: I don't know how the next scene starts! Shut up!)
yesterday about this attempt
to define a "slipstream canon." Or possibly I mean a "slipstream" "canon." Or, well, here. Have some quotation marks--""""""""--and punctuate as seems best to you.
I have to admit I agree with a lot of what peake says. The list, qua list, is an awesome agglomeration of novels/short stories/plays; the stuff on it I haven't read, I now want to read, just by association. So, you know, on that level, fantastic!
But on the level of defining either a genre or a canon, it's like handing someone a world atlas when they've asked you how to find the interstate from here. "Here! It's all in here someplace!" And while I am all in favor of appropriating "mainstream" texts (and, hoo boy, here we go with the quotation marks again. Got any left?) into sffh (we're touching you! we're getting our grotty fingerprints all over your clean white respectable shirt! WE'RE STILL TOUCHING YOU!!!11!!1!), there comes a point where, once again, you have lost the ability to map the forest for the sheer overwhelming abundance of trees.
Do I think slipstream is, or should be, a genre?
Well. Ahem. There are some problems here. The first of which is that I think "genre" is the wrong word for a lot of what we're talking about.
A genre is, very broadly, a kind of writing. Used to be, it was divided up by how you put the words on the page: narrative, poetry, drama. And it still is, but--crazy pattern-making primates that we are--we've divided and subdivided and gotten confused with marketing categories, and now we use the word genre informally to mean a kind of story. (Or a kind of poem. Or a kind of play. Etc.) So the bildungsroman is a genre; the mystery is a genre. The romance is a genre. The middle-aged-awakening-sexual-or-otherwis
e is a genre. The quest is a genre, and not just a genre of fantasy. "Heart of Darkness" is a quest. So is Are You My Mother?
We put things together in a genre because the stories they tell work in the same sorts of ways. They share concerns and cultural work.
The problem with calling sffh a genre is that in fact it's a lens. It can be, and has been, applied to any and all of the genres of story. Mysteries, romances, bildungsromans. One of my favorite middle-aged-awakenings is Larque on the Wing
. Another is Paladin of Souls
Even if we say a genre is texts which share a collection of common narrative or thematic elements, rather than going with the vagueness of "a kind of story," you'll never get to a definition of science fiction--or fantasy--that way. You might get to a definition of horror. More about that in a minute. Because what makes a book science fiction or fantasy isn't
the kind of story it tells or the narrative elements it uses. It's the fact that its setting is in some way counter to Life As We Know It.
I wrote an article
for Broad Universe about world-building in which I argued that, in science fiction and fantasy, the setting isn't just setting. It's the only genre marker that counts. Because any story
can be put in sfnal terms. Therefore, "genre" for science fiction and fantasy is always an intersection where the narrative elements of the story cross the contrafactual elements of the setting.
(Horror, otoh, is
defined by its narrative elements. You know it's a horror novel because certain things happen in certain ways. Also, horror can be perfectly realistic. (We Have Always Lived in the Castle
.) It does not require a fantastic or sfnal element. Fantasy and science fiction--definitionally!--do.)
Now, I am not saying that science fiction, fantasy, and horror don't make up a category of literature. They do. But I think it's less a genre (a kind of story) than it is a thing for which there isn't a word, but which I'm going to call a modality. Realism is a modality. Pararealism (which is my own coinage for stories in which nothing exists counter to LAWKI but which nevertheless are not realistic. Pornography is pararealistic. So is satire. So are sitcoms. Etc.) is a modality. Contrarealism--or unrealism--(science fiction, fantasy, supernatural horror, magic realism . . . slipstream) is a modality. Because these things inflect a story on a level a priori to the narrative itself. If a genre is a kind of story, a modality is a kind of approach to a story. You can tell the same story in any modality. E.g., Cinderella. You can tell it as Coal Miner's Daughter
(realism). You can tell it as a pararealistic Horatio Alger story. (Which I suppose some may argue is what Coal Miner's Daughter
is. Not actually having seen the movie, I can't testify personally. The new Will Smith thing about the homeless man who becomes a stockbroker is also Cinderella. Realistic or para-?) Or you can tell it as a fantasy (Disney!). (I'm sure also that you can tell it as a science fiction story ... ooh, wait. Psion
.) The narrative elements will not change. (Whereas, if you tell Cinderella as a horror story, the narrative elements do
change. Hence we conclude that horror is a genre. QED.)
So sff isn't a genre. (It is
, however, a marketing category. They aren't the same thing either.) And slipstream is a fascinating concept and useful for reevaluating canonical (if you'll pardon the pun) assessments of texts with contrarealistic elements. But it isn't a genre, either. (Which is not a value judgment. Being a genre is not the ne plus ultra for a categorization.) And that fantastic list proves pretty emphatically why "genre" is the wrong way to think about it.
There's no point in having a piece of critical terminology if it doesn't help you understand what's going on. I think "slipstream" as a term does
help, because it's a way to talk about the slippage between realism and contrarealism in certain texts, but "slipstream" as a genre doesn't. Personal opinion only. YMMV. But I hope the preceding makes it clear why I think what I do.
Now, having used up the world supply of parentheses and (hopefully) said what I set out to say, I'm going back to my book.
: There! See? I'm writing. Satisfied now?
: [reading over ROSENCRANTZ's shoulder]