Adventures in the slipstream
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I thought I'd start a new thread for people to mention any slipstream they've read (or watched in the case of movies) and share their opinions on it.
I recently finished Sarah Canary and it was a worthwhile read, but not as affecting as I thought it could be. The first few chapters hooked me right in, I thought the premise was handled very well, but the story starts to fizzle out in the third act, at least in my opinion.
I'll also mention Richard Linklater's film adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, which I saw a little while ago. It had great potential, but it was dissapointing in the end, and here's a review that explains why better than I can.
The first book I ever heard described as 'slipstream' was Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith, it's pretty much my all time favourite book. It pulls together so many genres, does a complete about turn halfway through and has one of the coolest narrators I've ever met :)
I'm currently re-reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami - the kind of book I can read over and over again and gain new insight into it. I still don't think I understand all of it, but it doesn't really matter as it's just a great book to just read.
I picked up a copy of Slipstreams the other day. It's got several wonderful stories in it. And a few so-so ones, but overall I really dig it.
Other books I would classify as slipstream include Serpent Catch by Dave Wolverton (a childhood favorite) and Sundiver by David Brin. Serpent Catch is a prehistoric caveman romp with high sf tones (and plot hooks). I devoured it as a pre-teen living overseas. Pulpy to some extent, but I rescued it from my parents' donation bin the last time they moved. I hope I'll find the time somewhere to read it again soon. Sundiver has been described to me as a noirish murder mystery onboard a spaceship on an interplanetary mission. Certainly not Brin's best writing (it was his first novel), but very imaginative. It's on my (quite extensive) TBR list.
I'm currently reading Mieville's "Perdido Street Station". The landscape of the novel is so depressing but the people, even the non-humans, are so sympathetic. The familiar is juxtaposed to the alien, but it's not jarring. Visually, it's very clear in my mind (though my inner eye is rather overactive to begin with). I have "The Scar", but I think I'll get in one or two lighter reads before I re-enter that world.
Edited to correct misspelling of author's name. I also called him Melville for the first 200 pages.
My new ex-b has my hardback copy of The Scar (awkward). I'm only 70 pgs away from the end of Perdido, which is his copy. Yet another reason I may read something else in between.
I am fascinated by the Torque. It is still so heavily veiled. Am I to understand that inanimate objects gained not only life, but the ability to reproduce?
Didn't really edit.
I'm not sure about Torque, I thought of it as the equivalent of radiation - especially when mentions of the colourbomb and the cacatopic stain come up (I can't really remember if they're related - it's been a while)
Just finished Time's Arrow by Martin Amis, and I'm very impressed with it. For a relatively short book (under 200 p.) it does an incredible job at encapsulating the entirety of the main character's life. I will only mention that the final third of the book deals with the Holocaust. The book is realistic. The narrative point of view, however, is what sets this book apart and makes it slipstream. I will only say that the narrator is not the main character but is instead experiencing the character's life in his body but backwards. Time is reversed, and Amis uses this premise to brilliant--and at times deeply disturbing--effect.
Perhaps it's just me but the whole concept of 'slipstream' strikes me as a waste of time, a rebranding of post-modern novels for a sf audience - read this, it's got sf/fantasy elements but is better (which is probably true).
I love a lot of the books that Sterling originally listed in his 'manifesto', and if they get more readers, all well and good but surely the real point of the essay was - sf has sold it's soul to the devil.
Well some of the rebranding could be the other way. A number of the novels mentioned on this group (although a minority of Sterling's list) I would say are plain SF or fantasy. For example it surprises me that anyone considers Mieville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar slipstream. Same for Only Forward and Sundiver.
I usually consider Science Fiction to be something more futuristic or 'possible'. Meiville's works are too close to our own world to be such. Scientific advancement, evolution, planetary colonization, etc., would not explain the differences between this world and Meiville's setting. The term fantasy, at least for me, just doesn't ring true either. A hybrid genre has emerged (and has been for some time, I expect). I think it should be recognized with a name that illustrates the familiar couched in the surreal.
I have to agree about both Brin and Mieville being 'mainstream' genre writers, and can't comment about the others. Mieville describes his own work as weird fiction, after the early fantasy and horror pulp writers.
Bookishbunny, you say,"I think it should be recognized with a name that illustrates the familiar couched in the surreal".
According to Sterling, 'slipstream' is the opposite of that - the surreal couched in the familiar.
It strikes me that a number of the best sf & fantasy writers in the last 40 years have used the postmodern (or slipstream) novel as a way to leave genre fiction - Ballard, Disch, Crowley, Moorcock, Priest, and so on. (I know Moorcock still occasionally writes a fantasy novel but he only really tries now with his literary works).
I suppose what interests me, is why have so many good writers left the field? Is it because of readers? Publishers? Commercial pressures?
One also shouldn't forget that even 40 years ago SF and its fans were giving awards to people like Kurt Vonnegut, 30 years ago Pynchon made the Hugo shortlist and today we see award nominations for people like David Mitchell for Cloud Atlas and awards for Philip Roth for The Plot Against America and Amitav Ghosh for The Calcutta Chromosome. Of course most of those aren't SF writers but there does seem to be some ghettoisation going on. SF fans have always been open to cross-fertilisation from the mainstream. Peter Ackroyd in particular skates very close to genre at times.
Who do you think has left the field? Ballard and more recently Lethem are the ones that stand out. I wouldn't say that Christopher Priest has left the field at all - The Separation seems to me to be firmly rooted within the genre (being an alternate history). I know he was keen to be taken seriously by the mainstream but every one of his books were enjoyed and embraced by SF fans (usually more vigorously than the mainstream did).
jargoneer, your name is apropos.
My point was regarding the familiar and the surreal being braided together in the story. Or should I say the surreal and familiar being braided together? I'm sure there is a subtlety implied in the transposition of these two words I just don't seem to be able to grasp.
Interesting discussion, but I was hoping this thread would be reserved for reviews and recommendations of particular works (see message 1). Should I start a new thread for this purpose? Does anyone even care? I'm assuming that some LT users don't think the concept of slipstream is a "waste of time", since they are using it as a tag. Without the concept of slipstream, we wouldn't even have this list, which I'm finding indispensable.
Thanks for the link! Although I've read some of these, it's good to get some new suggestions. Of course, I'm just a sucker for any kind of book list, anyway.
See, here's where I get confused. I was of the impression that slipstream was really just a code for a mixing of genres. Indeed, the short story collection I cited way up in message #3 is organized around that very premise. The stories therein ranged from elves in space to cookbook-as-biography.
Weird fiction has to me meant more along the lines of literary horror, or perhaps even the "surreal couched in the familiar". I did read somewhere that Mieville would categorize his writing as such.
Is there a better distinction out there that I'm missing? Are the two subgenres hopelessly entertwined? Or does it only really matter what genre you originate from - the sci-fi geeks preferring slipstream and the horror fans preferring weird fiction?
I'm a SF fan and I would call Mieville weird fiction or maybe dark fantasy - just like Gormenghast - so I am not sure if that invalidates your theory about "home genre".
When China talks about weird fiction he means all fantastic fiction that isn't easily categorised. For example see his list of weird fiction at This Guardian Books page where he even includes Jane Eyre
I don't understand some of the list. Auster is listed with City of Glass but not the other two parts of his New York Trilogy. Ballard is listed with Empire of the Sun, probably the least genre bending of all his works.
It is a list with a lot of good works but at least 50% of them are actually quite well known works, not the undiscovered books Sterling claims for them.
andyl - when I get some time over the weekend I will attempt to answer your question.
a new post! thanks for pointing out that author, it sounds like a cool book. I just started The Medusa Frequency and I really like it so far.
I'd just heard of the "Slipstream" label the day of that post... Only about 15 years behind the times.
dhalgren - Yes, could you start other threads to review/discuss specific works? i know i'd enjoy that.
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