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Short Fiction Review #22: Interfictions 2

Saturday, December 5th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

51e9xmo1jbl_sl160_aa115_1What’s interesting about a collection of “interfictions,” aka “interstitial fictions,” is that this isn’t just another descriptor  (e.g., new wave fabulism, new weird, slipstream, paraspheres, fill-in-the-blank) made up by an editor or a marketing department or critic that subsequently becomes blogosphere fodder about how inaccurate and/or stupid it is. Rather, interfictions is the self-proclaimed terminology of an actual organization that sponsors not only this second volume of what presumably is an ongoing anthology series, but promotes all kinds of “interstitial” literary, musical, visual and performance arts.

So just what is an interfiction? Henry Jenkins’s introduction opens with the famous quote from Groucho Marx about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have him as a member. While it may be true that interfictions don’t fit neatly into traditional categories, there’s considerable irony, if not the essence of interstitiality, about the idea of an organization in which membership is earned by virtue of failing to belong anywhere else.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on defining interfiction (if you’re interested, see my review of the first Interfictions for further deliberation), though it is interesting that the authors themselves, as well as co-editors, Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, aren’t always quite sure, other than to note what it isn’t.

Sherman, for example, says that one rule of thumb for considering what to accept for Interfictions 2 was that if a story more than likely could be something you’d see in a genre magazine, say, Fantasy and Science Fiction, then it probably wasn’t an interfiction (adhering to the “if it belongs to some other club, it can’t be in ours” rubric). It is particularly ironical, then, that Amazon has named  Interfictions 2 as one of the top ten science fiction and fantasy books of 2009!

Nor am I sure this “it doesn’t quite fit into conventional genre” is always entirely the case. Of course, I have no way of knowing for certain what Gordon van Gelder might actually accept, but I wouldn’t think that “Remembrance is Something Like a House” by Will Ludwigsen, in which a house literally journeys across the country to atone for a wrong done its owner, would necessarily get a rejection slip from  F&SF. Nor might Theodora Goss’s “Child-Empress of Mars,” a riff on the John Carter series. Goss maintains she has never read the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars stories (I can sympathize; I read some of the John Carter stuff when I was a kid, but as an adult I’ve had Tarzan sitting on the bottom of my TBR pile for years as something I think I should have read, but just can’t work up the interest to plough through). But she does a clever inversion of the 1930s swashbuckling interplanetary heroic pulp fantasy that in its heyday was sexist, racist and not to mention a bit dumb by telling the story from the viewpoint of what is typically portrayed as the ignorant, to-be-colonized and converted indigenous natives, er, Martians. Again, it wouldn’t be out of place in Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is hip enough to publish M. Rickert (whose “Beautiful Feast” here is a fable on the tragedy of foreign adventurism pursues Goss’s theme from an entirely different, dare I say it, interstitial, perspective) as well as Jeffrey Ford (whose  “The War Between Heaven and Hell Wallpaper” is presented as a transcription of one of Ford’s dreams, finally answering that tired old interview question  of  of “where do you get your ideas?”).

Indeed, where you get your ideas from seems to be an interfictional trope. “Berry Moon: Laments of a Muse” by Camilla Bruce is a highly impressionistic, beautifully written (“There’s a red, ripe moon, like a berry in the sky…juicy and full, that fat piece of fruit, makes me want to swallow it whole”) as well as mundane (“And we take Bill, like we have taken them all, and we transform him. We give him a mask and send him out on the stage) meditation on the creative process that isn’t so much a story as an attempt at explication.

One things that seems to come up a lot among interfictions, as well as just plain old literary fiction (and actually dates back to the ‘invention” of the Western novel), is the notion of the author and/or  creation as the narrative subject. “People always get my origin story wrong. I wasn’t ‘born in an explosion,’ I am the explosion; if I’m the chicken, the bomb was the egg” is the opening to David J. Schwartz’s “The 121.” The title refers to the number of victims that the explosion names itself after; having somehow become a manifest entity, 121 hires itself out as a realistic special effects for the movies. According to Schwartz, the plot was inspired by The Third Man movie, which is about a fragmented country following WWII, translated to a fragmented America and a fragmented hero. As weird as this story is, it’s almost conventional compared to Alan DeNiro’s “(*_*?) ~~~~(-_ -):The Warp and the Woof.”  In some kind of post-apocalypse, a popular Tom Clancy thriller writer finds something he wrote in his youth, but can’t read his own handwriting. He sends it to his agent, who, alas fails to follow proper security cautions regarding deliveries and pays a severe penalty. The manuscript then falls into other hands, but within the manuscript is evidence that the writer’s imaginings may have been taken too seriously by the president in responding to a national emergency that led to the current disaster. What does the person who now possesses this knowledge do?

Then there are the stories in which the author him or herself, as opposed to the general idea of an author, is the subject. The narrator of “Black Dog: a Biography” is hounded by the titular canine that only he can see; author Peter M.Ball says this is as much biography as it is fiction. Even before I read her explanatory end note, I figured that “Afterbirth” had to have been based on Stephanie Shaw’s own experiences as a mother-to-be. “My obstetrican has four heads. She stands in front of me, arms crossed, tapping one foot. She has only two feet.” Very funny stuff.

One of the funniest stories keys on the notion of the omniscient narrator, “Morton Goes to the Hospital” by Amelia Beamer. Morton is an enfeebled senior citizen observed, unbeknownst to him, by his dead wife while he tries to rekindle an old, albeit never consummated, love affair.  The problem is his old flame suffers dementia. But taking the old gal on a ride in the right direction literally raises new hope.

Another kind of interfiction is the “reverse modern fairy tale,” in which everything does not turn out happily ever after (then again, they didn’t always in the real fairy tales either.) Here’s how “The Marriage” by Nin Andrews begins: “This is a story about a man who ties a woman to his bed. No, it’s not what you think, he says. Please understand. But how can he explain. All those nights his wife turns into other things. Would anyone believe him?”  Another is Lionel Davoust’s retelling of the King Arthur legend from a Samuel Beckett perspective in which the characters can’t leave their plotted fates until they decide not follow the standard storyline.

“The Long and Short of Long-Term Memory” by Cecil Castellucci  is, as you might expect, a poignant depiction of both the physical mechanics of memory and the emotional ramifications of the human condition; what you won’t expect are the PowerPoint slides.  Ray Vukcevich’s “The Two of Me” is the outgrowth of a challenge to write a story based on a work of art; it ponders whether separation long after birth is really all that desirable.

One of my personal favorites is “The Score” by Alaya Dawn Johnson, a ghost story about a popular singer’s tragic martyrdom told from the perspective of “Internet source materials” that illustrates  how the blogosphere spreads unsubstantiated commentary as facts that lead to widely believed “urban myths.”  Brian Francis Slattery’s takes a similar tact with “Interviews After the Revolution” in documenting how another enterprising singer combines overthrow of the capitalist pigs with personal profit. Also addressing issues of colonial oppression of native peoples is “Shoes” by Lavie Tidhar.

Another favorite is “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santiera” by Carlos Hernandez that blends the “primitive” religious ritual of animal sacrifice with the “modern” notion of multiple universes, a theme that seems to be getting more popular  now that physicists seriously propose what science fiction writers used to make up. Elizabeth Ziemska also explores alternate timelines in “Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken” in which the narrator’s father relates how he tried to go back in time to avert the Holocaust, only to discover that there are reasons things turn out the way they do, and even if we don’t like them, “time heals all wounds” in unexpected ways. In “After Verona,” William Alexander uses the multiple universe angle to illustrate how you don’t really know about people the way others perceive, or rather misperceive them. “Valentines” by Shira Lipkin also ponders multiple variations of the same love affair in which it is uncertain whether perception is affected by one’s changing  physical condition or one’s changing reality, or whether one is the cause of the other.

My perception here is that this is a nice collection of stories that Grouch Marx would have appreciated, even if he might not wanted to have joined their club, though I’m sure they’d want him as a member.

Postscript:

Also worth noting is that there’s an “annex” of eight additional stories not in the antholog available online. I haven’t read them, yet, nor do I know why they merit only “honorary membership” outside of the print edition. But I do love the opening lines of “The Chipper Dialogues” by Ron Pasquariello: “Before you left today, / You forgot to walk me. Look, / A gift on the rug. / Wake up. Wake up. Look, / Look. Cringe. It’s the paperboy. / He comes to kill you.”)

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