"Category is a marketing term, denoting rackspace. Genre is a spectrum of work united by an inner identity, a coherent esthetic, a set of conceptual guidelines, an ideology if you will…
"… what seems to me to be a new, emergent genre, which has not yet become a category…
"… is a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality […] fantastic, surreal sometimes, speculative on occasion, but not rigorously so. It does not aim to provoke a "sense of wonder" or to systematically extrapolate…
"… 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…"
Bruce Sterling, CATSCAN 5
Or we could call it… INFERNOKRUSHER!!!
"Slipstream, ultimately, is just a wussy term. We should be drawing names less from wishy-washy words (slip, stream) and more from monster trucks (krusher, inferno)."
Meghan McCarron, Chrononautic Log
At the heart of this term "slipstream" is an image of a zone of turbulence, where mainstream and genre fictions mix. It is an image of a sleek chrome bullet-train of genre dragging up dead leaves and detritus from the mainstream tracks as it rockets relentlessly forward. It is an image of that Gernsback-Campbell Express already gone, past in the blink of an eye, the sonic boom of the New Wave still echoing but the most noticeable mark of its passing simply the way our hair still whips across our faces, the cloud of dust still whirling around us, the air sucked from in front of our mouths, the tug we feel to follow in its path… the effect of its passing… the slipstream. It is an image of the perturbation of mainstream by genre, of not-quite-genre fiction as the pocket of air that sort of travels with the genre but is not genre. The turbulence cuts both ways: ragged edges where Modernity has torn through an otherwise tranquil and reflective fictive mode -- the domestic as opposed to the fantastic -- loose threads and shreds, scraps sucked up and tumbling in the wake of rocket-powered pulp prose; detritus sloughing and swirling off to settle in the mainstream, like litter dropped from the window of that train.
Monster trucks, bullet trains or rocket ships -- SF likes its technotoys. The Golden Age sent rockets into the deep space of 50s and 60s imaginations. The New Wave watched them plummet down to apocalypse. Ramming the domestic and the fantastic into each other, slipstream -- or Infernokrusher, to give it its correct name -- puts a warp drive on a Winnebago and then fires it at a black hole. Or drops a burning angel on an airstream trailer in the middle of the Mojave. Or doesn't.
"It is important to note that an infernokrusher sensibility does not require literal infernos or crushing."
David Moles, Chrononautic Log
An image that crops up time and time again in my writing is, I have realised, the image of hot air shimmering over tarmac on a summer day. I suppose it represents a tremulous, tenuous quality to perceived reality, the idea that mirages and distortions are essential parts of this world, entirely natural if illusory products of sweltering heat. I wonder if that image doesn't in fact suggest that somewhere down that road, at that point in the distance where the tarmac and the blue sky meld into rippling artifice, reality itself is warping, coming apart in the heat of the summer sun, such that the road, if one could reach that tissue-thin but always distant portal of illusion, might lead us into worlds of utter fantasy. I think there's something in that image of the haze of summer days which suggests the dreamy daze of memories of childhood, because summer is, of course, the cyclic childhood of the soul. Ray Bradbury, that great pre-proto-infernokrusher writer, blowing up genre conventions left, right and centre with his speculative, horrific, fantastic, domestic fictions, knew how important summer is symbolically and sentimentally. But he knew also that it represents the shattering of those dreams, the end of innocence, the tearing of that idyll's very fabric, in the last day. All summer in a day, and if that day ends, and you miss it...
Hot summer days always make me think of death, by the way. It's fucking gorgeous today, so of course my thoughts turn towards sorrow, a less literal form of crushing, a cold inferno.
"The only native in Interzone who is neither queer nor available is Andrew Keif's chauffeur."
William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch
The first ever issue of Interzone I bought, at the tender age of Xteen years old, was the one that had Ian Watson's "Jingling Geordie's Hole" in it, a fucked-up little tale that might well be called horror but which reads, in parts, like one of those contemporary realist tales of English childhood, of imagination at play in bleak post-war reality, of innocence lost. Two boys play in a cave associated in local legend with a mythical "worm". Flirting, facilitating stranger games with readings from Marlowe's Edward II, one of them seduces the other into sexual experimentation and, following the blood and the semen of their tawdry encounter, there's a dark, impossible and increasingly disturbing turn of events. Ancient evil lurks in that there cave. And if it needs a schoolboy to impregnate and gestate in, well that's fine by it. As I say, it's a fucked-up little story.
As a fag, of course, I found the story fascinating, even more unsettling, perhaps, because of its -- for me -- erotic charge. Guys getting it on together! In a story! Woohoo! And then one of them getting pregnant. Eeeew. But as turbulent as the tension between lust and revulsion in that story was, and as much as that turbulence reflected my own adolescent confusion of desire and fear, the real tension at the heart of the story, the key source of the strange, strained, estranged feeling of the story is, for me, the tension between the domestic and the fantastic. Like many of the plays of Dennis Potter, I think, "Jingling Geordie's Hole" positions itself somewhere between genre and mainstream. In Potter's work, devils and frozen heads and noir detectives and musical numbers shear off the pulp world and are turned into the stuff of his plays. I remember discussing Potter's last works, Cold Lazarus and Karaoke, with fellow members of the Glasgow SF Writer' Circle when they were shown on TV shortly after (or was it just before?) his death. Fans of the fantastic recognise a kindred spirit in his essential weirdness, and they scoop it up into their big net of like-SF-but-not-SF as the bullet train of genre whips it up into their reach, into that "slipstream" zone. Potter ripped up reality time and time again in his work, but often in subtle ways. Middle-aged adults playing children in the summery idyll of The Blue Remembered Hills transforms the meaning of the play in a fundamentally SFnal way, a fantastic device that gives it the faintly creepy quality of something not quite natural.
Watson's story, born in that same interzone of the domestic and the fantastic, snatches scraps of reality to integrate into its horror -- grammar schools and cruel childhood games, skinned knees and scraped elbows -- enough to give it not just the superficial mimetic quality of a plausible backdrop for a speculative thought experiment or a fabulous adventure, but to make that mimesis a purposeful component in its own right. Horror might be said to involve, more often than not, the irruption of the fantastic into the domestic; here, it can be argued, I think, there is an irruption of the domestic into the fantastic, in terms of the mode of storytelling, the purpose, the whole approach. As I say, it's a fucked-up little story.
Given that Interzone took its name from Burroughs's city, I think its fair to say that while "Jingling Geordie's Hole" lies, as I recall, at the extreme end of its output at that time, a certain "fucked-up" aesthetic was at play in those early days of the magazine, before Cyberpunk, before the New Space Opera, before the New Weird, or Mundane-SF, or even Infernokrusher. Me, I always thought of Interzone as a logical follow-on from the New Wave that gave us Ballard with his classic apocalyptic novel, The Krushed World, and Moorcock with his Infernal Champion series, and --
Oh, OK, yes. I made those up. So fuck? When you're driving a monster truck at literary conventions, reality is just another genre.
"So are we as much reacting to the horror and absurdity of the post-9/11 world as we are being ironic and silly?"
David Schwartz, Goblin Mercantile Exchange
Imagine that bullet-train of slipstream derailed and crashing through brick walls of factory yards, plowing its way across allotments, carriages whiplashing and shearing, sideswipes shattering garden sheds and greenhouses, bursting gas mains so they spout and blossom in great blooms of flame where the sunflowers should be; and imagine passengers or parcels scattered from their appointed places -- numbered, lettered seats or shelves -- thrown through the windows and French doors of inner city flats or suburban semi-detacheds, to land in broken, bloody bits in the kitchen sinks and drawing rooms of Little Britain. (There's a decapitated head in the fruit bowl, Harold. That's nice, Marjorie.) Fuck that smeared zone of sliding, slithering meanings, of insubstantial streaming whirls of involuted definitions. Fuck that shit. Slipstream? The slipstream is an impact zone, not the confusion, not the area of collusion, of separate forms of storytelling -- of fantastic and domestic genres -- but the collision of them.
I blew up the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast forgive me I like fire
Theodora Goss, Chrononautic Log
I like fire. I used to play with matches as a kid, as kids often do. Me and my best mate would buy a pack of matches from the newsagents in the housing scheme where we grew up; then we'd gather litter, and light little fires, down by the trainlines in the scrub of dirt beneath the footbridge where the glue-sniffers left their crisp pokes and tins of Bostick empty of all but the stink.
Later, as an adolescent, me and a different best mate would have lots of fun burning my collection of Christmas aftershaves, turning cans of hairspray into flamethrowers (like in that Bond movie, you know), even trying to burn the word FUCK into a football pitch during the World Cup. I much prefer fire to football, you see.
I made up stories as a kid, to get myself to sleep, about a hero known as Flash (I was a big fan of those old Flash Gordon serials, you know) or Jack (as in the Giant-Killer). As an adult I somehow ended up resurrecting him in my fiction, in a bomb-throwing anarchist called Jack Flash. In his very first appearance, he comes flying through the air, an orgone-powered airship exploding at his back. His key attribute is his Zippo, always ready for lighting hash cheroots or sticks of dynamite. Clunk-chunk-chik.
Peachy keen, says Jack.
"Demolition is the new deconstruction."
Benjamin Rosenbaum, Chrononautic Log
After a number of years attending the Glasgow Science Fiction Writer's Circle, in my early twenties perhaps, having had a number of short stories critiqued and having built up over the years a full shoe-box of bits and bobs of background and plot ideas, chunks of paragraph and solitary sentences, novel synopses and poems and adolescent journals railing in petulant wrath against the injustice of the world, and notes, and more notes, and more and more and MORE notes, I found myself increasingly frustrated with my inability to bring it all into focus. The fragments refused to join up into stories. Or worse they latched onto each other, stuck and clumped together in ludicrous, jarring, clashing tales, misbegotten and misshapen by my inability to abandon what needed to be abandoned. I was a bit of loon in those days, maybe, compulsively, almost schizophrenically syncretist, trying to "put it all together", to find the grand, unifying story that all of these ideas could be fitted into. It's still a tendency I have, to cross-wire, to combine, to cut-up-and-fold-in, smashing multiple stories into bits and splicing the smithereens back together as a single multi-threaded narrative. Krushing is fun.
The point is that back then, no matter how I knew the theory -- that old idea of painting out the bit you most like in the canvass, in order to let the picture work as a whole -- I couldn't seem to put it into practice. Sometimes a favourite character has to be taken out into the desert and have his head caved in with a lead pipe. Sometimes an elaborate city you escape to in your juvenile dreams has to be burned to the ground and the very soil sown with salt. If you want to control what you write, have conscious control over it, rather than let it just be a vessel for your most self-serving fantasies, I reckon, sometimes you have to show it who's fucking boss…
So one day I took my shoe-box of scraps out to the same football pitch where I'd tried to burn the word FUCK all those years back, and I set fire to it, everything I'd ever written up to that day, every piece of fiction and non-fiction, all the sophomoric philosophy and puerile poetry, even the odd treasured tale that felt actually almost accomplished; I reckoned it had to be all or nothing. So I burned the whole fucking lot of it, and it felt fucking good.
However you take the whole wonderfully ludic and ludicrous idea of labeling a literary approach as the "Infernokrusher Movement", I can honestly say, hand on my heart: fire is pretty. I much prefer fire to streams, whether they be mainstream, slipstream or a stream of yellow piss with which you write your name in snow.
"How far is the distance between infernos and krushing?"
Theodora Goss, Chrononautic Log
How far is the distance between genre and mainstream? Are they distant enough to get to terminal velocity as you put the pedal to the metal and accelerate from one towards the other? Or are they so close that they're already pressing in on one another, krushing what lies between them, in the interzone?
"It didn't take long to realise what was on those shelves. It wasn't quite SF and it wasn't quite mainstream either. It was all stuff that wasn't one or the other, or books by mainstream writers that were marketed as mainstream but which, to the discerning SF fan were actually distant relations of SF; or books by SF writers which might be acceptable to people who didn't think they liked SF; or mainstream novels written by SF authors, Iain Banks being a prime example... So it was obvious; slipstream was a catch-all for anything that FP thought they could sell, but which couldn't strictly be marketed as SF."
Erich Zann, Territories
I shared a flat for a while with Gary Gibson in the early 90s, while he and Erich were working on their slipstream magazine, and in conversations with them and with the other writers of the Circle or mates who were fans of SF, it was interesting to see the division between those who just shrugged and pointed, able to say instinctively "this is slipstream", and those who were just utterly baffled by the term.
"Slipstream is just the area of turmoil where any two genres meet (in my opinion)" Erich wrote in his first editorial.
Many people complain about the vagueness of the term "slipstream", but I think a more precise definition for slipstream could conceivably be constructed from Sterling's article. Yes, slipstream is on one level simply a grouping of fiction which basically consists of:
a) mainstream works picked up by the genre
b) genre works splintered off into the mainstream
But what Stirling says is:
"… Slipstream might seem to be an artificial construct, a mere grab-bag of mainstream books that happen to hold some interest for SF readers. I happen to believe that slipstream books have at least as much genre identity as the variegated stock that passes for science fiction these days…"
Bruce Sterling, CATSCAN 5
What these works have in common, I think, may be that they fuse the mimetic impetus of "mainstream" (i.e. realist) works with the fantastic conceits of "genre" (i.e. romantic) works, while rejecting the formal constraints of both modes. Slipstream is, because of this, partly defined by the purists who identify these works by the absence of conventional constraints (and therefore reject them from the traditional canon, as not-quite-proper-fantastic-genre or, conversely, not-quite-proper-contemporary-realism), and partly defined by the eclectics who identify these works by the presence of shared mimetic and fantastic features (and therefore conscript them into the new canon).
Infernokrusher is more interested in cannons than canons. We have no conscripts, only kill-crazy berserkers.
"Core infernokrusher fiction would never forget to fill up the tank."
Karen Meisner, Chrononautic Log
One of the stories that went up in smoke when I burned everything was an adolescently "hilarious" balls-to-the-wall splatterpunk piece of nonsense called "Janet And John Go Shopping" or "T-Birds And Splatter-Patterns". I never could decide what the title should be. It still survives in a critique copy or two somewhere out there, I suspect; there are members of the Circle who are inveterate hoarders, and Craig Marnock is virtually our bloody archivist, in fact; I'm sure the bastard still has one hidden somewhere.
In its comic-book violence, the story wasn't exactly what you'd call realistic. Most of the action centred around a psychotic android (of sorts) and an equally psychotic Thunderbird-driving heroine. And most of it involved wanton destruction in a shopping mall. I believe I may have just discovered Hunter S. Thompson at the time. Or K.W. Jeter's Dr Adder. Or Alligator Alley, by Mink Mole and Dr Adder himself. Gonzo journalism, gonzo fiction, fiction written by fictional characters, all of these mindfucks I'm sure contributed to my gung-ho approach in that story.
I was always more interested in high-octane action and incendiary fantasies than in safe and steadfast SF extrapolation with all its plausible scientific speculation. I just wanted to blow stuff up. Not terribly mature, but then, as David Moles's fragmentary (or is it fragged?) Notes Towards An Infernokrusher Manifesto tell us, so does Nature, so does God.
Blowing stuff up is fun, after all. Things go boom. Peachy keen.
"We only want Humour if it has fought like Tragedy... We only want Tragedy if it can clench its side-muscles like hands on its belly, and bring to the surface a laugh like a bomb."
The Vorticist Manifesto
Sterling, in his essay, identifies a range of characteristic qualities to slipstream. If he doesn't quite give a satisfactory definition he does at least give a description of slipstream's basis in "an inner identity, a coherent esthetic, a set of conceptual guidelines, an ideology if you will".
As Sterling characterises it, in terms of attitude, slipstream:
...sarcastically tears at the structure of "everyday life"
...has an attitude of peculiar aggression against "reality"
...has, towards its material, a cavalier attitude
......opposed to the hard-SF "respect for scientific fact"
......violating the historical record of, for example
.........as raw material for collage work.
.........not as real-life facts
In other words, its mantra is "Fuck that shit".
I've always been suspicious of everyday life, of the mundane world of newspapers and those who believe everything they read in them. When you're a sixteen-year-old faggot and the papers are telling you all homosexuals are child-molesters, therefore the children must be safe-guarded, therefore this law must be passed preventing teachers from "promoting homosexuality" -- when you can't even debate this fucking Clause 28 in the school debating society because the law says you can't -- well that makes for a pretty cavalier attitude towards the discourses out of which the "everyday" is constructed. Journalism? Official statements? Real-life facts… according to The Daily Torygraph?
Fuck that shit.
I've said elsewhere that I saw Clause 28 as some sort of absurdly, horrifically real Catch 22. Felt like I'd slipped right into another stream of time, you might say, a parallel world designed by Heller with a little hand from Kafka. I was never one to cry myself to sleep at night though in a -- you know -- girly kinda way.
Hell, no. When the world's fucked up like that it's time to reach for the flamethrower and the laughing gas.
"Are we just watching the repressed aggression of people who were bullied in elementary school, or is something else going on here?"
Matt Cheney, The Mumpsimus
It seems almost banal for me to say -- as if it's news to anyone -- that there's something of a tendency for put-upon geeks to revel in revenge fantasies of intricate detail, imagining sublime immolations and sledgehammers upon skulls. When you're a scrawny geek faggot growing up in small town Ayrshire under Maggie Fuckin Thatcher, it's quite easy to reach a peak of suicidal, homicidal fury and frustration that's almost ecstatic in its breathless height. You crank up the volume on the heavy metal, you pull on your black leather Gothgear and you reimagine yourself as the very avatar of the Jungian shadow, righteous in its narcissistic rage. It's all bullshit, of course, pipe dreams of pipe bombs, until the day you actually walk into your high school with a shotgun. Ah, how I dreamed of a shotgun.
But that's not infernokrusher, to my mind; infernokrusher doesn't give a shit about such petty rationales as revenge. Infernokrusher takes that little posturing puerile ego in its black trenchcoat out behind the bike sheds, gives him a cigarette and says, settle down, pumpkin. It's no fun blowing stuff up if you do it out of anger.
No. Infernokrusher finds that sorta psychological self-abusing and self-excusing wish-fulfillment wank just… well, dull. Infernokrusher is, as Benjamin Rosenbaum quite rightly pointed out to me in a previous blog entry, as much about being krushed as it is about doing the krushing. The mere presence of monster trucks does not make art infernokrusher; it's what you do with them that counts.
"Fuck Art. Gimme a goddamn knife."
Dr Adder, Alligator Alley
As Sterling characterises it, in terms of composition, slipstream
...contains non-realistic literary fictions
......which avoid or ignore genre SF conventions
.........not using fantastic elements which are
............clearcut departures from known reality
...............beyond the fields we know.
............neat-o ideas to kick around for fun's sake
.........but using fantastic elements which are
............ontologically part of the whole mess
............integral to the author's worldview
............in the nature of an inherent dementia
............not create new worlds
............but to quote them
............chop them up out of context
............turn them against themselves.
...has unique darker elements which often
......don't make a lot of common sense
.........nothing we know makes a lot of sense
.........perhaps nothing ever could
Slipstream -- sorry, Infernokrusher -- takes a cut-throat razor to the hackneyed clichés of both fantastic and domestic genres. It cannibalises them and savages them, retrofits and ravages them, treats them the way Godzilla treats Tokyo, the way Burroughs treats Interzone. Smash and grab. Cut up and fold in. Chuck a molotov in behind you as you leg it. With a swaggering disregard for both the extrapolative thought-experiments of rationalists and the escapist world-building of romantics, this approach to fiction is often, it seems, one that dissects pre-existing realms, drives an idea right through the heart of them, smashing them down to their constituent parts and then crushing those parts against each other to see what gives. To me, that's as much a method of writing as a genre, and maybe it is all down to what Sterling calls a postmodern sensibility. The mix of intellectualism and archness that I always think of, and that always makes me cringe, when I hear the word "postmodern" is maybe just my illusion, an occluded view of a process that's really part aesthetic reckoning (rather than dry, intellectual analysis) and part innocent, playful demolition job (rather than arch and knowing deconstruction).
SF rationalises the irrational, the fanciful, the fantastic, with its plausible scientific speculations and extrapolations, while in Fantasy and Horror those irrational elements are already rationalised by the unconscious/subconscious/preconscious mind, made sense of in their associations with desire and fear, the sense of wonder and the sense of the uncanny, rationalisations which may well play no small part in the subtextual psychodramas underlying even some of the hardest of hard SF novels. Perhaps Infernokrusher gets confused with "mainstream", crosses over into what is seen as the territory of domestic realism, because it takes an approach at once more playful and more serious than anything the genre would ever come up with: What if we allow the irrational to remain irrational? What if we reject the romantic and rationalist worldviews and say maybe there are no easy answers? What if we just rev up the engine of the monster truck, lean forward over the steering wheel with a mad glint in our snickety-sharp grin, pull the hand-brake off and floor the fucker? Destination immolation!
"HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS. HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS. HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS. HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS. HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS. HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS. HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS. HE WAS ON THE BRAWLING SPANISH STAIRS.
"The burning man jaunted."
Alfred Bester, Tiger Tiger / The Stars My Destination
On a hot summer day, about a thousand years ago, it seems, when I was sixteen years old, my brother stepped out into the path of a Ford Capri. Death is full of surprises.
Fire up the inferno of a star with enough fuel and it'll go nova. Take it as far as it'll go and that star collapses under its own weight crushing itself into the singularity at the centre of a black hole, where the laws of physics themselves break down. That's a good metaphor for sorrow, I think, that great catastrophe of emotion, which hits us not unlike a big motherfucking monster truck, cracking our skulls and smashing us right out of that last summer day and into never never never never never.
"Infernokrusher is always intense."
Karen Meisner, Chrononautic Log
As Sterling characterises it, in terms of style, slipstream
...may be conventional in narrative structure
...may screw with representational conventions, pulling stunts that
......get all over the reader's feet
......suggest that the picture is leaking from the frame
......such techniques as
.........sharp violations of viewpoint limits
.........bizarrely blase reactions to horrifically unnatural events
.........deliberate use of gibberish.
Life is not for the faint-hearted. Why the fuck should art be?