A review of


edited by Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan

Central question: Can pulp fiction be meaty?
Format: 640 pp., paperback; Size: 6" x 9"; Price: $19.95; Publisher: Omnidawn Publishing; Editors: Ken Keegan and Rusty Morrison; Print run: 5,000; Book design: Ken Keegan; Typeface: Warnock; Percentage of accepted stories in the anthology that were unsolicited submissions: 44; Number of authors in the anthology whose publication in this book is their first time in print: one; Representative sentence: “The red-eyed Angel of Intemperance hopped out of the bottle of ardent spirits and snuggled down in little Edgar’s longclothes” (From Angela Carter’s “The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe”).

The anthologist’s job can be pretty thankless. However inclusive you are, however clearly you mark the boundaries of your mission, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. But to compensate for the inevitable and variable ingratitude of readers, anthologists have tremendous power to shape how others understand their subjects. In Omnidawn’s new fiction anthology, ParaSpheres, Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan attempt to establish a category “beyond” the “literary” and “genre” labels publishers use to stamp work as serious or trivial. To succeed, they must first argue that genre fiction, particularly that labeled “fantasy” or “science fiction,” can offer more than mere escape.

As has been argued by others in recent years, “genre,” in this sense, is less descriptive than inclusively dismissive. And using the word literary to denote worthiness is no more helpful than describing a thought as “deep.” Neither term says much about what a text does—or how it does it. But Keegan’s ongoing assertion is that the “literary” text, with its “narrative realism,” enjoys a special relationship to reality and overlooks many prose styles and orientations that already seem to enjoy “literary” status. He makes room in his new category for works that “offer variations on the patterns of thinking—of narrating reality—that are most commonly mass-produced.” But by this standard, most modernist writing isn’t “literary.” So what do we recognize in Virginia Woolf’s novels that we don’t see in Star Trek novelizations?

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Thomas March

Thomas March is a poet and critic who lives in New York City, where he teaches at the Brearley School. Some of his recent work appears in American Book Review, the Gay and Lesbian Review, New Letters, and the Spoon River Poetry Review.

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