Slipstream, for me, is a type of fiction that is bizarre and confusing and defies expectations. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but to quote a passage from the introduction of the book, “You don’t write slipstream, you read it.” And so it was a big surprise when I started reading the stories in this anthology. They’re actually — gasp — readable, or at least accessible to lay people without needing literary degrees or geeky credentials. In fact, the selections impressed me because they all stood out, and I can honestly say there’s no bad story in this book. If I have any complaints with this anthology, surprisingly enough, it’s because I feel some of the stories aren’t that slipstream, that they’re still too coherent and identifiable. But is that really such a bad trait?
The pulp influences this anthology draws upon might not be evident from the title, but one look at the cover and the cut-lines dispels any doubts about what to expect. Simply put, these are fun and titillating stories, sometimes with over-the-top premises and unabashedly cheesy lines. For example, there’s a girl in distress or femme fatale present in each tale. But don’t expect that these are simply the old pulp stories dressed in modern attire. The various authors infuse them with new sensibilities and there’s a definite goal to each story besides simply being homages.
Again, all the stories are good, but here are the three stories that most caught my attention. “Heroes Welcome” by John Bowker makes good use of the slipstream element early on. It starts out with your conventional pulp hero and sidekick, but it’s the latter who is our point of view character. The former seems like a caricature of the pulp protagonists and his peculiar ability to summon women literally out of nowhere fits right in. Bowker hits all the right beats, from the pulp atmosphere to the right amount of characterization (not too little but not too much either).
“Outside the Box” by Lynne Jamneck, on the other hand, is in some ways the opposite of Bowker’s story. I wouldn’t call it an O. Henry story, but its speculative element enters the last scene and changes how you read the entire narrative. Aside from that fact, Jamneck recaptures noir detective elements, from the investigation protocol to eventually getting beaten up. This is one of those pieces that definitely fits in a slipstream anthology.
“Little Black Dress” by Carrie Vaughn is another outstanding story and features an interesting mix of a pulp atmosphere and a literal poetic metaphor. It also includes beautiful, descriptive imagery as well as some of the cheesiest lines you’ll ever read. There’s never a dull moment here and it seems to be a perfect fit for the book.
Overall, this is a fantastic anthology that delivered on its goals. Editors Nick Mamatas and Jay Lake are to be applauded because it’s seldom that one comes across an anthology wherein all the stories are accessible and striking. If you love the pulps, Spicy Slipstream Stories is a must-have.
FanLit thanks Charles Tan from Bibliophile Stalker for contributing this guest review.