An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak
Interstitial Arts Foundation /
Small Beer Press
First anthology? No
Awards: Amazon Top 10 Books of 2009: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Authors: Alaya Dawn Johnson, Theodora Goss, Alan DeNiro, Jeffrey Ford, Brian Francis Slattery, Nin Andrews,
and M. Rickert, Will Ludwigsen, Cecil Castellucci, Ray Vukcevich, Carlos
Hernandez, Lavie Tidhar, Elizabeth Ziemska, Peter
M. Ball, Camilla Bruce, Amelia Beamer, William
Alexander, Shira Lipkin, Lionel Davoust, Stephanie
Shaw, and David J. Schwartz.
Editors: Delia Sherman is
the author of the novels Through
a Brazen Mirror,
Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen.
A co-founder of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, she lives in New
is the author of the novels One
Love We Share Without Knowing.
His stories have appeared in Nerve.com,
and the first volume of Interfictions.
He teaches writing at Youngstown State University.
fell quiet. To the pigeon, who stared at me with one curious eye, it
must have looked as if I had suddenly shut down, like an unplugged
robot. And in body I had. But my mind, like a ghostly projector that
had started itself, began playing the reel of the time I killed a
pigeon in the kitchen sink of my boyhood home."
Reviewed by Steven Wingate
Anthologies about breaking down or bridging categorical boundaries
can seem, whether intentionally or not, to be prescriptive about
which categories are most worth being broken down or bridged. The
back flap copy of Interfictions 2 tells us that interstitial
fiction is about "working between, across, at, and through the
edges and borders of literary genres"—an intriguing invitation
for those who read and write at the borderlands of fiction. But the
title and jacket copy promise something other than what the book
delivers, since almost all of the book’s energy goes into exploring
one specific boundary: that between mainstream literary fiction and
what we have come to call speculative fiction.
As I read Interfictions 2 I found myself wondering about the
many other borderlands that the anthology does not delve into:
between fiction and found texts, between fiction and scientific
documentation, between fiction and pornography, just to name a few.
Since there are plenty of venerable navigators and spelunkers at the
edge of the literary world exploring these interstices, claiming the
territory of "interstitial fiction" as a province of speculative
fiction oversimplifies things quite a bit. So while the spectrum of
fertile fictional borderlands is very broad, the focus of
Interfictions 2 is comparably narrow.
The introduction, by MIT professor Henry Jenkins, carves out some
theoretical territory for the book:
"At the heart of the
interstitial arts movement (too formal), community (too exclusive),
idea (too idealistic?) there is the simple search for stories that
don’t rest comfortably in the cubbyholes we traditionally use to
organize our cultural experiences." Yet, in the very narrowing of
the interstitial spectrum that this anthology claims, there is some
cubbyholing and territory claiming. As co-editor Delia Sherman says
in an afterword interview, interstitial artists "need something
behind us, a passport out of the genre ghetto in the wider literary
world." Interfictions 2 is part of that passport; it aims to
create a territory for those writers who, as contributor Amelia
Beamer points out, use "a combination of fantastic, postmodern, and
what we in the genre call ‘mainstream’ techniques."
All of this is fine and unobjectionable; writers need psychic spaces,
and sometimes even labels to attach to themselves, in order to be
productive and create an audience for their work. I only wish that
the editors and publishers of Interfictions 2 had not
presented the book as a broad exploration of fiction’s interstices,
but had called it more clearly for what it is: an attempt to bridge
the (perhaps unfairly) perceived gap between mainstream literary
fiction and the speculative genre.
Is this limitation of scope a problem for the book? I don’t think
so, as long as you go into it knowing what you’ll get and what you
won’t. You won’t get a lot of formal experimentation, for
instance. With a few exceptions—most notably Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Score, a peppery amalgam of emails, interview snippets,
surveillance tapes, etc.—the storytelling leans quite heavily
toward the familiar "mainstream" vein of a single-narrator
telling a story from beginning to end. You won’t get
boundary-pushing sexual content or stories that make you stop and
think "What is fiction, anyway?" What you’ll get are a
lot of writers on the mainstream/speculative cusp—at various levels
of career establishment—performing a wide variety of experiments in
This is the book’s intention, and in that it succeeds even though
the entries in Interfictions 2 are not all polished. Some fall
short in the way genre pieces of all kinds usually do: by looking to
the surface of the narration for all their mystery. The ones that
succeed best do so in the same way that mainstream literary fiction
usually does: by looking to character for the mystery that drives the
tale and letting the endless quagmire of human infathomability—rather
than the more limited quagmire of our narrative capabilities—push
the fiction forward.
A few stories are particularly notable,
including the gem of the collection: Carlos Hernandez’s The
Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, which would hold
its own in any number of anthologies. Cecil Castellucci’s The
Long and Short of Long-Term Memory, William Alexander’s After
Verona, and Shira Lipkin’s Valentines also stick out for
their subtle playfulness and for the way they occupy the space
between speculative and mainstream fiction—not worrying about the
bridge that links them, but clearing characters who dwell on that
bridge and working from there outward.
Interfictions 2 will appeal to readers (and writers) who lurk
on the borderline between speculative fiction and literature. As
Alaya Dawn Johnson writes in her contributor’s note, "It’s in
the spaces between the pieces of the puzzle that the reader finds a
story"; while this was written as a commentary on The Score,
it can also apply to Interfictions 2 as a whole. Many
of the stories have a devil-may-care brio to them—the verve of
knowing that their experiments might not hold completely together—and
that gives the book a freshness and insouciance that many "best
of"-type anthologies don’t have.
My issue with the book isn’t
ultimately with the stories or writers in it, but with the comparison
between what it claims to contain and what it actually does
contain. There are many interstices in the world of fiction; claiming
just one as "interstitial fiction" may help gain territory for
one group of writers on the cusp between the mainstream and the
speculative, but what does it do for those writers who labor at one
of many, many other fault lines?