What is Slipstream?
January 21, 2010 1:25 PM   Subscribe

What is slipstream fiction? I've read the Bruce Sterling article and found a list of slipstream novels but I'm looking for a further explanation of what could be called Slipstream and what it is. I noticed the Jonathan Lethem's novel As She Climbed Across the Table is slipstream, but his book of short stories Wall of the Sky, Wall of the Eye is not. Wall certainly made me feel weird (in a good way) while I was reading it. what new books and authors could be called slipstream (I've read Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters).
posted by crios to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You should check out Feeling Very Strange.

Overall, I'd say it's a label that means even less than "cyberpunk" ever did. It's kind of sort of fiction with a sufficient departure from the real world as not to be mainstream, but which also falls outside science fiction or fantasy genre conventions, and which probably has literary aspirations.

It's a term probably only used by a few hundred people in the world, and if any one of them named 10 slipstream works, I don't doubt another would argue that three of them weren't really slipstream.
posted by Zed at 1:39 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think it could be roughly defined as "books that are not Science Fiction but use Science Fictional ideas to surreal effect", but then you'd need a working definition of SF.
posted by Artw at 1:43 PM on January 21, 2010

This seems like a good place start: Slipstream describes fiction that falls between "mainstream" literature and the fantasy and science fiction genres (the name itself is wordplay on the term "mainstream"). Where science fiction and fantasy novels treat their fantastical elements as being very literal, real elements of their world, slipstream usually explores these elements in a more surreal fashion, and delves more into their satirical or metaphorical importance. Compared to magical realism the fantastical elements of slipstream also tend to be more extravagant, and their existence is usually more jarring to their comparative realities than that which is found in magic realism.
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on January 21, 2010

I never heard this term before, but the book that instantly popped into my head after reading the description was Dhalgren.
I'll have to check out some of these books now.
posted by mister e at 2:16 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Science Fiction/Fantasy novels that make mainstream fiction nervous and defensive. See, it's ok to like it, it's slipstream/Magical Realism! Not nasty genre trash, oh no.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:27 PM on January 21, 2010

I don't know about that - Magic Realism seems to come from without, but Slipstream comes from within SF.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on January 21, 2010

Okay, so would something like the show fringe be considered slipstream? It isn't sci-fi per se, well except some of the REALLY crazy stuff. But it's all based in pseudo/fringe science. So I would be hard pressed to call it either sci-fi and it is hardly fiction. Hmm...
posted by TheBones at 3:53 PM on January 21, 2010

It's not really aspiring to be "literary" though, really. Maybe something like Twin Peaks or Wild Palms...
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on January 21, 2010

First time I've ever heard the term and, as it speaks to an awfully vague differentiation between genre sci-fi and "normal" literature, I'm hoping I don't hear much more of it, particularly if, as the linked list points out, Jonathon Lethem's "Wall of the Sky, Wall of the Eye" is out but Kem Nunn's "Unassigned Territory" is in. Both damned good reads regardless, which ought to be the only point really worth discussing.

And what's Nunn's "Tapping the Source" doing anywhere near a sci-fi/fantasy/magic-realism sub-genre? That novel's entirely believable in the context of "it could easily happen in the so-called REAL WORLD" ... but not, of course, the movie it inspired. Now there's some weird slipstreaming.
posted by philip-random at 4:29 PM on January 21, 2010

Well, it's a term coined in the late 80s and hasn't really spread too muchin the intervening time, so I wouldn't worry too much. As for Lethem, both those lists probably predate him being in print.
posted by Artw at 4:59 PM on January 21, 2010

Jonathan Carroll has been characterized as slipstream and I love all of his books, especially Bones of the Moon.

Also White Apples. He can get a little twee now and then, but give him two more chapters after that and he'll tear your heart out with beauty.

If you like those, try Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:15 PM on January 21, 2010

2nding Haruki Murakami. Read the Wind up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.
posted by pepcorn at 7:38 PM on January 21, 2010

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