[ExI] More about transrealism (was Re: J. Stanton)

J. Stanton js_exi at gnolls.org
Fri Dec 10 19:19:41 UTC 2010

On 11/23/10 4:00 AM, Damien Broderick wrote:
> Alice Sheldon drew upon her very exotic and unusual experiences in her
> fiction, so I guess that makes her work notionally transrealist--but
> somehow it doesn't have the gnarly Phil Dick/Rudy Rucker zing I
> associate with transrealism (although obviously it did have other virtues).

That's the core of why I'm doubtful that 'The Gnoll Credo' belongs in 
the transrealist camp (though I love PKD, J. G. Ballard, and to a lesser 
extent, Rucker).  Let me explain by giving a few examples:

PKD was all about blurring the "normal" division between subjective 
experience and objective reality.  VALIS did it through mystical 
experience, A Scanner Darkly did it through drugs, and his short stories 
used all manner of SF tropes.

J. G. Ballard was very much about creating set pieces in which the world 
becomes, in some way, a projection or reflection of a character's 
subjective reality.  Traditional characterization in his case was nearly 
absent, which means that he doesn't fit the traditional definition of a 
transrealist -- but his stories are certainly transreal.

Based on the definitions you've given, Lucius Shepard would most 
definitely be classified as transrealist, because his stories, almost 
without exception, follow a pattern of a dissolute protagonist (often 
modeled on his own experiences as a moderately dissolute expatriate) 
slowly discovering the strange (and often mystical) agencies that are 
creating his situation and his reality.

The problem here is that no one classifies Shepard as a transrealist 
because, while he fits the definition, he doesn't have the *style*.  At 
all.  His style is lyrical and very literary, not at all the slam-bang 
psychedelic pyrotechnics of Rucker, nor the flatly stated insanity of 
PKD or Ballard.  In Shepard's worlds, the backstage machinery is slowly 
revealed under poor lighting, and only comes into focus at the very 
end...whereas PKD just leaves it lying around, and Rucker gleefully wads 
it up and throws it at you.

So, at least *to me*, transrealism feels as much like a style as a set 
of writing techniques.  This may not be intentional or intended, but 
given the authors presented as transrealist (or not), it's the 
impression I get.

Getting back to my original point: this is the core of why I'm hesitant 
to sell "The Gnoll Credo" as transrealist, because it doesn't feel 
anything like PKD or Rucker.  Frankly, if I had to provide references 
within the SF field, it would be some combination of James Tiptree Jr. 
and Octavia Butler, with perhaps a touch of Orson Scott Card.  But I 
don't want to push that comparison too far, either, because not only is 
it not SF, it's not really 'like' anything else.  (It's a fictional 

> <instead of the transreal approach of "the world is a much stranger
> place than you think" (a valid approach, with great impact when done
> well), I go the opposite direction: "a world you originally understood
> to be fantastic is much more real than you think.">
> My understanding of the term is fairly even-handed:
> <Following sf writer Rudy Rucker, I call this way of doing things with
> words, images and ideas transrealism, although I extend his original
> coinage. Not only is transrealism writing about immediate reality?or
> your idiosyncratic perceptions of it?in a fantastic way, it is also a
> way of writing the fantastic from the standpoint of your richly
> personalized reality... quite a few writers in and out of science
> fiction have been eddying in the slipstream of science toward a gnarly
> attractor in narrative space (as a physicist might put it), a way of
> combining wild ideas, subversion and criticism of the supposedly
> inviolate Real, together with realistic thickening of the supposedly
> airy fantastic, all bound together in a passionate, noncompliant act of
> self-examination.>

As you wrote the book, you have the advantage of me here :)  I wish it 
weren't $100+...I'd love to read it.


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