My novels are literary-commercial but my short stories vary with the weather and/or my mood. Many are darkly serious, but there’s a smattering of lighter stuff, and sometimes I even raise a laugh. I also have a growing collection of stories which step outside real-world logic, and I don’t know what to call them. Launching my virtual annethologies page at the end of last year was my cue to try and sort them out.
The absence of a proper nomenclature didn’t matter so much when there was only Tamsin, the woman who woke up on the morning of her wedding to find her neck had grown as long as her arm. Then Selena started being stalked by unnaturally large footprints and plastic took over Jim’s allotment, not to mention Adam waiting in the wings for his publication call. But now Sam, an ordinary soldier in a time warp where all the wars of the past century are happening simultaneously, has made his debut, I’m duty bound to give more thought to where they all belong.
The what-if nature renders these stories speculative, although without an entire alternative scientific or mystical world they don’t qualify as sci-fi or fantasy. For want of an alternative, I’ve been labelling them slipstream, a position midway between speculative and literary, with elements of strangeness and otherworldliness. The word feels right for that gentle slip-sliding into another stream of possibility, another dimensional laid across the familiar world.
All fiction asks readers to suspend disbelief to a certain extent; slipstream, as I’m choosing to interpret it, asks them to go a step further, not only to care about made-up characters as if they were real people, but to accept a situation where a single law of physics or history or biology has been turned on its head. By my reckoning, The Time Traveler’s Wife meets slipstream criteria, as does Never Let Me Go, both novels where critics have disagreed over genre. After all, we can’t slip physically back and forth in time to revisit different versions of ourselves (although we all do that in our minds). And, the demonisation of the poor and disadvantaged notwithstanding, people aren’t cloned simply to furnish body parts for the elite.
Well, what do you think? Is slipstream a genre with which you are familiar and, if so, what does it mean to you? Does genre matter anyway? And do share your thoughts on Sam’s desire to be a hero if you can.