Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
Slipstream for me was the type of fiction that was bizarre and confusing and defied 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 actually 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 it's still too coherent and identifiable. But is that honestly such a bad trait?
It might not be evident from the title the pulp influences this anthology draws upon but one look at the cover and the cut-lines dispels any doubts what to expect. Simply put, these are fun and titillating stories, sometimes with off-the-top premises and unabashed cheesy lines. For example, there's always a girl in distress or femme fatale present in each tale. But don't expect that this is 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 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 which is our point of view. The former seems like a caricature of the pulp protagonists and his peculiar ability to summon women literally out of nowhere fits just 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 a 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 this 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 was 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.