Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology. Ed. by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. June 2006. 286p. Tachyon, paper, $14.95 (1-892391-35-X).
In 1989 sf writer Bruce Sterling coined the term slipstream to denote a kind of story that was neither sf or fantasy, exactly, but that was showing up in all the places that sf and fantasy did; a kind of story that used sf and fantasy elements within otherwise realistic, or at least consistent, settings to provoke a feeling of strangeness or, better, of feeling at home, strangely.
Every three stories or so in editors Kelly and Kessel's pick of representative slipstream stories, excerpts from several young writers' blog exchange 17 years after Sterling's essay carry on the analysis, and it's interesting, but, oh, these stories!
The authors are mavericks old and new: genre-to-mainstream and vice versa names Aimee Bender, George Saunders, Jonathan Lethem, Karen Jay Fowler, and Michael Chabon; longtime unclassifiables Carol Emshwiller and Howard Waldrop; new small-press stars Kelly Link and Jeff VanderMeer; two quietly grandiose weird imaginations who've broken onto the big publishers' lists, Jeffrey Ford and Ted Chiang; and virtual newcomers M. Rickert, Theodora Goss, and Benjamin Rosenbaum. Oh, and Sterling, whose "Little Magic Shop," is perhaps the tamest of a wild bunch.
How wild? Try Rosenbaum's Arabian Nights-ish alternative-history tale with the long, academic-sounding name. Try Fowler's double-time-lined "Lieserl," about Albert Einstein's forsaken daughter. Try Bender's "The Healer," and ask what world it's set in. Don't stop until all have been read.
Time Out, Chicago
Feeling Very Strange
Edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Tachyon, $14.95.
Slipstream fiction, the editors of this new volume concede, is a slippery genre. In fact, in their introduction to this outré short-story collection, novelist Kelly and professor Kessel claim slipstream—loosely defined as fiction that borrows elements from science fiction, surrealism and magical realism—isn’t a genre at all. Rather, it’s a type of story that just makes the reader feel really, really weird.
While that may not sound like the most academically rigorous approach to editing, Kelly and Kessel are clearly on to something. Any reader who picks up this odd book will be immediately confronted with unfamiliar feelings. Gone are the kinds of dreaded yarns typically populating “best of” collections: the middle-aged cancer diagnoses, the unethical nookie between a grad student and professor. In their stead are unnerving stories by some of the best underground science-fiction and mainstream writers working today, including Kelly Link, Jonathan Lethem, Theodora Goss and Michael Chabon. Included here is George Saunders’s “Sea Oak,” the story of a male stripper harassed by his zombie mother-in-law. And science-fiction great Carol Emshwiller contributes “Al,” a mind-blowing story about a man who lands in a strange, possibly futuristic, village when his plane crashes. It’s a brilliant piece of fiction, and there’s almost no chance of making any sense of it.
Leave it to Tachyon, one of the most exhilarating and intellectually probing small presses, to put out a book like this. We hope it makes its way out of what the editors call the “ghetto of the fantastic” and into the mainstream. This book is a joy, and could easily become a staple of college syllabi in the not-so-distant future.—Jonathan Messinger