“How can I do this? Begin.
The only thing in the world that’s worth beginning: the end of the world.”
(Pussy, King of the Pirates, 27)
Punk feminist author Kathy Acker (1947-1997) was one of the most influential and daring writers of postmodern experimental fiction of the 20th century. Although her work isn’t usually thought of as science fiction or fantasy, throughout her career her work engages with SF, fantastical, and speculative fiction tropes in bizarre and unexpected ways. Like fellow experimental writers William S. Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon, Acker is a writer whose work sits in dialogue with, and is frequently influential on, the field of SF without necessarily being SF itself. In an influential 1989 essay, Bruce Sterling called this kind of writing “slipstream,” which he defines as “a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality… a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel.”
More than three decades on from Sterling’s original essay, the boundaries between traditional SF modes of writing and postmodern and other so-called “literary” forms of writing have become ever more porous and uncertain. As such, it’s worth looking at Acker as one of the original pioneering writers who helped to demolish the boundaries between genre and postmodern fiction. While Acker’s books may frustrate readers expecting hard SF logic and rigor, likeable characters, or even coherent linear plots, the adventurous SFF reader will find much to enjoy in her riotous transgressive punk prose, her wild DIY juxtaposition of appropriated texts across genres and tones, and her inventive and unique take on dystopian and cyberpunk motifs and themes.