And on the subject of mashing …

Dan Green on the experience of reading Interfictions:

Reading the book as a collection of stories that are “willfully transgressive in a noncategorical way” did me no good at all. Notwithstanding that most of them were “transgressive,” when at all, in rather tepid and formally uninteresting ways, I simply was unable to understand what they shared in common that made them “interfictions.” The editors’ narrowing of focus to the contest between “realism” and genre fiction did allow me to reexamine the stories in this more concentrated light.
I am hard-pressed to understand how these characteristics of “interfiction” distinguish it from other, non-genre, “experimental” fiction that also “does interesting things with narrative and style” and “takes artistic chances.” Experimental fiction (which ultimately I would have to say is a part of “literary fiction,” representing its vanguard in exploring the edges of the literary) precisely “demands that you read it on its own terms” rather than according to pre-established conventions. If interfictions are just versions of experimental fiction, why coin this additional term to describe them? If there is some significant difference between interstitial and experimental fiction, something that has to do with genre, why not be more specific and delineate exactly what that is rather than fall back on the usual language about taking artistic chances, etc.?
Most of the rest are forgettable exercises conducted on what seem (to me) familiar science fiction/fantasy terrain. Some of them, such as Anna Tambour’s “The Shoe in SHOES’ Window” and Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Dirge for Prester John” are essentially unreadable, full of pretentious declamations substituting for narrative: “Truly, where chaos reigns, even at night, nonsense and evasion shine where people look for straightforwardness, but where they look for inspiration, something beyond the realm of daily existence, they are then shown only things, and who can feed his soul with that?” Too many of the stories, in fact, are like this, straining after Meaning where some “merely literary” formal and stylistic pleasures would go a long way toward deflating the pomposity.

EDIT: Oh, I can’t leave this post looking so straight-faced. The truth, though it’s both mean and childish of me, is that I find this review hilarious. Not because I think Dan’s being wrongheaded — I mean, I often do think Dan’s being wrongheaded, but I enjoy his posts and respect his thinking for all that, and in this case I haven’t read enough of the book to say whether I agree or disagree with his overall assessment of the anthology’s quality. (I’ve read about a third of the stories, and though none of them have blown me away, none of them have seemed a waste of space, either.) No, what I find entertaining is that the book has so comprehensively failed to explain itself, its argument and goals, to someone coming to it from outside genre circles. It’s all very well for those of us coming to it from the inside to instantly recognise that it’s of a piece with several other recent collections — Conjunctions 39, Feeling Very Strange, the Polyphony series, ParaSpheres, etc — but what Dan’s skewering makes so painfully clear is that that’s all it is: nice for us. Admittedly, most of the books I just listed had no other audience in mind, but a couple of them did, and Interfictions, it seems to me, had that audience in mind more than any of them. And it’s just left that audience baffled by the fuss, and I find that funny. (I may have been hanging out in these parts too long.)

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3 Responses to “And on the subject of mashing …”

  1. Miggy Says:

    I’d be interested to see a comparison of all the different slipstream/interstitial anthologies. I very much enjoyed the Polyphony anthologies and Feeling Very Strange. Found ParaSpheres to be a well intending, but ultimately baffling mess. Haven’t read Conjuctions 39 or Interfictions yet, but fully intend to. Add to that the Martin Greenberg/John Helfers original anthology, Slipstream, which appeared to have no understanding of its subject. And Ellen Datlow’s Salon Fantastique which may or may not have anything to be with anything else. Which are the best anthologies, and what do they have to say about the current state of sf and of literature?

  2. Christopher Barzak Says:

    I’m not sure if Dan’s bafflement speaks for the audience outside the genre, as he refers to reviewers outside the genre who actually thought the anthology was really well done and explained itself. I think Dan’s confusion with the book is with good reason, but I don’t think it’s because it’s an “insiders” book that people outside the genre won’t understand, even though it’s been packaged to reach them specifically. I think the terminology and description of interstitiality in the book, for me, could have been sharper. I have my own ideas about how to explain it, but unfortunately I’m more interested in writing fiction than essays, so I probably won’t get around to this. :/

  3. Niall Says:

    Miggy: Well, for starters I don’t think there’s any one current state of sf; there’s at least a dozen different current states. Which one you see depends on where you’re standing and what you’re looking at. I think you could argue that the books you mention (well, with the exception of Salon Fantastique, which is more straightforwardly a fantasy anthology) are all looking at the same sort of thing, but standing in different places. It seems there’s this set of stories out there that aren’t working like traditional sf stories but are recognisably related to sf, and people are casting around for the best way to talk about them. Just in terms of story quality, for my money Feeling Very Strange is the best, but it’s a reprint book so has an advantage in that regard; of the collections of original work, Conjunctions is probably the most interesting.

    Chris: He refers to Adrienne “Specfic floozy” Martini’s review; I’m not sure that counts as an outside review even if it was published in a non-sf venue. Obviously I don’t actually know whether Interfictions is targeted at readers outside the community, though it does look to me like it is. But I do think the arguments the book is trying to engage with are more topical inside the community than outside. Or, I think there are some assumptions about how fiction is categorised and read that the editors are taking as axiomatic, and that are fairly common within the sf community, but that are scarce outside the community. (But then, you could say that the sf community and the rest of the literary world have always disagreed about where the boundaries are, or even if they’re there in the first place.) And if you do get around to writing that essay, obviously I’d love to read it …

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