From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak, Introduction by Henry Jenkins

Review by Cynthia Ward

What would you expect if you picked up a new fiction anthology and read the following on a book’s back cover?

Interstitial Fiction. It’s all about breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, cross-pollinating the fields of literature. It’s about working between, across, at, and through the edges and borders of literary genres. It falls between the cracks of other movements, terms, and definitions. These are stories to surprise us -stories showing us that literature holds possibilities we’d never imagined….

If you’re familiar with only one genre, you might suppose this book compiled stories crossbred from many genres. Perhaps a historical mystery set in Celtic Britain or a lesbian romantic suspense story or a Southern gothic fantasy/mystery like HBO’s True Blood—and so on.

If you’re familiar with many genres, you might expect experimental/avant-garde fiction.

It may be safely said that Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing, edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, will shatter such expectations. And it does so in a way that may disappoint: it’s an anthology of literary fantasy.

This isn’t to say other genres don’t sometimes join the mix. Will Ludwigsen’s “Remembrance Is Something Like a House” mixes a murder mystery with a sentient house, creating one of the anthology’s stronger stories, and ( not coincidentally) a work that would be equally at home in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine or in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Jeffrey Ford’s “The War Between Heaven and Hell Wallpaper” mixes the nonfiction of a dream he had with some riffing on ideas and memory. For all its lovely prose, Ford’s story is no more substantial than you’d expect from the description. Peter M. Ball’s overlong “Black Dog: A Biography” falls into the ancient autobiographical-fiction genre and, like a number of other contributions, leaves the ultimate decision —”is this a mainstream story or a fantasy?” —up to the reader. David J. Schwartz’s thoughtful “The 121” is a superhero origin story, but it’s about an explosion which gains consciousness, a Hollywood career, and a conscience.

Overall, the twenty-one stories offer high quality prose and a fair amount of unpredictability. But the anthology is also uneven in a way that will allow readers to differ—perhaps radically—in their reactions.

Still, you too may find the best stories to be Carlos Hernandez’s delightful “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria”, which walks the tightrope between mainstream and magic realism without a slip, and Theodora Goss’s gemmed beauty “Child-Empress of Mars”. Goss’s tale takes its inspiration—in the finest post-modern fashion—from a Wikipedia entry on John Carter of Mars instead of the series itself, yet still manages to turn the interplanetary romance inside out in a way that would make Jack Vance proud.

Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
Edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, with an Introduction by Henry Jenkins
Interstitial Arts Foundation/Small Beer Press
ISBN: 978-193152061-4 | Trade Paperback | $16
November 2009

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