Genre Clarification: Slipstream

Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction.

The term was coined by Richard Dorsett according to an interview with renowned cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling in Mythaxis Review.

He said: “It was invented by my friend the late Richard Dorsett while the two of us were discussing a category of non-genre fantasy books that we had no name for. ‘They’re certainly not mainstream,’ I said, and ‘Why not slipstream?’ he suggested, and I thought it was a pretty good coinage.” Bruce Sterling described it in an article originally published in SF Eye #5, in July 1989, as: “… this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”

Slipstream falls between speculative fiction and mainstream fiction. While some slipstream novels employ elements of science fiction or fantasy, not all do. The common unifying factor of these pieces of literature is some degree of the surreal, the not-entirely-real, or the markedly anti-real.  According to Kelly and Kessel, however, there are three basic characteristics of a slipstream narrative: it disrupts the principle of realism; it is not a traditional fantasy story; and, it is a postmodern narrative.  As an emerging genre, slipstream has been described as nonrealistic fiction with a postmodern sensibility.

In 2007, the first London Literature Festival at the Royal Festival Hall held a Slipstream night chaired by Toby Litt and featuring the British authors Steven Hall and Scarlett Thomas.

In her 2012 volume Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, Grace Dillon identifies a current of Native American Slipstream that predates and anticipates slipstream, with examples including Gerald Vizenor’s “Custer on the Slipstream” (1978).

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