Annotation: Bruce Sterling’s “Slipstream”

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream.” www.eff.org, n.d. Web. 4 April 2010.

In this article Sterling discusses the supposed “death” of science fiction in contemporary society, claiming that while SF used to offer “some kind of coherent social vision” and resonated with what was “actually ‘happening,’… in the popular imagination,” today it is essentially devoid of meaning. He denounces what SF has become, “a self-perpetuating commercial power-structure” that capitalizes on “category marking” and the confidence of having its own prescribed “bookstore rackspace.” Although Sterling’s tone is perhaps too glib and undermines the work of contemporary SF authors, he does point to a significant shift in public attitudes away from traditional science fiction texts to those that occupy a strange in-between space, “writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel.” Sterling labels these works as “slipstream,” a body of literature with its own unique characteristics that, he claims, are “essentially alien to… SF’s intrinsic virtues.” Throughout the article Sterling attempts to identify what the specific qualities of slipstream may be, but the closest he comes to a definition is the assertion: “It seems to me that the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against ‘reality.’ These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are ‘futuristic’ or ‘beyond the fields we know. These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of ‘everyday life.’” By demonstrating how slipstream involves a different kind of fantasy making, one that is inextricably intertwined with mundane, “everyday life,” Sterling proposes an interesting lens for me to examine Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. In addition to analyzing the text as a representative of slipstream fiction, I want to demonstrate how its structural and stylistic intertwining of the bizarre and the mundane also serves as a commentary on the blurring of bodies and boundaries in globalization.

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