19 Best Slipstream Books

“Chapter and Verse” by Randy Mora [his site]

Slipstream is an ill-defined subgenre that usually boils down to being some combination of literary, fantastical, illogical, surreal, and jarring.

So buckle up, everyone. This is going to get weird.

 

19
Feeling Very Strange
edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel – 2006

If it is true that the test of a first-rate mind is its ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time, then we live in a century when it takes a first-rate mind just to get through the day. We have unprecedented access to information; cognitive dissonance is a banner headline in our morning papers and radiates silently from our computer screens. Slipstream, poised between literature and popular culture, embraces the dissonance.

These ambitious stories of visionary strangeness defy the conventions of science fiction. Tales by Michael Chabon, Karen Joy Fowler, Jonathan Lethem, Carol Emshwiller, George Saunders, and others pull the reader into a vivid dreamspace and embrace the knowledge that life today is increasingly surreal.

“While these intriguing stories (and accompanying essays) may not be enough to define the canon of a new subgenre, they provide plenty of good reading.”
—Publishers Weekly

18
Perdido Street Station
by China Miéville – 2000

Perdido Street Station borrows from steampunk, cyberpunk, fantasy, and a few other genres that couldn’t run away fast enough.

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to no one—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.

“Miéville’s canvas is so breathtakingly broad that the details of individual subplots and characters sometime lose their definition. But it is also generous enough to accommodate large dollops of aesthetics, scientific discussion and quest fantasy in an impressive and ultimately pleasing epic.”
—Publishers Weekly

17
The Aleph and Other Stories
by Jorge Luis Borges – 1949

Full of philosophical puzzles and supernatural surprises, these stories contain some of Borges’s most fully realized human characters. With uncanny insight he takes us inside the minds of an unrepentant Nazi, an imprisoned Mayan priest, fanatical Christian theologians, a woman plotting vengeance on her father’s “killer,” and a man awaiting his assassin in a Buenos Aires guesthouse. This volume also contains the hauntingly brief vignettes about literary imagination and personal identity collected in “The Maker,” which Borges wrote as failing eyesight and public fame began to undermine his sense of self.

“[Borges] has lifted fiction away from the flat earth where most of our novels and short stories still take place.”
—John Updike

16
The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet
edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant – 2007

Unexpected tales of the fantastic, and other odd musings by Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Joy Fowler, Karen Russell, Jeffrey Ford, and many others.

“Tiny but celebrated.”
–The Washington Post

15
Woman on the Edge of Time
by Marge Piercy – 1976

In this classic feminist story, Connie Ramos is a Mexican American woman living on the streets of New York. Once ambitious and proud, she has lost her child, her husband, her dignity—and now they want to take her sanity. After being unjustly committed to a mental institution, Connie is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137, who shows her a time of sexual and racial equality, environmental purity, and unprecedented self-actualization. But Connie also bears witness to another potential outcome: a society of grotesque exploitation in which the barrier between person and commodity has finally been eroded. One will become our world. And Connie herself may strike the decisive blow.

“A stunning, even astonishing novel… marvelous and compelling.”
—Publishers Weekly

14
The Cyberiad
by Stanislaw Lem – 1965

These are the stories of Trurl and Klapaucius, master inventors and engineers known as “constructors,” who have created marvels for kingdoms. Friends and rivals, they are constantly outdoing and challenging each other to reveal the next great evolution in cybernetics, and the exploits of these brilliant men are nothing short of incredible.

From tales of love, in which a robotic prince must woo a robotic princess enchanted by pleasures of true flesh, to epics of battle, in which the heroic constructors must use their considerable wit to outsmart a monarch obsessed with hunting, to examinations of humanity, wherein Trurl and Klapaucius must confront the limits of their skills and the meaning of true perfection, these stories are rich with profound questions, unimaginable marvels, and remarkable feats.

“Lem has an almost Dickensian genius for vividly realizing the tragedy and comedy of future machines.”
—The New York Times Book Review

13
Rubicon Beach
by Steve Erickson – 1986

In this strange, dreamy tale, a prisoner with a haunted past is released into ravaged Los Angeles, where he pursues an elusive girl to the shores of Rubicon Beach and faces his lost destiny.

12
The Bridge
by Iain Banks – 1986

The man who wakes up in the extraordinary world of a bridge has amnesia, and his doctor doesn’t seem to want to cure him. Does it matter? Exploring the bridge occupies most of his days. But at night there are his dreams. Dreams in which desperate men drive sealed carriages across barren mountains to a bizarre rendezvous; an illiterate barbarian storms an enchanted tower under a stream of verbal abuse; and broken men walk forever over bridges without end, taunted by visions of a doomed sexuality.

Lying in bed unconscious after an accident wouldn’t be much fun, you’d think. It depends who and what you’ve left behind.

Which is the stranger reality, day or night?

“A stunning book, Banks’ powerful imagination is joined to a rare ability to be truly funny while exploring a nightmare world.”
―Sunday Times

11
Slaughterhouse-Five
by Kurt Vonnegut – 1969

This American classic is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

“Very tough and very funny… sad and delightful… very Vonnegut.”
—The New York Times

10
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami – 1994

In a Tokyo suburb, a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat—and then for his wife as well—in a netherworld beneath the city’s placid surface. As these searches intersect, he encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists. Gripping, prophetic, and suffused with comedy and menace, this is an astonishingly imaginative detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets from Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria during World War II.

“Seductive… A labyrinth designed by a master, at once familiar and irresistibly strange.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

9
The Mount
by Carol Emshwiller – 2002

Charley is an athlete. He wants to grow up to be the fastest runner in the world, like his father. He wants to be painted crossing the finishing line, in his racing silks, with a medal around his neck. Charley lives in a stable. He isn’t a runner, he’s a mount. He belongs to a Hoot: The Hoots are alien invaders. Charley hasn’t seen his mother for years, and his father is hiding out in the mountains somewhere, with the other Free Humans. The Hoots own the world, but the humans want it back. Charley knows how to be a good mount, but now he’s going to have to learn how to be a human being.

“Brilliantly conceived and painfully acute… this poetic, funny and above all humane novel deserves to be read and cherished…”
—Publishers Weekly

8
The Knife Thrower and Other Stories
by Steven Millhauser – 1998

Author Steven Millhauser has won the Pulitzer Prize.

With the panache of an old-fashioned magician, Steven Millhauser conducts his readers from the dark corners beneath the sunlit world to a balloonist’s tour of the heavens. He transforms department stores and amusement parks into alternate universes of infinite plentitude and menace. He unveils the secrets of a maker of automatons and a coven of teenage girls.

“As Gothic as Poe and as imaginative as Fantasia, Millhauser’s deceptive fables are funny and warm. But they’re dark as dungeons, too… He bewitches you.”
—Entertainment Weekly

7
Ice
by Anna Kavan – 1967

In a frozen, apocalyptic landscape, destruction abounds: great walls of ice overrun the world and secretive governments vie for control. Against this surreal, yet eerily familiar broken world, an unnamed narrator embarks on a hallucinatory quest for a strange and elusive “glass-girl” with silver hair. He crosses icy seas and frozen plains, searching ruined towns and ransacked rooms, all to free her from the grips of a tyrant known only as the warden and save her before the ice closes all around.

Ice is a dystopian adventure shattering the conventions of science fiction, a prescient warning of climate change and totalitarianism, a feminist exploration of violence and trauma, a Kafkaesque literary dreamscape, and a brilliant allegory for its author’s struggles with addiction—all crystallized in prose glittering as the piling snow.

“One might become convinced that Kavan had seen the future… A half century after its first appearance, Kavan’s fever dream of a novel is beginning to seem all too real.”
—The New Yorker

6
Light
by M. John Harrison – 2002

In contemporary London, Michael Kearney is a serial killer on the run from the entity that drives him to kill. He is seeking escape in a future that doesn’t yet exist—a quantum world that he and his physicist partner hope to access through a breach of time and space itself.

In this future, Seria Mau Genlicher has already sacrificed her body to merge into the systems of her starship, the White Cat. But the “inhuman” K-ship captain has gone rogue, pirating the galaxy while playing cat and mouse with the authorities who made her what she is.

In this future, Ed Chianese, a drifter and adventurer, has ridden dynaflow ships, run old alien mazes, surfed stellar envelopes. He “went deep”—and lived to tell about it. Once crazy for life, he’s now just a twink on New Venusport, addicted to the bizarre alternate realities found in the tanks—and in debt to all the wrong people.

Haunting them all through this maze of menace and mystery is the shadowy presence of the Shrander—and three enigmatic clues left on the barren surface of an asteroid under an ocean of light known as the Kefahuchi Tract: a deserted spaceship, a pair of bone dice, and a human skeleton.

“Uproarious, breath-taking, exhilarating… This is a novel of full spectrum literary dominance… It is a work of—and about—the highest order.”
—Guardian

5
The Sea Came in at Midnight
by Steve Erickson – 1999

The sole survivor of a mysterious cult’s ritual suicide at the turn of the millennium, Kristin finds refuge in the Hollywood Hills with an obsessed man who is writing a massive calendar that measures modern time according to the events of chaos.

“Strip clubs, sexual slavery, Paris dreams, New York horror and California misery catastrophically define and entrap the troubled margin-dwellers inhabiting this penetrating dream vision of the post-nuclear world.”
—Publishers Weekly

4
Girlfriend in a Coma
by Douglas Coupland – 1998

On a snowy Friday night in 1979, just hours after making love for the first time, Richard’s girlfriend, high school senior Karen Ann McNeil, falls into a coma. Nine months later she gives birth to their daughter, Megan.

As Karen sleeps through the next seventeen years, Richard and their circle of friends reside in an emotional purgatory, passing through a variety of careers—modeling, film special effects, medicine, demolition—before finally reuniting on a conspiracy-driven super-natural television series.

But real life grows as surreal as their TV show as Richard and his friends await Karen’s reawakening… and the subsequent apocalypse.

“Part Stephen King, part It’s a Wonderful Life, with a little of his own Generation X thrown in, Coupland’s immensely readable… novel shows him scared of the future and sounding the alarm for the millennium.”
—Booklist

3
The Passion of New Eve
by Angela Carter – 1977

New York has become the City of Dreadful Night where dissolute Leilah performs a dance of chaos for Evelyn. But this young Englishman’s fate lies in the arid desert, where a many-breasted fertility goddess will wield her scalpel to transform him into the new Eve.

“[Carter’s] imagination was one of the most dazzling this century.”
—The Independent

2
Annihilation
by Jeff VanderMeer – 2014

In the dream-like Annihilation, a section of the Californian coast has turned so weird that it’s now called Area X. This happened thirty years ago, and no one on the outside knows why everyone inside Area X died, why there are weird structures inside, or why there’s a border you can’t get through except through one invisible entrance. Is it a slow alien invasion, a mass hallucination, or something else?

Annihilation covers the twelfth expedition into Area X, where the members have given up their names and refer to each other only by profession: the biologist, the linguist, and so on. All the previous expeditions into Area X have ended in death, madness, or cancer.

This book is a gentle ride into subtle weirdness. You don’t get too many straight answers about what Area X is or is even like on the inside. Some things are normal, some fantastical, and most of it messes with your head. It all feels truly alien and you get the sense that this is going to be impossible to understand, no matter how many facts you have at your disposal.

“A gripping fantasy thriller, Annihilation is thoroughly suspenseful.”
—Booklist

1
Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell – 2004

Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite… Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter… From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life… And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.

“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”
—The New York Times Book Review

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