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Feeling Very Strange
edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Tachyon, 286 pages

Feeling Very Strange
James Patrick Kelly
James Patrick Kelly has been a full-time writer since 1977. He has won Hugo Awards for his stories "Think Like a Dinosaur" (1995) and "1016 to 1" (1999) and a Locus Award for short story "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (1997). He has also published four novels, the latest being Wildlife (1994). He lives in Nottingham, New Hampshire, with his wife and children.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Feeling Very Strange
SF Site Review: Strange But Not A Stranger

John Kessel
Multiple-award-winning writer and scholar John Kessel is the author of Another Orphan, Freedom Beach (with James Patrick Kelly) Good News From Outer Space, Meeting In Infinity, and The Pure Product, as well as many short stories, articles and plays.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Corrupting Dr. Nice
SF Site Review: The Pure Product

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Feeling Very Strange may be the most self-conscious anthology to come along since Mirrorshades, the definitive cyberpunk anthology. And despite Annie Savoy's observation in Bull Durham, ("The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness"), that's not necessarily a bad thing. Creative expression requires some degree of self-consciousness, an artist needs at the least an internal idea from which to work. What sets Feeling Very Strange apart is the proclamatory nature of its self-awareness, the editors and writers contained within are consciously searching to create something new, something that doesn't fit within the usual publishing conventions.

They have a word for it: slipstream. What they don't have is a definition. The term slipstream was first used by Bruce Sterling in a column published in 1989 in SF Eye. He was writing about a kind of story that mixed elements of the fantastic into stories without following the rules of genre fantasy and science fiction. There was a feeling that these were mainstream stories borrowing from SF to make some kind of hybrid that didn't fit anywhere. The essay kicked off a decade long argument over just what slipstream was, and if it in fact even existed. That argument is present in Feeling Very Strange from the introductions to excerpts from an on-line discussion. What the discussions reveal is that there's some agreement that there's something different going on out there, and it may as well be called slipstream, but nobody's quite sure what it is.

Which means the stories will have to speak for themselves. That's fine, because the best thing about Feeling Very Strange is the high quality of writing and story-telling from beginning to end. Some stories, such as Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God" will be familiar to many SF readers. Others, like Aimee Benders "The Healer," are good examples of how this kind of story-tellling is attracting writers from outside the science fiction and fantasy communities.

One thing these stories attempt is a kind of mental dislocation on the part of the reader, a feeling that the stories inhabit a space that both does and doesn't seem to conform to expectations. The effect is not unlike encountering a self-referential statement, (the classic example is "This sentence is false"), that leads you into a quagmire of conflicting conclusions. The best example here is by Karen Joy Fowler, whose 1991 novel Sarah Canary is one of the truest examples of slipstream writing. "Liserl" is a truly disturbing look at an Einstein who might have been. Along with Carole Emshwiller's "Al," which mixes Lost Horizon with a typical summer art fair filled with off-beat characters, "Lieserl" feels like the best example of what the writers and editors of Feeling Very Strange mean when they talk about slipstream.

But there are also several stories which, depending on the reader's background, read more like straight-forward SF or fantasy. Kelly Link's "The Specialist's Hat" is a stylish haunted house story, but still a haunted house story. Benjamin Russel's contribution, "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Aero-Planes,'" is a rollicking adventure story set in an alternate history where a non-Western scientific philosophy became dominant. The setting may seem exotic, but the idea won't be all that new to readers of either Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt or Richard Garfinkle's Celestial Matters.

In the end, it's probably enough to say that Feeling Very Strange succeeds totally as a showcase of mostly young, talented writers. And while it doesn't really leave the reader with the feeling that you now know what this slipstream thing is all about, there is a sense that these writers do share a similar style and method of expressing their ideas. It's to their credit that the editors in the end claim nothing more than that, that slipstream is an emerging style, one that can offer a writer a new and interesting way to craft their art. Whether slipstream ever evolves into a genre of its own, or even should, the opening up of new modes of expression is a good thing for writers of short stories, and the readers who love them.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson is happy to report that, on first read, he most enjoyed Jeffrey Ford's "Bright Morning," and, in keeping with the spirit of Feeling Very Strange, is not really sure why. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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