Slipstream is a hybrid genre. It’s not quite science fiction and yet not quite mainstream literature. Slipstream was born in an essay by Steam Punk writer Bruce Sterling in 1989. He wrote of science fiction’s failure to become “worthy literature” and felt its chance to do so have passed. Sterling also wrote at what he preserved to be a new emergent genre at has not been classified yet. He dubbed this new genre slipstream.
Slipstream ignores a lot of science fiction staples such as the “awe factor” and rather exists on the outside of the genera bubble. Slipstream strides to convey the sense of feeling strange. A good example of what slipstream is can be found in Margret Atwood’s dystopian vision a handmaiden tale and in Salman Rusdie’s use of magical realism in the satanic verses. Writing conferences such as Massachusetts’ own Readercon has looked backward classifying hundreds of past published works that didn’t quite fit into the classic mold of science fiction, such as Kurt Vonnegut anti war science fiction epic Slaughterhouse five. I think the best definition of slipstream comes from Writers James Partick Kelly and John Kessel who argued that slipstream is not so much a genre as a literary effect, with cognitive dissonance at its heart.
This loose confederation of writers existing within an emerging genre is creating magic. We don’t often get a chance to witness a birth of literary creation. This prodigal son of science fiction and sibling of steam punk and cyber punk is a genre that after all this time is just now is starting to catch fire. The buzz surrounding slipstream is finally penetrating the major publishing houses and at a time when mainstream fiction is in trouble.
We also know the idea of slipstream may be going legitimate because of the backlash from the traditional science fiction community who don’t like the idea of further splintering in their ranks. Let me say that I truly love science fiction; I was lucky enough to have read 20,000 leagues under the sea as a child and it changed my life. At the time Verne’s pioneering vision defied classification so the term science fiction was coined to help describe to the rest of us what he was doing. Later, writers like H. G. wells took up fledgling genre and made it an institution. This reminds me of where we are with slipstream today, the awareness of a new attitude, a kind of confusion of a new direction. It’s ok to be confused; the painting community had no idea what to make of a loose association of painters who were painting different in the 1870’s. Again, it was the critics not the artists who dubbed them impressionists.
So, here we are with front row seats to this spectacle. Will it be any good? I can’t say, but I can tell you this, I don’t want to miss a minute of it!
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