I still think of that sort of "What the f&%*?" disconnect as being characteristically SFnal...mainstream produces that strange feeling better than genre used to/should.
This is confusing. It sounds sort of like what Sterling was saying in '89; "we're supposed to make people feel strange, but there are people in lit who are now better at it." Is this what you're saying?
Chris: Woot! Go 19th century slipstream! What were they referring to, exactly, in the original context? I'm finding it hard to match what they're saying with "Walden Pond"...
Meghan (hi there, great story on SH, by the way):
Thank you for pulling away from the "between/among genres" business and pointing toward the "playing with tropes such that the reader's awareness that you are playing, but playing seriously, is part of the story's joy." Yes. And, of course, as well as being a fun thing we like to do hereabouts, that is a very old thing. John Gardner, I believe in On Becoming A Novelist, calls it "deconstructionist" fiction and gives the example of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was all about the deconstruction -- a ghost/revenge tragedy with an indecisive hero? A sonnet making fun of sonnets ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun")? etc. The earliest one I can think of is the Book of Jonah, a comic send-up of the prophetic tradition. That's the same spirit you find in Alan Moore's Watchmen, say, or Lethem's Super Goat Man riffing on both Giles Goat Boy and the superhero comics. And you point, rightly, to the sweet spot, where this isn't mere satire, but where it can actually heighten rather than deflate the emotional effect. That interesting boundary between the distanced/ironic/cool/mocking and the emotionally engaged, and how a story that slips from one to the other can sometimes catch you unawares and move you more deeply than one that is frankly sentimental.
I don't know what Sterling meant by the essay, but I read it as a provocative wake-up-call to SF. I reckon he did think there was something going on in the works he cited. I surely don't think he meant to start a new genre, and he must be appalled that the stupid name 'slipstream' has stuck.
Rigorous? Yeah. Not all rigor is the rigor of propositional logic and what my zeppelin-riding alter ego calls "linear causality" (whatever that is). Derrida is as rigorous in his own way as Euclid. But not the same way. What do you want to talk about, about rigorous?
It does seem like if more genre people had a better hold on what "rigorous" meant in the irreal/postmodern literary traditions and were thinking more rigorously about how to combine that with our branch of the literature of the fantastic, that JeremyT and the Nebula panelists would be complaining a *little* less loudly about the "slipstream" slush. Rigor is what's needed, and it's a different rigor. If all this talk of slipstream and interstitial leads to wild experimentation, that's a good thing. But every line of a good story still has a reason for being there, such that if you removed it, there would be a gaping hole. Slipstream is not a license for random spewing. (For an example of what I now think is a lamentable lack of rigor in a surrealist story, I'll (with chagrin) offer my own story "Fig" from LCRW #13; and I'll contrast it with my story "Red Leather Tassels" from F&SF. Both are weird as hell and make no sense from a conventional genre-fantasy point of view, and if you don't like weird as hell you won't like 'em; but I feel like "Fig" is sloppy in a way that RLT is not. Looking back, I mean every line of RLT, where as some of Fig is just me wanking about).
Hal: You pinpoint precisely what's wrong with the term "slipstream", why Sterling must rue the day he jokingly introduced it, and why we'd really be best off abandoning it. Probably it has too much momentum, alas. But I'd much rather regard someone saying the word "slipstream" as a jumping-off point for a discussion. I'd like to steer them away from the skiffy-troll conversation about "the mainstream mixing with genre" (which wasn't even Sterling's point, it was "mainstream works that make you feel weird the way some genre works used to") and towards the idea of the irrealist literary traditions and their intrusions into the popular literatures of the fantastic.
"Darkly absurdist satires" are precisely a part of this tradition. Catch-22 is very much a part of the tradition that is now influencing speculative fiction.
No genres really have if-and-only-if borders, other than very contrived ones. More useful than looking at recipes (rocketship? check. hero and heroine marry at end? check.) is looking at sources of reader pleasure, and the constructions and moves that mediate and produce it. And looking at traditions, which are not if-and-only-if boxes, but things that are handed down, changed by each pair of hands.
Don't believe me? Try to come up with an if-and-if border for Southern Gothic fiction.
Hal: What is Kitchen-Sink?