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ten Twenty-First-Century Stories with Amelia Beamer Does a story inhabit a genre, or does genre inhabit a story? While such a question might at first seem to confuse questions of market with questions of aesthetics—after all, for decades some writers having been submitting their work to identifiable genre magazines, anthologies, and publishing lists, while others have been using similar materials in stories published outside of these venues—it nevertheless underlies a fascinating dialogue that has emerged in the last decade or two in various essays, reviews, anthologies, conference papers, blogs, interviews, and panel discussions, mostly in the arena of fantastic literature and its familiar genres of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. It’s also one of the crucial questions surrounding the recent evolution of these genres and their materials, and it has given rise to a panoply of new terms: Slipstream. Interstitial . Transrealism. New Weird. Nonrealist fiction. New Wave Fabulist. Postmodern fantasy. Postgenre fiction. Cross-genre. Span fiction. Artists without Borders. New Humanist. Fantastika. Liminal fantasy. Transcendental Horror. (Okay, we ourselves made that last one up, as a way of trying to approach the fiction of Peter Straub in the preceding essay, which insistently led us into the territory that we propose to explore here.) While we easily could devote an entire essay simply to cataloguing and parsing these various terms, doing so would seem to validate the very practice our purpose is to avoid: namely, the growing tendency to replace meaningful critical discourse with ingenious tagging . Some of these labels, like ‘‘span fiction’’ (suggested by Peter Brigg in a 2002 book on intersections of mainstream and science fiction) frankly don’t seem to have gone anywhere. Others, like ‘‘slipstream,’’ have altered their meaning through time and usage (John Clute’s entry on it in his and Peter Nicholls’ 1993 Encyclopedia of Science Fiction related it to a kind of ‘‘commercial piggybacking’’ on the part of nongenre writers using sf tropes—quite di√erent from contemporary usage, which we’ll discuss a bit later). Still others are accidents; ‘‘New Twenty-First-Century Stories 165 Wave Fabulist’’ was concocted by Bradford Morrow merely as a label for a special issue of the journal Conjunctions edited by Peter Straub in 2002, and has since taken on a life of its own, often misattributed to Straub (for example the 2006 anthology Paraspheres, edited by Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan, is subtitled ‘‘Fabulist and New Wave Fabulist Stories’’). And yet others, such as ‘‘interstitial,’’ come complete with organizations, conferences, auctions, art shows, and anthologies.∞ Su≈ce to say that a bewildering array of terms has been suggested to describe recent fiction outside the traditional categories of the fantastic, and that some of these terms are being promoted and treated as actual literary movements. We’ve come a long way since Michael Swanwick, writing in Asimov’s in 1986, could note, ‘‘The generation I want to talk about hasn’t been named yet.’’≤ By now it has been named with a vengeance. Let’s take ‘‘slipstream’’ as an example, since many of the stories that we’re discussing in this essay have been called slipstream . The original term, meaning a region of low pressure and forward suction in the wake of a fast-moving vehicle, provides an obvious source for the ‘‘piggybacking’’ that Clute referred to back in 1993. Je√ Prucher, in his Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, traces the first use of ‘‘slipstream ’’ as a back-formation to a Bruce Sterling piece in sf Eye in 1989, where he proposes it as shorthand for what he describes as ‘‘novels of Postmodern sensibility .’’≥ But the word is also a parody of ‘‘mainstream,’’ according to Bruce Sterling in that same essay (in a column called Catscan). It’s di≈cult to trace when ‘‘mainstream’’ became a kind of derogatory code term among genre writers, but its first use in critical discourse about science fiction is likely an essay by Rosalie Moore, ‘‘Science Fiction and the Main Stream,’’ which appeared in Reginald Bretnor’s early critical anthology Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future, in 1953. To everyone else, it’s just general fiction—anything shelved in the Fiction & Literature section at your local chain bookstore. By 2003, in a column in Asimov’s, James Patrick Kelly could describe slipstream as ‘‘a type of writing that crosses genre boundaries in and out of science fiction.’’ He suggested that it’s a conscious strategy on the part of a...


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