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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 2 (Winter 1996)
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Fantasy by Any Other Name

by Mark Amerika
Copyright © 1996, Mark Amerika

What do we mean when we refer to a literature of the fantastic? As a novelist who had very limited reading experience in hard sci-fi and "fantasy" lit, I was quite surprised to see my first two books, The Kafka Chronicles(Black Ice Books, 1993) and Sexual Blood(Black Ice Books, 1995), receive considerable attention in the so-called genre scene.

But now in hindsight I can see why this happened. We are experiencing a great convergence of literary styles that makes it difficult to label and/or define some of the wilder narrative projects that are making their way into the electrosphere. And yet this battle to create a new realism (similar to the physicist's attempt to create a new kind of order out of chaos), has been fought for a long time and this most recent "convergence" is only its latest manifestation.

Raymond Federman, whose novel The Two-Fold Vibration was a cross between Samuel Beckett and Alfred Bester, wrote a few essays in the 70s about a writing style he invented called Surfiction, where he suggested ...fiction can only be A REALITY--an autonomous reality whose only relation with the real world is to improve that world. To create fiction is, in fact, a way to abolish reality, and especially to abolish the notion that reality is truth. What Federman means is that fiction is a way to abolish a given or conventionally constructed reality as well as the notion that a prefabricated reality is truth.

Federman's friend and co-conspirator, Ron Sukenick, also wrote in the 70s about a new writing style that he called The New Tradition In Fiction: The contemporary writer--the writer who is acutely in touch with the life of which he is part--is forced to start from scratch: Reality doesn't exist, time doesn't exist, personality doesn't exist.

That latter quote was in a story called "Death of The Novel."

In the 80s this sort of un-definable text that continuously challenged our notion of the Real was referred to as slipstream or literary postmodernism. Now, in the 90's, Larry McCaffery, Ron Sukenick, Takayuki Tatsumi and I have been floating around yet another term, the so-called Avant-Pop. In his introduction to the recent Penguin USA Avant-Pop anthology, After Yesterday's Crash,McCaffery describes the A-P authors as writers ...who share a fascination with mass culture and the determination to find a means of entering and exploring the belly of the beast without getting permanently swallowed or becoming mere extensions of its operations (the fate of Andy Warhol and Pop Art). What McCaffery's getting at here, of course, is the incredible influence mass media and electronic technology have had on our imaginations and how writers today are searching for ways to compose narrative scripts that investigate the residue of our pasts while prescribing language doses that anticipate the implications of our future. The writer of today, out of necessity, is part storyteller, part bricoleur, part VR shaman or Medicine Woman, what the Native Americans call "an upside-down inside-out man."

The reason I'm throwing these soundbites out is to help confirm our deepest suspicions regarding the nature of reality and how we as writers have to deal with the nature of reality no matter what we may be labeled (to the best of my knowledge, Federman and Sukenick have not been household names in the world of fantasy lit). Artaud, Lautréamont, Henry Miller, and Djuna Barnes were all developing alternative realities based off lived experience and the dreamworld of international culture.

Our present-day life in the post-pomo realm of simulacra, as well as this general societal shift toward teleported-bits over transported-atoms, suggests that virtual reality is becoming the given reality we have to work from. Even Plato knew that (although I'm reminded of what Allen Ginsberg recently said to me when I asked him about VR: "Yes, but can it make you cum?").

My immersive AI is operating from a fantasy world located in numerous places including Boulder, Colorado, Providence, Rhode Island, Dharmagone and Prague-23. My partner is programmed to love me and me her. To access the code our desire is written in requires no licensing rights and can be absorbed and processed by any number of cyborg-lovers out there in Narrative Reality by visiting us at http://www.altx.com .

We have finally crossed the border.

The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.

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Copyright 1996 Mark Amerika
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