Thursday, June 16, 2011

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream AnthologyFeeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology by James Patrick Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ironically, my only real complaint about this book is the concept behind it: I'm not sure that the term "slipstream" (coined by sf writer Bruce Sterling to describe superficially mainstream literary works that nonetheless incorporate genre elements) is really a useful or even meaningful term. For the most part works described as such seem to end up being defined more by what they aren't than what they are: science fiction whose "scientific" aspects are nonsensical or only tangential to the plot, fantasy whose magical aspects may be imaginary, horror that goes for the slow burn rather than the outright scare, "magical realism" not written by South Americans, and so on. Attempts to define it as a hard-and-fast category seem born out of the same geeky compulsion towards rating and categorization (affectionately parodied by Nick Hornby in HIGH FIDELITY), that leads indie music journalists to get into flame wars about who was the best country-ska fusion band of the mid- to late 80s or whatever.

That said, though, I also have to admit this is one of the best collections of short stories I've read lately. There isn't a dud in the bunch. The editors have chosen a superstar lineup of the best writers working this particular vein from both sides of the literary/genre divide, including Sterling himself, Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, George Saunders, Jeff VanderMeer, and others. Even though most of these stories would fit quite comfortably into anthologies of sf, fantasy, horror, or quirky New Yorker-type mainstream fiction, it was great to have them all in one volume, so if the term "slipstream" has any utility at all, this would be it.

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