Margin: Exploring Modern Magical 


c o l u m n


Note: This column offers insights into other literary forms that often resemble or share attributes with magical realism. The goal of this column is to highlight shifting notions and biases about cutting edge literature.

Q What is Slipstream?

Here are a few definitions culled from the Internet:

Christopher Priest, columnist: "It is the literature of strangeness, but not necessarily in its subjects. Slipstream is about attitude, or a different way of inquiring into the familiar. It includes rather than categorises -- while not being magic realism, or fantasy, or science fiction, slipstream literature includes many examples of these."

*Bruce Sterling, literary critic: "It is a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality. It is fantastic, surreal sometimes, speculative on occasion, but not rigorously so. It does not aim to provoke a ‘sense of wonder’ or to systematically extrapolate in the manner of classic science fiction. Instead, this is a kind of writing that simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books ‘slipstream.’ "

Ted White, SF fan: "I think what's now being called 'Slipstream' is a second-generation...of what was 'Magic Realism' in the seventies: Robbins & Co.... It's a way of bringing the Outsider's Eye from SF to contemporary culture. But it also blends in with pop-UFO crap like 'The X-Files,' etc., at the bottom end and in the mass media."

Lawrence Person, writer: "Fantastic fiction that falls into that not-quite-fantasy, not-quite-mainstream crack might as well be called slipstream as anything else."

Jennifer de Guzman, editor: "A post-modernist (post-post-modernist?) form of fiction, slipstream is the grandchild of an early twentieth century movement that sought to undo 5000 years of literary tradition. Literature tends to reinforce readers' beliefs that life, while not always entirely comprehensible, has reason and meaning. The modernists sought to portray not external reality but the shifting, "transparent envelope" (Virginia Woolf, Modern Fiction) of consciousness....As this literary movement grew, authors even moved away from portraying only the improbabilities and seeming incoherence of the mind. In post-modernist forms like surrealism and magical realism, improbability and incoherence extend into the exterior world, often without commentary or explanation....Slipstream is part of the post-modernist sensibility. Although it often incorporates modernist and post-modernist themes into the established and familiar genres of science fiction and fantasy, slipstream nevertheless disrupts readers' sense of coherence, causing them to question the reality of their perception and preconceptions."

B U T . . . I S   I T   M A G I C A L   R E A L I S M ?

Feel free to respond to this question in an e-mail to MARGIN's editor. Responses will be considered for publication in MARGIN with permission from the author.

[ S I D E B A R ]

*From Sterling's and Person's famous Slipstream list are the following titles, which also appear on MARGIN's magical realism list.

ALLENDE, ISABEL Of Love and Shadows; The House of Spirits

BARTH, JOHN Giles Goat-Boy

CARTER, ANGELA Nights at the Circus
CARY, PETER Illywhacker; Oscar and Lucinda
CROWLEY, JOHN Little Big; Aegypt



HOBAN, RUSSELL Riddley Walker

JONES, ROBERT F. Blood Sport; The Diamond Bogo

KINSELLA, W. P. Shoeless Joe
KOSTER, R. M. The Dissertation

MÁRQUEZ, GABRIEL GARCÍA Autumn of the Patriarch; One Hundred Years of Solitude
MORRISON, TONI Beloved; The Song of Solomon

NUNN, KEN Tapping the Source; Unassigned Territory

PYNCHON, THOMAS V; The Crying of Lot 49

RUSHDIE, SALMAN Midnight's Children; The Satanic Verses

THOMAS, D. M. The White Hotel
THORNTON, LAWRENCE Imagining Argentina

VLIET, R. G. Scorpio Rising
VOLLMAN, WILLIAM T. You Bright and Risen Angels

VONNEGUT, KURT Slaughterhouse-Five

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