Polyphony CoverPolyphony, Volume 1
Edited by
Deborah Layne and Jay Lake
Wilsonville, OR: Wheatland Press, 2002
A review
by Colleen R. Cahill
November, 2004

I have yet to find a firm definition of slipstream literature. Although first coined by Bruce Sterling in 1989, it seems just as hard to pin down as what is science fiction. To help clarify my view, I picked up the anthology Polyphony, from Wheatland Press. The purpose of this series of volumes is to “publish stories that might not fit neatly into literary categories…” What the editors Deborah Layne and Jay Lake have done is amazing, from the authors their have gathered to the fact that every six months, another volume is released.

To be brief, I will only talk about Polyphony 1: there are two other Polyphony in print and a fourth due out soon. This inaugural issue contains a dozen stories from both established and newer writers. Some of the authors are award-winning, well known names, such as Andy Duncan, Carol Emshwiller and Lucius Shepard. Others maybe less familiar and give us a window to rising talent. The editors have collected stories that show the abilities of each writer without having the stories distract from their neighbors: the overall effect is the already wonderful parts make for a greater whole.

Many of these stories deal with love. From Lesile What’s tantalizing “Blink Date with the Invisible Man”which really is a blind date with a man who cannot be seen, to Ray Vukcevich’s story of sexy two grandparents in “Love Story”, romance is a theme, but tempered with odd pieces. In Victoria Elisabeth Garica’s unusual courtship story, “Anthropology”, food and primitive cultures bring together two people with uncommon passions. Carol Emshwiller weaves an eerie tale of a recuse old doctor and his estranged third wife, who with the help of pheromones and a few cats, are brought back together …kind of. The strength of belief is also center of some pieces, as in “The Heroic Death of Lieutenant Michkov” by Carrie Vaughn, which demonstrates that even a paper hero is a powerful force. Douglas Lain, who has the best title with “The Sea Monkey Conspiracy”, gives us a view of the world from within a twisted psychological experiment.

These are stories, but not straight forward or predictable. What seems a sad coming-of-age tale in Maureen McHugh’s “Laika comes back safe” takes several turns, never allowing the reader to become complacent. Perhaps this is the real definition of slipstream: to intrigue us, to amuse us and keep us on our toes.

Whatever the meaning of slipstream, the stories in Polyphony have one definition, and that is good!