Sunday, July 29, 2007

Slipstreaming away

I am looking forward to reading my new slipstream anthology Feeling Very Strange, although I might save it for the R.I.P. challenge this fall. I have dipped into its intro, however, and glanced at a blog discussion excerpted between the stories--attempts to describe what slipstream is, or rather was back in 1989 when Bruce Sterling first categorized it as "a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility." In 2005 David Moles said that slipstream had come to mean stories "that feel a bit like magical realism. . .[that] make the familiar strange--by taking a familiar context and disturbing it with SFnal/fantastical intrustions." Or, as the question is later put, "Is slipstream ultimately about being Margaret Atwood?"

There are no Margaret Atwood stories in the collection, but included are ones by Michael Chabon, Kelly Link, George Saunders, Jonathan Lethem and Karen Joy Fowler. Fowler's Nebula-winning "What I Didn't See" isn't included, but is mentioned in the intro in a discussion of the relationship of slipsteam to genre fiction:

So, for instance, the publication of Karen Joy Fowler's "What I Didn't See" by SciFiction, one of the major outlets for science fiction in the oughts, sparked a considerable debate among writers and fans of "slipstream" and those writers and readers of science fiction for whom Fowler's story had no legitimate place in the genre. The fact that "What I Didn't See" won the Nebula Award, one of science fiction's highest prizes, only adds to the irony.

I read "What I Didn't See" this afternoon and have to say I also don't get why this story would be regarded as science fiction. I liked it; I'm even glad it won an award, but I would no more call it science fiction than I would Andrea Barrett's science-infused short stories.

Anyone familiar with the story and willing to take a crack at making my stodgy old brain understand?


  1. Anonymous10:19 AM

    I have never heard of slipstream but it sounds like something I would be interested in. And I am interested in reading Margaret Atwood so I suppose I will be reading some slipstream in the near future. I am interested to see what you have to say about your new anthology.

  2. Anonymous11:50 AM

    I haven't read the story--since I am such an awful short story reader, this is not surprisin--so I can't help you out with that one. But I am very curious about the term slipstream--I think I have heard the term, but I never knew what it meant. I like the idea and will have to check out the anthology.

  3. Slipstream sounds interesting -- as soon as you mentioned George Saunders I got an idea of what it's like ...

  4. Anonymous5:17 PM

    Haven't read the story but I am intrigued. Will have to try and track it down.

  5. Matt, I suppose the Margaret Atwood titles that would fit the slipstream label would be Oryx and Crake and the Handmaid's Tale--the ones that have spurred arguments over whether they're actually SF or mainstream novels.

    Danielle, Angela Carter gets included with the slipstream writers. You just read her, right? I've a couple collections of her work checked out from the library for dipping into (haven't started yet).

    Dorothy, yes, knowing what George Saunders is like is a good way of getting an idea of slipstream. . . except the Fowler story is NOTHING like that.

    Stefanie, I linked to the Fowler story. Please do read and help me understand why it was ever regarded as SF in the first place.

  6. I rather suspect that the reason Fowler's story won had more to do with the thematic aspects of the story; certainly it doesn't strike me as science fiction.

    But if one views it in the light of speculative fiction (another way of viewing political and social structures that usually draws upon space aliens rather than wildlife to make its point), then I can see why it would have won the award.

    It needs more thought and consideration than fits into a simple comment box. Maybe I'll reread it and blog on it.

  7. Anonymous8:30 AM

    Aha! I think I can partly explain the Fowler being sf thing!
    :-) 'What I didn't See' is a riff on an old sf story called 'The Women Men Don't See' by James Tiptree Jnr. Tiptree wrote visionary short fiction that focused on issues of gender and it was finally discovered that 'he' was actually a 'she', a woman called Alice Sheldon. Fowler's story really has to be read in concert with Tiptree's in order for it to ring sf-nal.

    Also, L. Timmel Duchamp has argued for it being sf with great aplomb in a collection of essays called 'Daughters of the Earth' (ed. Justine Larbalestier). She suggests that it belongs in the genre because it constructs a inter-generational conversation with sf-nal ideas. I'd recommend it (and the volume as a whole) if you're interested and can find a copy. Duchamp's essay completely opened my eyes to the potentials of Fowler's story.

  8. Thank you so much, Victoria. I will certainly look for both the Duchamp and the Tiptree. I will resort to ILL if I have to (since I'm on a book buying moratorium until October).

  9. Anonymous2:47 PM

    This story doesn't fit the category of science fiction, fantasy or speculative fiction, for me (also a possessor of a stodgy old brain).

    Here's an interesting tidbit from an interview with Fowler:

    "I was researching my chimp book when I read an essay by Donna Harroway in Primate Dreams, in which she talks about a safari in the early 1920s where a collector for the New York Museum of Natural History was bagging specimens for their dioramas and needed gorillas. Early reports of gorillas had suggested that they were ferocious and therefore there was a lot of prestige in hunting them and bringing them down. In order to counter that, on this safari he took women with him. His plan was, if women could kill gorillas, no man would bother any more. One of the two women he took along was Mary Bradley Hastings, Alice Sheldon's [AKA James Tiptree] mother."

  10. Good find. Between you and Victoria, Margaret, my evening reading's all lined up.

  11. Anonymous5:41 AM

    As a final footnote, "The Women that Men Don't See" is online here:

    ("What I Didn't See" was published at the same website, an sf magazine, here: .)


A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...