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Preface This book consists of a series of eleven essays on fantastic literature that for the most part initially were conceived and written, over a period of decades, without benefit of an overarching thesis or argument. My original intention was simply to gather some of the scores of essays that I had published in a wide variety of venues—some now long out of print, some incomplete or truncated even in their original published form—and to re-examine these ideas in light of my current thinking and more recent developments in these genres. But in revisiting this material, a few things quickly became obvious: For one thing, I realized I would have to be pretty selective to keep the volume down to a reasonable size, and for another, that didn’t turn out to be as much of a problem as I thought it would be. Many of those earlier pieces deserve to remain well-buried, as some reveal the pretentiousness and methodological trendiness of an ambitious younger scholar and others focus on such a narrow range of texts that they might be of interest only to a few specialists. By the time I had narrowed the list to a couple dozen pieces—still more than I needed—a pattern had begun to emerge, reflected both in the title of this book and in its longest essay. There was a kind of overarching argument regarding the chronic instabilities of the fantastic genres, and while this argument is constructed most explicitly in the three opening essays, parts of it were evident in germinal form even in those earlier thematic pieces, which at first might seem to point in a contrary direction by tracing apparently stable tropes such as the artifact, the post-apocalyptic world, and the frontier. Such tropes, as these essays show (and as I’ve tried to make clearer in afterwords to some of them), may have been persistent and recurrent, but they were anything but stable, and the manner in which writers have employed them evolved as the genres themselves evolved. The book’s title dates back to an observation that struck me with some force when, in 1994, I was reviewing for Locus magazine Ellen Datlow and Terri viii Preface Windling’s annual anthology The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Here’s what I wrote then: ‘‘Fantasy is evaporating. I don’t mean that it’s disappearing altogether —quite the opposite—but that it’s growing more di√use, leaching out into the air around it, imparting a strange smell to the literary atmosphere, probably even getting into our clothes.’’ Something of a joke, to be sure, but one drawn from years of reading annual ‘‘year’s best’’ anthologies, from a variety of editors, in the fields of fantasy, science fiction, and horror: The borders were growing more di√use, not only among genres themselves but between the whole notion of genre fiction and literary fiction. If anything, this pattern accelerated markedly after I wrote that 1994 review, not only in the year’s best anthologies I continued to read, but in the variety of fiction I encountered in my monthly review column in Locus magazine. A few years later, when Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger invited me to contribute to a collection of critical essays that they were editing on postmodern culture and science fiction, it was an idea that seemed to demand developing at greater length. That essay, ‘‘Evaporating Genre,’’ originally was written in 2001 (at less than half the length of the rewritten and updated version here), and the patterns it sought to describe have continued to evolve rapidly in the years since. Those years have seen considerable discussion—in academic papers, at scholarly and literary conferences , in writers’ own musings on their work—about the blurring of boundaries between genres, between genre and literary fiction, between traditional and postmodern forms, even between fiction and allied narrative forms such as graphic novels, movies, video, hypertexts, gaming, memoirs, and various forms of performance art. This has been especially evident in the genres of fantastic literature—science fiction, fantasy, and horror—which have given rise to a whole gaggle of terms and movements to describe this weakening of boundaries, some of which are mentioned in the essay ‘‘Twenty-First-Century Stories.’’ The essays I ended up including touched upon these issues, or upon writers particularly relevant to these issues—even though many of the essays in their original form predated the current...


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