Slip, sliding away….

As a first reader for the online speculative fiction publisher Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, I am privileged to read many amazing stories that writers have submitted. We were working through a reading period this past month and one story in particular really resonated with me. (Unfortunately, I cannot talk more about the work – if it is published in a future issue, I’ll update this post and let you know how you can find it).  The story was slotted by the writer into the “slipstream” genre and I got to thinking that I wasn’t aware of the origin of this term.  A quick jaunt on Google revealed that Bruce Sterling, a prolific American SF author and a creator of cyberpunk, coined the word a couple of decades ago. (A personal recommendation for anyone who hasn’t read Sterling’s work: scour around for a copy of The Difference Engine, a steampunk novel that he co-authored with William Gibson and published in 1990). Basically, slipstream stories blur the lines between mainstream (literary) fiction and science fiction, bringing elements of SF into genres of writing that are usually determinedly and decidedly un-SF. (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is oft-touted as one of the more famous and commonly read examples). I uncovered a document Sterling wrote in 1998, discussing the not-yet-fully-accepted term and its meaning, but the real gem of the missive is the end, where he lists a fairly significant number of what he considered “slipstream” works to that time. Take a look at a copy of the list here.

These are books which SF readers recommend to friends: “This isn’t SF, but it sure ain’t mainstream and I think you might like it, okay?”

~Bruce Sterling, Slipstream (essay)

Do you have any more to add, over two decades later? Goodreads has put up a list of what it considers Popular Slipstream, found here.  One of my favourites on this list is Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane…and I’d argue that more novels by Douglas Coupland belong here, in addition to Girlfriend in a Coma. Have you read any of these slipstream works?

The Door is Ajar: Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith.

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Public Library and Other Stories – Ali Smith (2015 Penguin Canada)

Smith’s collection of short stories was gathered together to celebrate the role of public libraries in personal and public life, of the value they bring to community, and the wealth of knowledge and the opportunity for engagement, thought, and creativity that they invoke.  Public Library is also a protest against the closure of libraries in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the quashing of budgets, collections, and services in libraries that remain, and the overall decline of government and popular support for these previously-revered institutions.  Smith’s stories are framed by quotes from writers, thinkers, and other figures as they explore their personal emotions and connections to libraries, books, reading, and writing.

The stories themselves were a delight for me and I devoured them in a couple of very short sittings. I am not familiar with Smith’s other work and I loved her style and juicy depth of language as she wound her way around several accounts of relationships gone sour, reimaginings of history, and family life.  It’s difficult to pick a favourite out of this collection, but “The Ex-Wife” and “The Poet” are special standouts for me.  Highly recommended.