf texts, pay lip service to the fantasy books, and ignore everything else. While this novella might be called mundane or mainstream, its slipstream affiliations make it worth inclusion as another example of non-sf sf. Here, one novum is race, and the city is caught amidst change.
Paweł Frelik: Here is a quick list of slipstream works, not all since 1989, but all worth serious study:
1) Anna Kavan, Ice (1967). Often forgotten nowadays, Ice combines dreamlike and surreal imagery with proto-feminist concerns. Set in an indeterminate post-apocalyptic space and time, the novel foregrounds ice and snow, in the process aligning itself with other “Antarctic” works, from Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) to Poland’s Jacek Dukaj’s Lód (Ice, 2007) as the agents of entropic disequilibrium.
2) William S. Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night (1981). One of the most coherent of Burroughs’s novels, Cities of the Red Night shifts between multiple timelines, as usual bringing the subversive gospel of left-field politics and non-normative sexuality. The novel’s motto “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” (which WSB borrowed from Hassan-i Sabbāh, the founder of the sect of Assassins) can be taken as encapsulating the spirit of literary rebellion against the standards of both mundane fiction and genre sf.
3) Steve Erickson, Day Between Stations (1985), Arc d’X (1993), Amnesiascope (1996). The author of eight novels, Erickson is among the most original and least known contemporary American authors. His generically indeterminate writing, drawing in equal measures on magic realism, science fiction, surrealism, postmodern fiction, and autobiography, is both highly lyrical and resistant to systematic interpretation, which may at least partly account for his lack of recognition, even in academic circles.
4) Kathy Acker, Empire of the Senseless (1988). Considered by Acker a turning point in her writing, this novel’s two protagonists are near-future terrorists (one of them a cyborg) in the ruins of Paris. Deeply political and sexual, the novel also famously plagiarizes Gibson’s Neuromancer.
5) José Carlos Somoza, Clara y la penumbra (2001; The Art of Murder, 2004). An extended treatise on the nature of art and aesthetics, Somoza’s sf-meets-detective novel is set in a near future in which images are exhibited not on canvas but on human bodies.
6) Steve Tomasula, VAS: An Opera in Flatland (2002). Mind-bogglingly complex, VAS conveys its futurity as much in the plot as in its layout and composition, which masterfully imitate multi-tasked flows of dense verbal-visual information. If there ever was a book that needed to be seen, this is it.
7) Michel Houellebecq, La Possibilité d’une île (2005; The Possibility of an Island, 2006). Even though Houellebecq is known for his fascination with Lovecraft, The Possibility of an Island bears a very strong science-fictional imprint. Unified by the character of Daniel, a comic sketch writer, the novel interweaves two plotlines: Daniel’s contemporary autobiographical account of his career and the far-future commentary of his cloned descendants living in a barren and entropic world.
Joan Gordon: This short list of slipstream writing has made me happy. Every one of these is fun to read, impossible to categorize, and great of heart.
1) Leslie Forbes, Bombay Ice (1999) and Fish, Blood and Bone (2001). Bombay Ice is a mash-up of The Tempest, Bollywood, chaos theory, and murder mysteries, while Fish, Blood and Bone throws together botany, photography, secret history, and more murder.
2) Shelley Jackson, Half Life (2006). Conjoined twins, alternate A-tests, Venn diagrams, and rights movements.
3) Shaun Tan, The Arrival (2007). A wordless graphic novel about people moving from scary unnamed countries to a land not unlike Australia, full of hard work, strange and helpful animals, and kind gestures.
4) Scarlett Thomas, PopCo (2009) and The End of Mr. Y (2007). PopCo combines mathematics, code-breaking, and a sinister yet charming toy company; The End of Mr. Y features a mysterious book, homeopathy, and parallel worlds.
5) Jill Paton Walsh, Knowledge of Angels (1994). Not only does it explore the serious question of whether someone who has never heard of God will still have knowledge of the spiritual world but, more importantly, it is about a child raised by wolves.
Veronica Hollinger: These are some slipstream novels I like, in no particular order:
1) Jeff Noon, Automated Alice (1996). Fantasy as a metaphor for science fiction.
2) Jonathan Lethem, Gun, with Occasional Music (1994). Textualization of noir and sf, textuality all the way down.
3) Walter Mosley, Futureland (2001). Black politics in a rather stiffly imagined future cyber-setting.
4) Archie Weller, The Land of the Golden Clouds (1998). There’s nothing else like this in print: a far-future post-apocalyptic novel of Australia, as much myth-making as it is science fiction (or fantasy)—an epic in awkward prose.
5) Carol Emshwiller, The Mount (2002). Looks like science fiction but is so in love with language that the allegorical poetry is at least as marked as the science-fictional realism.
6) Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (2005). Doctorow’s interest in the possibilities of high-tech communications mix with some outrageous impossibilities: Alan’s mother really is a washing machine and his father really is a mountain.
7) China Miéville, The City and the City (2009). Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke and Hugo Awards for best sf novel, nominated for a World Fantasy Award. The reader moves through a police procedural that unfolds between the genre and the genre.
Rob Latham: I’ve cheated, since as editor of this special issue, I saw all the other lists before producing my own. As a result, I have included texts that no one else has mentioned, not because I think they are the best of slipstream but because they might otherwise drop through the cracks of this baggy and amorphous discourse. These are all well-written and affecting works deserving of serious critical scrutiny.
1) Rachel Ingalls, Mrs. Caliban (1982). Written before Sterling’s slipstream essay but not appearing on his original list, this quirky and poignant tale from an underrated writer tells the story of an unhappy housewife’s doomed love affair with a frog monster. Her next novel, Binstead’s Safari (1983), is another cross-species romance, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936) as retold by Jean Cocteau.
2) Stephen Wright, M31: A Family Romance (1988). Postmodern Family Gothic at its most consistently deranged; David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) crossed with The Addams Family—the latter reimagined as a coven of Midwestern UFO fanatics. Most of Wright’s novels have elements of the ambiguously fantastic, including his masterpiece of metastasized mass media, Going Native (1993).
3) Cynthia Kadohata, In the Heart of the Valley of Love (1992). An underplayed version of more spectacular LA-based near-future apocalypses, such as Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993), meticulously conceived and haunting. Her next novel, The Glass Mountains (1995), is a stark little Arabian Nights fantasy set on another planet.
4) Iain Sinclair, Radon Daughters: A Voyage, Between Art and Terror, from the Mound of Whitechapel to the Limestone Pavements of the Burren (1994). Don’t let the pretentious subtitle dissuade you: this is a deeply creepy portrait of urban decay, populated by radiation addicts, occult enthusiasts, and other assorted obsessives. The poetic prose—fierce, dissonant, corrosive—is demanding but rewarding.
5) Stephen Millhauser, Enchanted Night (1999). Since the death of Angela Carter, Millhauser is probably the best mainstream fantasist working the vein that stretches back through the Surrealists to Poe and Hoffmann. This is a powerful short novel, told in crystalline fragments, of a next-door world as arresting and elusive as a dream. The weird stories gathered in his earlier collections, In the Penny Arcade (1985) and The Barnum Museum (1990), are also worth seeking out.
Wendy Gay Pearson: Here is a list of five superior Canadian slipstream novels:
1) Hiromi Goto, The Kappa Child (2001). Difficult to summarize like so many slipstream/magic realist/fantasy/sf novels, Kappa Child won the Tiptree Award and was nominated for the Sunburst. One might describe this as the story of a young Japanese-Canadian lesbian shopping-cart collector troubled by a past that includes an abusive father and racist surroundings and a present in which she is trying to come to terms with friends, potential lovers, and a possibly false pregnancy. The novel, however, is so much more than this: an evocation of Prairie life that combines Japanese mythology with the almost equally mythical history of western settlement, encapsulated in Little House on the Prairie (novels and tv show). A dense and funny novel, Kappa Child is embedded in a science-fictional milieu that is not always obvious: alien encounters on an airport runway during the “the last totally visible lunar eclipse of the twentieth century,” alien-abduction narratives, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) form only a fraction of its location in sf culture.
2) Larissa Lai, Salt Fish Girl (2002). Lai has a particular fascination with Blade Runner (1982), which plays a small but significant role in her first novel, When Fox is a Thousand (1995), a multi-narrative exploration of lesbian life and love in ancient China and contemporary Vancouver. In Salt Fish Girl (another Tiptree nominee), Lai combines Chinese mythology with science fiction in a narrative set partly in the past and partly in a near-future, disintegrating West Coast. The protagonist, Miranda, may be an unaware immortal Chinese mythical creature, the daughter of a loyal but ruined corporate salariman from the suburbs of Blade Runner, or an illegal clone produced by the novel’s own version of the mad doctor. The novel has many sf allusions, including a few to Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve (1977).
3) Geoff Ryman, “Was…” (1992).Magic realism seems to be the theme of my slipstream choices. What else could you call a novel that brings together the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy as she might really have been, a young Frances Gumm aka Judy Garland, and a color-blind actor with AIDS? The least science-fictional of my choices, Was is nevertheless full-on Ryman. The novel asks some difficult questions, particularly about how adults treat children and how children are forced to contort, distort, and even make themselves into monsters in order to cope with the adult world: hence Jonathan’s color-blindness, Judy’s use of performance as distraction, and Dorothy’s self-transformation from sexually-abused child to monster. This constitutes neither a summary nor a just treatment of the novel, but it points to a few of the things that make it such an important text from the early years of the AIDS crisis.
4) Nalo Hopkinson, The New Moon’s Arms (2007). We’re all used to things seeming to magically disappear (that second sock, our youths), but it’s rarer for missing objects to magically reappear. That is the case, however, for Hopkinson’s 50-something protagonist, Calamity (née Chastity), who finds herself suddenly raising an abandoned toddler on the imaginary Caribbean island of Dolorosse. As a child, Chastity had a magical talent for finding lost objects, which disappeared alongside her mother; as an adult, Calamity regains this power to remarkable results, including the young foster son, Agway, who is not quite human but rather a creature of the sea. A powerful and moving story of some very remarkable women, including Calamity’s daughter Ifeoma, this is less science- fictional than some of Hopkinson’s work but deeply rewarding as an evocation of a life that has suffered “a sea change into something rich and strange.”
5) Shani Mootoo, Cereus Blooms at Night (1996). Another tale of imaginary Caribbean islands, this subtly queer first novel by Irish-born Trinidadian-Canadian writer Shani Mootoo tells the story of abused young women and two gender-changing children of the island of Lantanacamara. The narrator is a male nurse and cross-dresser who finds himself caring for an old woman whose remarkable story lays bare not only the colonial history and racism of the island’s past but also the ways in which its gender politics force people into untenable positions and unthinkable acts. Forced into marriage with Chandin, Sarah, a good Indian girl, falls in love with the same white woman her husband had adored but been unable to marry. Sarah and Lavinia elope to the Shivering Northern Wetlands, leaving behind an angry husband who sexually abuses his two children, Mala and Asha. Things come to a crisis when the adult Mala begins to date Otoh, the son of a man whom, as an adolescent, she had loved and nearly seduced. Otoh, however, is biologically female, though he identifies as male and wears his father’s clothes (further confusing Mala, who is already deeply damaged and isolated from “real life”). Full of extraordinary magic-realist moments and richly drawn characters.
John Rieder: I asked two colleagues to collaborate in compiling this list: Cristina Bacchilega (CB), a professor of English and specialist in folklore, fairy tale studies, and postmodern fiction; and Ida Yoshinaga (IY), a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.
1) Carol Emshwiller, Report to the Men’s Club and Other Stories (2002). Emshwiller launches the reader through disorienting narrative mazes, including “Abominable,” told by a member of an all-male paramilitary group that hunts for the men’s wives, who have established a mountainside civilization of fur-coat-wearing wild women; “Mrs. Jones,” in which the delicate balance of power between two sisterly shut-ins is undone when a demon-like being appears, and one sister enslaves, domesticates, and weds it; and “Creature,” wherein a male war survivor hiding out in an Arctic borderland shelters a wounded female monster bioengineered to kill the enemy. (IY)
2) Carol Emshwiller, I Live With You (2005). Emshwiller’s koan-like tales play with conventional narration and genre. The title story, “I Live With You and You Don’t Know It,” is told by a never-revealed first-person narrator to “you,” an introverted woman into whose house the narrator breaks—hiding, wearing her clothes, using her things, and eating her food when not watched. “You” eventually allows this unseen guest to give her a lifestyle makeover, helping her seduce her first lover. (IY)
3) Valerio Evangelisti, Mater Terribilis (2002). This Italian author interweaves a historical fiction about Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais with an account of media manipulation during the first Gulf War developing into warfare by mass hallucination by mid-twenty-first century, as well as a third thread recounting the struggles against heresy of the irascible thirteenth-century inquisitor Nicolas Eymerich. This is the eighth installment in Evangelisti’s Eymerich novels, which remain, lamentably, unavailable in English. (JR)
4) Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Canary (2004). Sarah Canary, an unintelligible white woman who suddenly enters a Chinese railroad laborers’ camp in the Pacific Northwest in 1873, is a cipher to the other characters in Fowler’s debut novel—a Chinese philosopher turned contract worker, an existentialist asylum inmate, a circus showman who survived a Civil War POW camp, and a suffragist lecturer—but also a kaleidoscope through which the characters impose their genres of story (they view her as a ghostly goddess, a feral child, a tragic rich woman, a feminist murderess, and an Alaskan Wild Woman; Fowler has admitted that she is an extraterrestrial). Multiple views of “frontier” America at its margins. (IY)
5) Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium, and Discovery (1996). This taut postcolonial revisionary history rewrites Ronald Ross’s discovery of the role of mosquitoes in carrying malaria as a conspiracy of Ross’s Indian assistants, led by the mysterious Mangala, whose real objective is not a cure for malaria but the Calcutta chromosome, a chemical agent (based upon malaria) designed to transfer one’s personality into a host body. (JR)
6) Nalo Hopkinson, Skin Folk (2001). Fifteen linguistically innovative short stories featuring “people who aren’t what they seem”: their skins bear the burdens of colonialism, capitalism, sexism, immigration, cultural displacement, and racism, yet “once they get under their own skins,” they fly. This Caribbean creolization of world-famous fairy tales and mythology, often set in present-day Toronto, mixes magic with urban fantasy, ghost story, and erotic tale to conjure visions of persistence and hope. (CB)
7) Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners (2006). Calling up horror, ghosts, faery, and science fiction, these quirky tales take us on an estranging romp through the thrift stores of story, one that—in its crossing thresholds between genres, sensory experiences, and TV screens—offers an emotionally gripping journey with no point of arrival but many a glimpse of anti-consumerist desire. (CB)
8) Lost, ABC TV (2005-2010), made the terms “flash forward” and “sideways world” into part of the technical jargon of broadcast serial TV. (JR)
9) Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (1991). The complex handling of chronology throughout Silko’s novel effectively dissolves the present into the near future and recent past, into experiences both recalled and anticipated, and on a larger scale effectively reduces the present era to a very small moment within the prophetic scale of the Indian history of the past and future—the 30,000 years of Indian occupation of the land, the 500 years of colonial invasion, and the days or decades or centuries that separate the present from the inevitable self-destruction of the so-called Destroyers and their entire unbalanced way of life. (JR)
10) Albert Wendt, The Adventures of Vela (2009). This visionary Oceanian novel is at the same time an anti-war epic poem, urban fantasy, playful metafiction, commentary on colonial history and globalized popular culture, and anti-mythic story. It recasts Samoan and other traditional narratives from an anti-colonial, future-oriented perspective while recounting the making of an artist who is never simply “one,” in the guise of the songmaker’s parodic journey in the worlds of Nei (now) and Olfact, and his chronicling of the oral poetry of Vela and the feats of the goddess Nafanua. (CB)
Sherryl Vint: Here is an assortment of slipstream titles from the past decade or so that I have found challenging and compelling:
1)Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007). The story of an alternative Alaska colonized by displaced Jews after World War II. Although this novel has been largely accepted as falling within the category of sf, its similarity to other works on this list underscores the importance of thinking about whether slipstream is truly other than sf or simply a term that fits the best contemporary sf, useful for distinguishing such fiction from the plethora of Star Wars novelizations and other marketing products that share the genre label.
2) Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others (2002). A collection of short stories that query ontology, epistemology, and subjectivity. Chiang’s blend of relentlessly logical extrapolation links his work with the tradition of hard sf, but his juxtaposition of this technique with other epistemological traditions (such as magic) indicates a compelling interrogation of genre categories and real-world epistemic regimes.
3) Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008). For the most part a realist novel about a family of Dominican exiles, the novel introduces slipstream elements through a magical-realist mongoose and the main character’s deep knowledge of and love for sf. It interweaves a detailed history of Trujillo’s dictatorship with the narrative of the de Leon family to make the important point that reality can be more perverse and dreadful than sf could ever imagine.
4) Don DeLillo, Point Omega (2010). A tale of a secret war advisor, Elster, who is asked to read all government documents and conceptualize a strategy for the war, joined by a filmmaker seeking to document his retreat into the desert, which culminates in the disappearance of Elster’s daughter. Shaped by Elster’s attempt to conceptualize the war as a haiku reflecting on the word rendition and memories of the 24-Hour Psycho exhibit of 1993, the novel captures the true strangeness of the twenty-first century.
5) Shelley Jackson, Half Life (2006). A novel about conjoined twins set in an alternative future in which radiation has made such embodiment common, and an entire culture has emerged to negotiate the complex interactions of twofers and singletons. Permeated by reflections on the consequences of nuclear war and pollution, the novel hovers between a realist narrative in another world and a fantasy projection of the damaged Nora, who cannot accept her complicity, as an American, in this damaged future.
6) Larissa Lai, Salt Fish Girl (2002). A fusion of techniques of magical realism and sf, the novel alternates between a nineteenth-century story of a water goddess who becomes embodied in human form and a twenty-first century story of a girl living in a corporate-walled enclave in a world decimated by the failures of GM agriculture. The two stories weave together to interrogate the continuity of old and new regimes of colonial expropriation.
7) Don LePan, Animals (2009). A book that presents itself as a narrative of the life of Sam, a human declared a mongrel (that is, impaired in his cognitive functions such that he is reclassified as non-human), combined with footnotes to this narrative written by a scholar from this future. Through the dialectic of Sam’s experiences and the “factual” footnotes, the novel queries a culture of factory farming premised on the complete denial of attributes of agency and subjectivity to non-human animals.
8) Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen (2001). A collection of short stories that is perhaps the most “canonically” slipstream on my list. Link’s work moves seamlessly between tropes of fantasy and horror, embedded within a realist prose that effectively captures our strange contemporary world. Link’s power is that she conveys an experience of the sublime, evoking awe and fear rather than mere cynicism.
9) Victor Pelevin, The Helmet of Horror (2005). This novel is written as the exchanges among a group of individuals trapped in isolated rooms who are able to communicate only via a bulletin-board site. They are assigned user names taken from myth, and their experience is loosely structured by the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. The plot queries the relationship between reality and its representations through the uncertain status of the helmet as real technology or mythological conceptualization.
10) Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange (1997). This work features the interwoven stories of individuals in California and Mexico and explores the complex exchanges of capital—commodities, labor, and virtual—that flow across this border, linking the fates of the privileged and dispossessed. Seemingly set in the future, the novel stresses that these exchanges shape our present; it makes visible these ties through a magical-realist orange tree whose physical strings tie together those who encounter its oranges.
Gary K. Wolfe: I have broadened sf to include fantasy and excluded such familiar names as Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, or Neal Stephenson, who already gain critical attention from both worlds; also excluded are writers associated with genre such as Graham Joyce or Peter Straub, who likewise garner mainstream reviews. In chronological order:
1) Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1990). Despite winning the National Book Award in 1991, this remarkable mix of history and fantasy, set largely on a slave ship in 1830, has been all but ignored by critics of the fantastic. Yet the fictional slave tribe the Allmuseri may be more ancient than any other humans, and their equally mysterious god—captured and kept in the ship’s hold—has the capacity to drive mad crewmen who come close to it.
2) Amin Maalouf, The First Century after Beatrice (1995). This French-Lebanese author’s extrapolation of the worldwide effects of a drug that permits a choice of male-only children treats its topic with more subtlety than many more well-known treatments of this or similar ideas.
3) Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2 (1995). Powers’s artificial-intelligence take on the Pygmalion story may seem dated in terms of AI theory, but explores the philosophical questions of identity and responsibility in a way that demonstrates how sf themes can enrich and enliven the traditional novel of character. He continued to explore sf themes in later novels, including Generosity: An Enhancement (2009).
4) Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome (1997). An English-language novel by a noted Indian author combines a solid sf conceit involving chromosome transfer with elements drawn from the Nobel prize-winning scientist Ronald Ross’s nineteenth-century investigations into the causes of malaria, in a plot that’s convoluted and mesmerizing.
5) José Saramago, Blindness (1995; in English translation, 1998). The late Nobel-winning Portuguese novelist revisits familiar apocalyptic territory in this fable of a mysterious worldwide epidemic of blindness; despite its austereness of invention (characters don’t even have names), the novel develops its plot in an incremental and suspenseful manner that recalls sf’s best catastrophe fiction.
6) Cecelia Holland, the Corban Loosestrife series (2002-2010). This series of six thoroughly researched historical novels, which began with The Soul Thief (2002) and concluded with The High Kings in 2010, traces a Viking family through much of Europe and much of the tenth century; it is among the most important fantasy series of the decade to remain invisible to fantasy readers. The fantasy elements grow more central as the series moves toward its conclusion and are in part a function of the characters’ world-view, as in some of Gene Wolfe’s fiction.
7) Daina Chaviano, The Island of Eternal Love (2006; in English translation, 2008). Chaviano, who writes in Spanish but lives in Miami, has long been recognized as Cuba’s most important sf author; but her first novel to be translated into English is a fantasia on Cuban history that was largely marketed and reviewed as magic realism despite its sophisticated use of fantasy tropes, such as an ancient family curse and houses that disappear and reappear elsewhere.
8) Albert Sanchez Pinol, Pandora in the Congo (2005; in English translation, 2008). Again, the magic-realism label may have been too conveniently applied to this Catalan novelist’s delightful mash-up of pulp adventure, postcolonialist narrative, and Vernian sf set in Africa, but it seems clear that Pinol (here translated by Jonathan Lethem’s sister Mara Faye Lethem, who is also the author Javier Calvo’s wife) was setting out to do something very close to what has been called slipstream.
9) Brian Evenson, Last Days (2009). Evenson’s precisely written yet brutal novel of a secret society seeking to attain God through self-mutilation was one of two titles he published in 2009, the other being Fugue State, a collection of stories that range from apocalyptic sf to postmodern surrealism. In both books, he demonstrates an original understanding of how genre materials may be incorporated into a highly individualistic vision. The chair of the writing program at Brown, Evenson also published a franchise tie-in with the Aliens movie series under the name B.K. Evenson.
10) Victor Lavalle, Big Machine (2009). A small-time black hustler raised in a suicide cult finds himself recruited as part of a secret society of paranormal investigators trying to find evidence of God by sifting through ancient newspaper clippings, leading into a complex plot that is part mystery, part sf, and part parable, in good slipstream tradition; like Middle Passage, however (the other African-American novel on this list), it has remained all but invisible to the genre community.
SF Cold War Exhibit. I am a Master’s student in History at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and conducted most of the research for this exhibit in the spring of 2010 for a class taught by Heather Cox Richardson on writing history for popular audiences. I built the online exhibit in summer 2010 as part of an internship at the UMass-Amherst Special Collections and University Archives. Prior histories of mid-century American sf have given too much weight to the Bomb and the Cold War and not nearly enough to such other factors as the postwar economy, the popularity of the paperback book, and the self-organizing tendencies of sf fans. This exhibit (and the academic paper on which it is based) adds these pieces to the puzzle. The library exhibit was displayed in the Special Collections section of the Du Bois Library at UMass-Amherst from 15 September to 31 October 2010, but the online version remains available at <http://www. library.umass.edu/spcoll/exhibits/uncertain/>.
Uncertain Futures documents the transition of North American sf from a small magazine-based genre in the 1920s and 1930s to a paperback empire three decades later. The exhibit draws on the resources of the UMass-Amherst SF Society’s lending library (the Society was founded in 1964 and its library is the second-largest on the east coast). Their treasure trove of sf memorabilia includes photographs of visits to campus by such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, and John W. Campbell. The online exhibit presumes no previous knowledge of science fiction and uses an intuitive navigation scheme that capitalizes on the visual appeal of sf illustrations; it embeds information both as links to bibliographic information and as links to expanded discussions of themes. —Morgan Hubbard, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Gernsback Exhibit in Luxembourg. “Hugo Gernsback: An Amazing Story” is showing through 18 March 2011 at the National Library Centre, located at 2, rue Emmanuel Servais L-7565 Mersch, Luxembourg. The website address is <www.cnl.public.lu>. Gernsback’s life is documented from his birth in Luxembourg through his science, technology, and sf publishing; his activity in fandom; and finally his rediscovery in his native country. The illustrated catalogue (cost: €25) may be ordered through the website at <CNL@cnl.etat.lu>. —Gérard Kraus
PKD Redux. A new play and a BBC miniseries suggest the continuing power of Philip K. Dick’s sf. Ridley Scott is adapting The Man in the High Castle (1962) as a four-part miniseries for the BBC, a project still in its early stages; and Edward Einhorn’s adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) ran through 11 December 2010 at the 3LD Art and Technology Center in Greenwich Village, New York City. Jason Zinoman’s review in The New York Times, which appeared on 3 December, hailed Einhorn’s effort “to reclaim the spirit of the book” as “dramatically shrewd, since a downtown play is a better forum than a Hollywood blockbuster for a grim meditation on religion, consumerism, and what it means to be human.” Moira Stone’s performance as Luba Luft—“both completely phony and movingly fragile at the same time”—was singled out for special praise.—Carol McGuirk, SFS
New Directions of the European Fantastic. The second annual conference of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (GFF) will be held at the University of Salzburg from 29 September to 1 October 2011. Papers will address how the fantastic contributes to European identity. The 11 January 2011 deadline for proposals will have passed by the time this issue of SFS is in readers’ hands, but the organizers may be reached by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or <sarah. email@example.com>.—Prof. Dr. Sabine Coelsch-Foisner, University of Salzburg, Department of English and American Studies
Special Issue of SFS: China. Contributors are invited to consider the history and development of sf in China, Chinese sf in relation to other national science fictions, China’s image in world sf, and/or any other topics relating to science fiction in China. Please send 500-word proposals or completed essays by 1 November 2011 to Yan Wu, College of Curriculum and Instruction, Beijing Normal University, at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.—Yu Wan, Beijing Normal University
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