book report: Leslie What; Olympic Games

12 June 2007, 8:13 pm

It was Leslie What’s contributions to Small Beer Press’s pretty-much-mostly slipstream zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet that made me really take note of her name. Her stories for that magazine fit what I think of as the general mode of slipstream (or interstitial, or new-wave fabulist, or whatever you want to call it) fiction.

My inadequate definition of slipstream is that it almost always uses some of the trappings and motifs of speculative fiction, but compared to “traditional” fantasy or science fiction it’s much more concerned with literary qualities like style, voice, mood, and theme. It’s correspondingly less concerned with plot, and, to a lesser extent character development (at least in a realistic mode).

Although Olympic Games sprouted, more or less, from the slipstream story “The Goddess is Alive and, Well, Living in New York City,” the novel itself strikes me as more fantasy than slipstream, and it takes off in tangents that give the whole work a different feel and larger scope. This is definitely to its benefit; I found myself much more caught up in the story of the supernally-gifted, reclusive artist called Possum, and his ensorcelled love Penelope, and less interested in the modern world doings of Zeus and Hera. For the most part I thought What did an excellent job of steering clear of genre clichés, despite the familiar territory. The tone is mostly light, but never broadly comic, and certainly not without emotional resonance. The novel reminded me in bits and pieces of several different authors, but it didn’t seem specifically derivative of any one particular voice.

A quibble I can’t stop myself from including: If I’d judged this book by its cover, I never would’ve picked it up. Michael Dashow’s cartoonish illustration evokes the wrong mood entirely — it seems much more suited to a more overtly comic fantasist like Robert Asprin or Terry Pratchett.

cover illustration of Leslie What's novel, Olympic Games

I’m starting to feel a little hamstrung by using Needs More Demons as a metric, but, anyway, it doesn’t.

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