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Posts Tagged ‘feeling very strange

‘The God Of Dark Laughter’ by Michael Chabon

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And, once again, precisely zero slipstream on display. This story would be more at home in Chabon’s own anthology, McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. In fact this is what the whole anthology (so far) resembles, down to the overlapping list of contributors.

‘The God Of Dark Laughter’ is a fun story enlivened as always by Chabon’s wit but it is very much RUMIR *. Ho hum.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness:

* Yes, this is my new favourite word, what of it?

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

7 October 2008 at 22:48

‘Lieserl’ by Karen Joy Fowler

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This is what I guess you would call speculative biography. (Not that it isn’t all.) Seven pages of nothing. Niall Harrison would have it that:

Despite being set in 1902, the story re-creates its chosen historical moment as seen from the vantage point of its writing. The narrator is clearly a modern woman who knows that Einstein is standing on the brink of the twentieth century, and imagines what it might be like for him to (metaphorically) look down, and what kind of vertigo he might experience.

If I am unimpressed with the idea that slipstream is about stories that make the reader feel very strange I am even less impressed with the idea that it is about stories that don’t make the reader feel very strange but are about Einstein having a bit of a turn.

Quality: *
Slipperiness: *

As an aside Fowler is mentioned in Rosenbaum’s story under the bizarro world pseudonym of Karen Despair Robinson. I am unsure who Howi Qomr Faukota is though.

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

7 October 2008 at 16:29

‘The Little Magic Shop’ by Bruce Sterling

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The inclusion of a story by Sterling himself is interesting because in his orginal article he says:

I offer this list as a public service to slipstream’s authors and readers. I don’t count myself in these ranks. I enjoy some slipstream, but much of it is simply not to my taste. This doesn’t mean that it is “bad,” merely that it is different. In my opinion, this work is definitely not SF, and is essentially alien to what I consider SF’s intrinsic virtues.

As it turns out ‘The Little Magic Shop’ is not slipstream in any shape or form. Nor is it a particularly good story. It is a fairy tale told in the modern style in which a young man buys a immortality potion and then everything proceeds unexcitingly from there.

The irony is that Sterling did write one great work of slipstream: Zeitgeist. It certainly isn’t representative of his career, it isn’t even really representative of the Leggy Starlitz stories. To include him in the anthology at all and for this story specifically is baffling.

Quality: **
Slipperiness:

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

7 October 2008 at 13:12

‘Light And The Sufferer’ by Jonathan Lethem

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This is the other story in the collection that I had already read and again I was surprised by its inclusion in Feeling Very Strange. It was originally published in 1995, considerably pre-dating Motherless Brooklyn (1999), his first work of straight realism, and Fortress Of Solitude (2003), his fictionalised auto-biography. It is with these works – with their focus on the real world and, particularly, Lethem’s New York – that the story has most affinity but it lacks any of the ambiguity that tipped Fortress Of Solitude into slipstream.

At its most basic it is the story of two brothers and a drug deal. However, it also contains a race of aliens called Sufferers:

“Of course its weird,” said Don. “That’s why we love it, right, Paul? It’s from another dimension, it’s fucking weird, it’s science fiction.”

It isn’t that weird though. In the story the Sufferers are treated like something like crack or guns, not exactly quotidian but hardly alien either. Like Chiang’s God the Sufferers are inexplicable but whereas in his story that was the whole point in Lethem’s story it is just a distraction. The real story is the story of the two brothers and, as with Fortress Of Solitude, this is weakened by the fantastical elements. This isn’t feeling very strange, it is feeling like you have a pebble in your shoe.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness: *

Christopher Peditto filmed ‘Light And The Sufferer’ in 2004 but it has sat on the shelf since then. It was finally released at the beginning of this month (presumably Paul Dano’s rising star helped with this.)

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

28 September 2008 at 11:53

‘Hell Is The Absence Of God’ by Ted Chiang

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This is one of the two stories in this collection that I’d read previously. It is also pretty much what I would consider to be the anti-thesis of slipstream.

Chiang’s premise is that God exists and Heaven and Hell are empirical facts. From here everything unfolds rationally and rigourously; it is an essentially science fictional mode of storytelling which is in opposition to slipstream with its emphasis on the inexplicable. At the same time though this is very much a story about the inexplicable because what else could God be? Chiang’s story is rational but the acts of the creator are not:

Perhaps, he thought, it’d be better to live in a story where the righteous were rewarded and the sinners were punished, even if the criteria for righteousness and sinfulness eluded him, than to live in a reality where there was no justice at all.

The power and the beauty of the story is in the confrontation of the inexplicable. I can’t see any reason for it to be included in this collection though (and as far as I can tell Kessel and Kelly offer no justification either.)

Quality: ****
Slipperiness: *

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

27 September 2008 at 19:03

‘Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,” by Benjamin Rosenbaum’ by Benjamin Rosenbaum

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As the title makes clear, if you want playfully postmodern, Rosenbaum is your guy. In fact it goes beyond playful, it is a massive in-joke. Our narrator is “Benjamin Rosenbaum”, a plausible fabulist, who has just returned from wisconsin, “the World’s Only Gynarchist Plausible-Fable Assembly”. Yeah. It is a clever story but clever in a way that constantly jabs you in the ribs. As a simple adventure story it is fun enough but Rosenbaum’s constant embellishment is rather tiring.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness: **

The whole of Rosenbaum’s debut collection, The Ant King And Other Stories, which includes this story, is available to download under a Creative Commons license. I might say more about it and its clobberingly meta-fictional nature later.

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

19 September 2008 at 11:07

Feeling Very Strange: Introduction

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Before I start talking about the slipstreaminess of the stories in Feeling Very Strange is is only fair to say that I have a substantially different conception of what slipstream actually is to Kessel and Kelly. This is evinced by the title of their introduction: “Slipstream, the genre that wasn’t”. Personally I am closest to a position that they dismiss early on:

To assert that it inabits the space between otherwise-accepted genres and realistic fiction is to say it is nowehere.

Kessel and Kelly, on the other hand, persist in seeing slipstream as a genre, find it wanting in those terms and so turn to another hypothesis, that slipstream – like horror – is a literature of effect. Hence the title of the anthology. To me this seems to prioritise one aspect of Sterling’s tangled, off-the-cuff original piece in a way that is not necessarily helpful to a discussion of how slipstream has evolved since. In this they take their cue from David Moles in a discussion on his blog which they reproduce as interstitial text between the stories in this collection.

Where we can find some agreement is their checklist of traits:

1. Slipstream violates the tenets of realism.
2. Although slipstream stories pay homage to various popular genres and their conventions, they are not science fiction stories, traditional fantasies, dreams, historical fantasies, or alternate histories.
3. Slipstream is playfully postmodern. The stories often acknowledge their existence as fictions, and play against the genres they evoke. They have a tendency to bend or break narrative rules.

Simply put these are works that aren’t wholly realist, aren’t wholly fantastic and are pretty postmodern. So let’s see, shall we?

Actually, one more comment: even taking into account the (presumably publisher dictated) constraint that the anthology only contains US writers it does look a lot like the usual suspects. None would look particularly out of place in an issue of F&SF.

Written by Martin

17 September 2008 at 13:41

“A story should be an axe to break the frozen sea within us.”

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I don’t really want to prescribe the remit of this blog as I am sure it will evolve in ways I can’t predict. One things is certain though, it will contain some writing about books.

I thought I would start things off by looking at the stories in Feeling Very Strange, an anthology edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly. I was sent a review copy of this for Strange Horizons but in the end their reviews editor, Niall Harrison, decided to review it himself. The book has since languished on my shelf.

Feeling Very Strange is an anthology of slipstream stories and I am aiming to look at them as both works of fiction and works of slipstream. Hopefully I will manage to post about one story a week.

Written by Martin

16 September 2008 at 13:54