Study Questions for Bruce Sterling's "Slipstream" & Norman Spinrad's "The New Weird"

Both Sterling and Spinrad attempt to identify a new movement in popular, speculative fiction while suggesting that conventional science fiction [SF] has merely begun to recycle old plots and thematic concerns while no longer speaking to a contemporary audience. Their essays suggest that a new genre has been developing as a counter to SF; they label this developing genre "slipstream," 'the new weird," or fiction of the very strange, and suggest that prior authors like Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among others, have established the parameters of this genre. Both authors assume an audience familiar with SF and SF fandom, as well as with prior movements within SF. As you read their short articles, identify references to the history of SF and to authors and movements within the genre that might require additional explanation and come to class with your questions.

 

As you read Sterling's essay consider some of these issues:

  1. To what does Sterling attribute the lack of innovation in contemporary SF?
  2. What does Sterling suggest that a new genre has to do to "speak a contemporary language" and gain a substantial audience? That is, what features, according to Sterling, must this new genre have in order to remain vital and contemporary? [See the features that he describes on pages 4 & 5.]
  3. How does he distinguish between the terms "category" and "genre"?
  4. How does he characterize what it was like to live in the late 20th century and, implicitly, to live in the early 21st century? How in relation to this argument does he define a "postmodern sensibility" on pages 3 & 4?

As you read Spinrad's essay, stress how his presentation interacts with Sterling's notion of slipstream fiction and just skim over his lengthy summaries of novels by SF authors. The idea is to identify the attributes that Spinrad assigns to the genre that he calls "The New Weird." As you read Spinrad consider some of these issues:

  1. How does he define cyberpunk in his opening pages? What are his principal features?
  2. How does he define New Wave SF? What are its principal features?
  3. What attitudes does Spinrad express toward mainstream fiction and in particular toward mainstream writers who attempt to write SF?
  4. Whom does Spinrad identify as the early writers of the New Weird in the left column of 232, and what does he define as the principal features of his "subspecies of speculative fiction" near the end of page 235 and through the final two pages of his essay?