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Adventures in Slipstream Fiction

What is Slipstream Fiction?

Literary theorists have attempted to pin Slipstream down into a single definition, but it doesn't lend itself to easy categorization. Combining the most innovative aspects of science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism and literary fiction, Slipstream is defined mainly by its tendency to leave you feeling uneasy -- acting, in its depiction of the surreal, bizarre and downright creepy, as commentary on the alienation and fragmentation of life in the modern world. The science fiction author Bruce Sterling, who coined the term “slipstream” as a genre in a 1989 essay, wrote that it “is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the 20th century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”

Though Slipstream started in the often-marginalized world of science fiction and fantasy, its influence has spilled over into popular fiction, evident in the works of bestselling authors such as Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Junot Diaz, Lauren Groff, Joyce Carol Oates and many others. 

If you still aren't sure exactly what Slipstream means, the best way to get a sense of this hard-to-place genre is to read some for yourself. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

 The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, 2011.
From Lovecraft to Borges to Gaiman, a century of intrepid literary experimentation has created a corpus of dark and strange stories that transcend all known genre boundaries. Together these stories form The Weird, and its practitioners include some of the greatest names in 20th and 21st century literature.

 Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link, 2005.
Link's engaging and funny stories riff on haunted convenience stores, husbands and wives, rabbits, zombies, weekly apocalyptic poker parties, witches, and cannons. The collection includes Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award winning stories, and was included on Best of the Year lists from TIME,, and Book Sense.


 The City and the City, by China Miéville, 2009.
New York Times bestselling author Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other -- real or imagined. When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

 The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang, 2010.
The story of two people and the artificial intelligences they helped create, following them for more than a decade as they deal with the upgrades and obsolescence that are inevitable in the world of software. At the same time, it's an examination of the difference between processing power and intelligence, and of what it means to have a real relationship with an artificial entity.

 Cloud Atlas: A Novel, by David Mitchell, 2004.
Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

 Sorry Please Thank You, by Charles Yu, 2012
The author of the widely praised debut novel "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" returns with a hilarious, heartbreaking and utterly original collection of short stories drawing from both pop culture and science.


 CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders, 1997.
Saunders' feverish imagination conjures up images as horrific as any from a Hieronymus Bosch painting: a field full of braying mules toppled over from bone marrow disease, a tourist attraction featuring pickled stillborn babies and cows with Plexiglas windows in their sides. The black humor and vision of American enterprise and evangelism gone haywire are reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's early works.

 What I Didn't See and Other Stories, by Karen Joy Fowler, 2010.
In her moving and elegant new collection, New York Times bestseller Fowler writes about John Wilkes Booth's younger brother, a one-winged man, a California cult and a pair of twins, and she digs into our past, present and future in the quiet, witty and incisive way only she can.


  The Secret History of Science Fiction, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, 2009.
This ingeniously conceived anthology raises the intriguing question: if Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow had won the Nebula Award in 1973, would the future distinction between literary fiction and science fiction have been erased? Offering a wealth of esteemed authors -- from writers within the genre to those normally associated with mainstream fiction -- this volume aptly demonstrates that great science fiction appears in many guises.

 The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, 2010.
Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse. On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents' attention, bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother's emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother -- her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother -- tastes of despair and desperation. 

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