6. Slipstream and Crossovers

The History of Science Fiction – 2000s

SlipstreamIn 1989 Bruce Sterling polemicized the state of literature before arguing for a broadening of speculative fiction into the mainstream and somewhat off-handedly coining the term “slipstream” to mean “a kind of writing which 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” (n.pag.). His description and the monicker have since been employed in two distinct ways, as Pawel Frelik describes in his essay “Slipstream 101” (4f.): on the one hand it might mean a mainstream encroachment on genre fiction – similar to what Sterling proposes and what John Clute calls “a description of commercial piggybacking” (n.pag.) by mainstream authors using genre tropes to gain further genre audiences. On the other hand, it has been used to describe a genre discourse or sentiment of science fiction that Frelik describes as showing “cognitive dissonance, generic and conventional indeterminacy, and playful postmodernity” (4).


This is the lecture “Slipstream and Crossovers (2000s)” by Prof. Dr. Doug Davis (Gordon College):

Videofile – MP4

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Audiofile – MP3

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The introductory essay “Understanding Slipstream Fiction” by Prof. Dr. Doug Davis is available for download here.

Davis, Doug – “Understanding Slipstream Fiction”


Recommended Academic Articles for Further Reading


Recommended Stories


Since The Road to Science Fiction stops to consider stories after 1977, slipstream cannot be covered with this anthology.



Kelly, James Patrick. “Think Like A Dinosaur.” (1995) – pages 698-716.
This story feels like new wave science fiction with lots of metaphysical exploration of the human psyche, but in that, it delves deep into an E.A. Poe kind of Gothic gloom and desperation.
Chiang, Ted. “Exhalation” (2008) – pages 742-56.

Somewhat science fictional exploration of the romantic desire to understand “life” – very Frankensteinian. The key to this story though is the shift of characters away from human to something else.


Chabon, Michael, ed. McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. Special Edition of Slipstream Fiction. New York: Vintage, 2003.

Roughly 20 stories that mix, blend and shape the concept of slipstream every which way. Again, not all work equally well, but it is a great bunch of authors: Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, Dave Eggers, Carol Emshwiller and unlikely choices like Stephen King or Nick Hornby.

Gaiman, Neil. “A Study in Emerald” NeilGaiman.com. Web. <http://www.neilgaiman.com/mediafiles/exclusive/shortstories/emerald.pdf.>

Great slipstream story that mashes Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective style fiction with the Cthulhu-Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft into a strange alternate universe ruled by the Old Ones. Lovely presentation of text, too.

Greenberg, Martin and John Helfers,  eds. Slipstreams. New York: DAW, 2006.

One of the few story anthologies on slipstream fiction. Not all stories work equally well and the Kelly/Kessel is probably the better choice for beginners but it is still really worth checking out.

Kelly, James Patrick and John Kessel, eds. Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology. San Francisco: Tachyon, 2006.

Should you be interested to teach more than one story or want to explore the possibilities of slipstream fiction further, this is to date the best choice for starting the journey.

Link, Kelly. “Magic for Beginners” / “The Fairy Handbag“. Pretty Monsters. London: Penguin, 2008.  – free to read online

Link’s stories do not really fall mash a lot of science fiction elements, but rather blends different aspects of the fantastic. “Magic for Beginners” is an exploration of fan culture, metafiction and our infatuation of tv stars. “The Fairy Handbag” explores an alternate universe, time dilation and a magic handbag.


Works Cited on this page:

  • Clute, John. “Slipstream.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 10 Aug 2012. Web. 15 Jul 2013. <http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/slipstream_sf>.
  • Frelik, Pawel. “Slipstream 101.” SFRA Review 290 (2009): 3-6.
  • Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream“. SF Eye (1989). Web. 15 Jul 2013. <http://w2.eff.org/Misc/Publications/Bruce_Sterling/Catscan_columns/catscan.05>.


MLA Citation for this page:


Video Lecture:
Davis, Doug. “Slipstream and Crossovers (2000s)”. Video Lecture. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink.
Web. 2012. <http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=331>.
Davis, Doug. “Understanding Slipstream Fiction”. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012.
<http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=331>. 1-8.
Info Page:
Davis, Doug and Lars Schmeink. “Slipstream and Crossovers”. Web Page. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web.
2012. <http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=331>.