As anybody who has kept up on their bookshelf-browsing recently can determine, the bleed-through of the once impermeable barrier between science fiction / fantasy / horror and literary fiction has ramped up rather sharply in the last few years. Once upon a time, fantastical writing was consigned to a starkly delineated corner. Then, once Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon made it safe for the critics to play in the cross-dimensional sandbox, everybody wanted to get in on it. Eventually even Jonathan Franzen will want to write a postapocalyptic novel, God help us.
Damien Walter writes for The Guardian that the slurrying overlap between fantastical fiction and a still highly realistic (read: non-pulp) style of writing could be traced back (as so many things in modern culture) to Philip K. Dick. Rudy Rucker coined this breed “transrealism” back in 1983. Walter argues, somewhat convincingly, that it’s the first real major literary movement of the 21st century:
Today transrealism underpins much of the most radical and challenging work in contemporary literature. Colson Whitehead’s intelligent dissection of the underpinnings of racism in The Intuitionist and his New York Times transrealist twist on the zombie-apocalypse novel, Zone One. Monica Byrne’s hallucinatory road-trip across the future of the developing world and the lives of women caught between poverty and high-speed technological change in The Girl in the Road. Matt Haig’s compulsive young adult novel The Humans, which invites the reader to see human life through alien eyes. Transrealism has 30 years of history behind it, but it’s in the next 30 years that it may well define literature as we come to know it…
Based on the success of potential transrealists from Margaret Atwood to Don DeLillo, and arguably David Mitchell, this looks to be a quite strong, if still fuzzily-defined, movement.