Maxwell’s Demon by Steven Hall | The Rumpus

Steven Hall’s first novel, The Raw Shark Texts, falls into a fuzzily defined genre known as slipstream. This term, coined by sci-fi author Bruce Sterling in 1989, never really caught on partly because its parameters are imprecise, but every few years a writer like Hall publishes a new book and the term rears its head again, like some kind of literary cicada. For Sterling, slipstream described what resulted when literary novelists appropriated sci-fi and fantasy tropes, including novels like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Sterling also included metafictional experiments like Philip Roth’s The Counterlife, and dark, Gothic tales like Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers, in which nothing fantastical occurs but an unsettling and off-kilter atmosphere dominates. These kinds of works have been described as postmodern (Pynchon, Barthelme), magical realist (Morrison), or hysterical realist (Rushdie, Pynchon again, Zadie Smith), but none of those terms quite contains them all. If we reached back further, we’ll stumble onto terms like historiographic metafiction and satire and modernist and picaresque. More recent writers like Helen Oyeyemi, Téa Obreht, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ali Smith, Karen Thompson Walker, and Marlon James would, presumably, also exist under this enormous umbrella. Employing one single term for these disparate styles and approaches seems like an overreach, but devising an endless list of terms seems just as ineffective. Slipstream may as well be what we call our bewilderment. Continue reading…

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