So, is slipstream fiction a genre? As I first wrote when starting to read Feeling Very Strange, an anthology that tries, in part, to exemplify just what slipstream fiction is… I don’t think it is. I’m not sure if there are any stories here that don’t already fall under the regular speculative fiction umbrella, and that couldn’t be labelled either bizarre/weird scifi or magical realism. HOWEVER, with all that said the book is great and I’d still recommend it to anyone. A brief rundown of some of the stories I liked the most:
- “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link is about kids exploring a maybe haunted house, that they also live in. But, the story isn’t spooky, which is refreshing. They’ve heard tales about “the specialist,” which is an entity a bit like a ghost, though also, the specialist isn’t like a ghost at all. The story is a huge crack up.
- “Hell is the Absence of God” by Ted Chiang is a story I’d actually read once before, in Chiang’s Stories of Your Life. This collection is very notable, because it contains “Story of Your Life,” which was made into the ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC movie Arrival (starring Amy Adams). Chiang is one of the very best living scifi authors today, though I think he’s overlooked a bit because he mainly writes short fiction. He’s worth checking out, and “Hell is the Absence of God” is perhaps his best. It’s about our world, except that it’s regularly visited by angels. As the angels come and go they destroy buildings and accidentally cause people to die, yet they are still seen as a very positive force because of the revelations they bring. It’s fantastically different.
“Lieserl” by Karen Joy Fowler is a magical take on Albert Einstein’s forgotten/illegitimate daughter. Didn’t know he ever had a daughter, who was hidden from the public? Until reading this, I didn’t either. Apparently she died quite young, and almost no one knew about her until people discovered mentions of her in Einstein’s papers after his death. Except for in this story she goes from infant to adult in a week.
- “Bright Morning” by Jeffrey Ford is about Jeffrey Ford the author trying to write strange stories and, unfortunately, always being compared to Kafka. So is he intentionally writing a Kafka story here? He is and he isn’t, I guess. It’s the most meta story in this collection, and probably my second favorite.
- “You Have Never Been Here” by M. Rickert is the last story, and it’s about someone who may or may not be in someone else’s body (are you noticing a pattern of ambiguity in this collection?). And it’s a great way to end things.
Earlier I wrote about “Sea Oak” by George Saunders, my favorite entry. Saunder’s the author of Lincoln in the Bardo, and as it won the Man Booker Prize, it would seem he’s a name you’re going to be hearing a lot more of in the future. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot more about Chiang before his career is up, and probably a Ford, too.
Now, I wonder if you asked any of the authors, if they would agree that their work belongs in the slipstream genre. I’m not sure, but I guess it doesn’t matter much—it doesn’t affect the quality of their work, anyway. So check out Feeling Very Strange if you want to read a number of stories that are a lot of fun, and though I can’t say that the anthology will probably accomplish its goal—of making you feel strange—I don’t think, at least, that it will make you feel ripped off. I love short stories, and this was one of the very best collections I’ve ever picked up.
–Jeff and Leah