Interfictions 2:
An Anthology of Interstitial Writing

  edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak

Interstitial Arts Foundation /
Small Beer Press

2009, Paperback
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, The Porcelain Dove, Changeling, and The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. A co-founder of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, she lives in New York City.

Christopher Barzak  is the author of the novels One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing. His stories have appeared in, Pindeldyboz, Strange Horizons, Descant, and the first volume of Interfictions. He teaches writing at Youngstown State University.

"I 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 one place.

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?

Read the introduction to this collection on Interstitial Arts

Steven Wingate ’s short story collection Wifeshopping won the 2007 Bakeless Prize in Fiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was published in 2008 by Houghton Mifflin. His monthly column on fiction and the writing life appears at Fiction Writers Review .

Steven's other Short Reviews: Marianne Villanueva "The Mayor of the Roses"

Geoffrey Forsyth "In the Land of the Free"

Matt Bell "How the Broken Lead the Blind"
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Strange Horizons

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