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Slipstream Genre

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"...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility."
Bruce Sterling, in the SF Eye article coining the term, July 1989

Sometimes, stories crop up where there are no overt fantasy or science-fiction elements, yet odd stuff is still happening. Perhaps the hero wakes one day to find himself transformed into a gigantic insect or that he's the main character of someone else's novel, and the why of the incident never comes up. Or maybe the lines between fantasy and reality have become so blurred that it's hard to tell one from the other. Or maybe, the story is just so odd that the only thing you can think about after reading it is that point directly behind your head.

That is the genre (or possibly the literary device) known as Slipstream.

Originally coined by Richard Dorsett—a friend of Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling—Slipstream is often referred to as "the fiction of strangeness," and that's about as clear a definition as you can get. It falls somewhere between Speculative Fiction and mainstream or Lit Fic, depending on the work. Above all, Slipstream is about a feeling of surreality.

Often a form of Postmodernism. Similar to Magic Realism, which can also give a feeling of strangeness, but involves a little more than that. Compare also Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, New Wave Science Fiction, Bizarro Fiction, and New Weird.

Not to be confused with the 1989 sci-fi movie Slipstream.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Haruhi Suzumiya is generally like this, by virtue of the title character being a sort of Weirdness Generator, while simultaneously being too rational to notice any of the weirdness she created. So, there are time travelers, but we never get to see what time machines or time-travel look like. The "alien" characters appear completely human, but are really Starfish Aliens with incomprehensible abilities. Other random oddities like spontaneous laser-vision or formerly extinct species of birds tend to pop up whenever Haruhi gets bored (a very frequent occurrence). All the characters have competing meaningless explanations for her abilities.

  • Big Fish, so much so that the novel on which it was originally based is considered part of the growing slipstream canon.
  • Stranger Than Fiction: An anonymous man finds out that a fiction writer is controlling his life, and intends to have him die (since all of her novels have The Hero Dies endings.)
  • In Groundhog Day, the protagonist is caught in a trope-naming time loop with no explanation whatsoever. A few theories are discussed, but story-wise his reaction to it is more important than the reason.note 
  • In Liar Liar, a child's birthday wish renders his attorney father unable to tell a lie for 24 hours. No explanation for this is ever given, and no other supernatural elements are present.
  • Two Distant Strangers: Similar to Groundhog Day, this film revolves around a "Groundhog Day" Loop in which the protagonist, a young black man named Carter, has no idea how he's gotten stuck in the loop, in which Carter continually gets into confrontations with a beat cop in which Carter is killed.
  • The 1976 Freaky Friday provides no explanation for the "Freaky Friday" Flip; it simply happens after the mother and the daughter make a simultaneous wish that they could be in the other's shoes for a day.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus, and its associated films, is this concept Played for Laughs. Various incidents of surreal weirdness occur in mundane real-world locations. Most sketches are presented in a deadpan, matter-of-fact fashion as if there's nothing particularly strange about any of it, and there's often No Fourth Wall.
  • Saved by the Bell has plenty moments of this, particularly in the earlier seasons. Examples includes Kevin the Sapient Robot, Screech picking up radio waves or seeing into the future, Zack's ability to plant highly convincing subliminal messages onto cassette tapes, or various suggestions that Zack's ability to stop time may not be entirely non-diegetic. Not to mention some various joint daydream sequences.
  • Signal: Detective Park finds an old walkie-talking that once belonged to Detective Lee, missing 15 years. Despite the fact that it doesn't have a battery, it crackles to life and broadcasts a transmission from Detective Lee, from 15 years in the past. For the rest of the series the walkie-talkie acts as a Portal to the Past, with Lee and Park talking to each other over gaps of 15-26 years, with no explanation ever given.
  • The Booth at the End: An anonymous figure brokering deals with, or simply making absurdly accurate predictions about, people's destinies.

Alternative Title(s): Slipstream