“In my usage, ‘imaginative fiction’ includes the definite group of stories…that are nonrealistic, imaginative, based upon assumptions contrary to everyday experience, often highly fanciful and often laid in settings remote in time and space from those of everyday life.” – L. Sprague de Camp
This week I want to ponder the idea of the novum a bit more, and explore, at least tentatively, how it might illuminate the coherence of fantastic texts other than those of rareified SF. I started with the above quotation from de Camp because I think that his definition of “imaginative fiction,” while problematic in some ways, points toward an underlying unity in fantastika that can be teased out to help us look at the novum more creatively. In the above quotation I skipped over de Camp’s invocation of “the fiction of the modern Western world” because the qualification is not needed; “imaginative fiction” is a worldwide literary practice. One can also argue against the idea of a “definite group of stories,” but if we think of that word as “limited to” rather than “exact” his formulation makes more sense.
What I find useful in this quotation is the idea of “assumptions contrary to everyday experience.” This idea seems like a useful characterization of the fantastic; whether hard SF or slipstream, all fantastic works do not just present something new or improbable, but one or more elements that are incongruous with our commonly-held ideas not just of the possible, but of the everyday. In fact, these elements are insubordinate, actively defying the mundane world as we perceive it. Fantasy implies “a detachment, a levitation, the acceptance of a different logic based on objects and connections other than those of everyday life or the dominant literary conventions.” (Italo Calvino,”Definitions of Territory: The Fantastic”); what is “normal” is inverted, exceeded, ruptured by the logic of the fantastic.