Via Christopher Barzak, there’s a blog for Small Beer’s forthcoming Interfictions anthology, including (so far) the table of contents and excerpts from an interview with the editors, Theodora Goss and Delia Sherman.
I commmented over on Chris’ blog that reading the interview made me start to understand the allergic reactions some people have to the term “slipstream“, because I found it an increasingly frustrating experience. Given that I’m an advocate of the usefulness of slipstream as a descriptor, and given that most people seem to lump the two terms together anyway, this may seem surprising. The difference is that I know what people mean when they say a story is slipstream, or I can find out. To put it crudely, if they’re Bruce Sterling, they mean a story that generates a certain effect; if they’re Rich Horton, they mean a story that disturbs a familiar context with fantastic intrusions; if they’re James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, they mean a story that uses certain techniques and narrative strategies. We can argue all day long about which of these definitions is most useful, which identifies the most interesting set of stories, but they are all, to an extent, testable.
It’s hard to judge Goss and Sherman’s descriptions of the Interfictions stories without actually having read said stories — though I expect that, like Feeling Very Strange, Interfictions will be a strong collection, independent of whether you agree with the frame it’s presented in. But “Interstitial”, at least as Goss and Sherman are using it, doesn’t seem to work the way that slipstream works. The descriptions of slipstream above are bottom-up: if a story has these characteristics, maybe it’s slipstream. The descriptions of interstitial that Goss and Sherman give are dreadfully vague, and tend to be top-down: this story is interstitial, but why?
Q: Did you have a particular definition of interstitiality in mind before you began reading the stories?
DORA: [...] interstitiality has been defined in so many ways, at various forums where Delia and I have discussed the concept, that I wanted to forget my own definition, to say to the writers, I’ve asked you for an interstitial story. Now show me what you think is interstitial. [...]
DELIA: What I began with was less a definition of interstitial fiction than a short list of things I felt I knew about it. An interstitial story does not hew closely to any one set of recognizable genre conventions. An interstitial story does interesting things with narrative and style. An interstitial story takes artistic chances. These things are true, as far as they go. But the other thing I know is that every interstitial story defines itself as unlike any other.
Perhaps a better way of approaching the subject is to look at the overall aim of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, which is to promote “art that doesn’t fit neatly within recognised categories of genre or marketing”. This, it seems to me, is only a useful aim if you’re more concerned with the commercial restrictions placed on a given mode than with the mode itself; or to put it another way, it’s an aim that seems more useful for writers than for readers. If I were a writer, I might be reluctant to be labelled, because a label is reductive, and I know my work has many aspects. As a reader, I have a preference for stories of the fantastic, but I don’t care whether they’re labelled as such or not; I’ll pick up Against the Day and Nova Swing, both of which chafe against their assigned labels, in the same shopping trip. So as a reader, the “interstitial” label is barely useful — it’s tempting to say, “ok, name three books that do fit neatly within the categories of genre and marketing”. And as a reviewer, I’d never consider using it; part of a reviewer’s job is description, and “interstitial” is a smokescreen. By definition, even more than other labels, it avoids the specifics of what a story is doing, the details that make it interesting.