Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (英語) ペーパーバック – 2006/7/15
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"Worth buying? Well if you want to be the hippiest cat on the block, then yes." --SFCrowsnest.com
"A collection of the vanguard of the strange." --SF Site
"A collection of the vanguard of the strange." -- SF Site
"Unique, challenging, engaging, and excellent stories . . . a triumph." "--Fantasy Magazine"
"Worth buying? Well if you want to be the hippest cat on the block, then yes." --SFCrowsnest.com
"If you would like to understand this phenomenon called slipstream, then this is definitely the book for you." "--SFRevu"
"For fans of surreal David Lynch and Wim Wenders films. Highlight: Lethem's crack-smoking aliens." "--Entertainment Weekly"
"This book is a joy, and could easily become a staple of college syllabi in the not-so-distant future." "--Time Out Chicago"
"The genre-defining collection for the genre that deliberately defies definition.... Lots of great stories here." --"The Agony Column"
"Whether you're interested in the boundaries of slipstream or not, "Feeling Very Strange" is a terrific collection of stories." --"Intergalactic Medicine Show"
What it provoked in me was a sense of boredom. Many of these are shaggy dog type stories that leave you hanging with no real denouement. Those stories, if written well or if utilizing interesting concepts, might have some interest value, but that is not the case. Only a couple of the short stories were of even mild interest, most lacking in innovation and even writing skill. As one reviewer indicated, some of these stories seem like something handed in for a school creative writing exercise. There are those who find this book provocative and effective, but I did not.
Bruce Sterling's "The Little Magic Shop" and Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God" at least were of minor interest, but none of the works in this anthology made me "feel strange" other than wondering why I paid for this book. I've read Kelly LInk's "Get in Trouble," as she is one of the more commercial writers in the slipstream genre, and found her stories more interesting, but, in the end, equally unsatisfying.
In summary, I don't recommend this book unless you want to read essays debating exactly what slipstream entails or you want to just sample the genre.
In the introduction to this anthology of slipstream fiction, editors Kelly and Kessel wrestle with the definition of "slipstream." There's some disagreement over this issue, but basically Kelly and Kessel see slipstream as denoting stories that seek to "make the familiar strange or the strange familiar." Slipstream is the literature of "strangeness triumphant"; literature that "abandons the assumption [...] that the world can be seen whole, and described accurately in words."
In short, "strange" is the watchword for these stories. And strange can be a difficult row to hoe. "Strange" plus "humorous" runs the risk of adding up to "silly," while "strange" combined with "dark" can easily become simply "pointlessly repellent" (see my opinion of George Saunders' story below). Another potential problem with stories that focus on the strange is that they may be too removed from the familiar touchstones of life to have much emotional impact. And yet another is that they can result in simple frustration for the reader -- a sense of "I dunno WTF is going on here and that's pissin' me off."
Do the stories in this collection avoid these various pitfalls? Yes and no. Following are notes on some selected stories:
"Light and the Sufferer" by Jonathan Letham could be a straightforward mainstream story about a crack addict and the mean streets of New York, but there are some aliens thrown in -- aliens who say nothing and do nothing and who contribute nothing to the story. A fine example of how a fumbled attempt at "strange" can end up being "annoyingly pointless."
George Saunders' "Sea Oak" is certainly strange, and I suppose some will find it darkly humorous. I found it sufficiently squalid, wretched, and ugly that it made me resolve to never again read anything by Saunders. I've read a fair amount of his stuff lately, and I've had it with him grinding his pathological depression into my face.
And speaking of dark... "Hell is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang is a story that I read the first half of some years ago. I think it's a remarkably good story, but I will never finish it; there's just too much misery and hate in it for me to get through. Unlike the Saunders story, I didn't feel that this one is ugly and wretched without purpose; I think it's loaded with purpose, meaning and even artistry, but I just couldn't stomach it.
"Lieserl" by Karen Joy Fowler is a sweet, delicate story about Albert Einstein's first child. In reality, it's unknown what happened to this girl, who was born before Einstein and her mother were married; she may have died in infancy or she may have been given up for adoption. (This bit of history isn't related in the story, but I think it helps the story to know it.) In Fowler's piece, time and reality are set somewhat askew so that this phantom child can be brought to a kind of life.
"Bright Morning" by Jeffrey Ford might have been a similarly delicate, mildly amusing little tale about a mysterious lost story by Franz Kafka. Might have been, if it were one quarter of its actual length. As it is, I found it tedious and dull.
"Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes' by Benjamin Rosenbaum" (yes, all of that, including the author's name, is the title of the story) is a delightfully fun steampunk-esque romp in an alternate universe. It includes some philosophical meditations on reality, and a protagonist who's as charmingly offbeat and unlikely as the setting of the story.
For me, "You Have Never Been Here" by M. Rickert was an unfortunate example of the "strange = frustrating" brand of story. I didn't know WTF was going on, nothing made any sense, and it just left me feeling annoyed.
So as you can see, this book had a lot of misses along with a few mild hits. But still I'm glad I read it. It was an interesting, informative look at what's been done in this genre, (or sub-genre, or non-genre, or style, or whatever one wants to call it).