I've mentioned before Bruce Sterling's famous essay from 1989, in which the science fiction author laments that "mainstream" (read: "literary fiction") writers are writing speculative fiction better than the genre writers are, citing examples like Margret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Don Delillo's White Noise, and suggests a new category, called "Slipstream," which would include literary works with genre elements and genre works with literary feel (or more precisely, "a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility"). (There's an interesting digression I could go into about how literary fiction people think of themselves as marginalized while genre fiction is "popular" and "commercial" and genre fiction writers think of themselves as marginalized while literary fiction is "mainstream". In fiction, everybody is second class.)

Sterling's attempt at rebranding was marvelously unsuccessful: while a small group of genre writers occasionally identified themselves as Slipstream, most genre writers ignored the term while literary fiction writers never learned it existed. Some people missed the point entirely and thought the term just meant combining two genres together, and there was at least one "Slipstream" anthology filled with cowboy werewolves and noir detective vampires.

However, Sterling's purpose in making SF less incestuous and more "literary" was more successful—though there was pretty certainly a larger movement in that direction that he was simply a part of, a movement that was itself a revival of the efforts of the "New Wave" writers of the 60s and 70s. Now, 20+ years later, there are a lot of writers with both speculative and literary values on both sides of the genre line enjoying a good deal of success. The list of these authors could go on for pages (much as Sterling's Slipstream list does) and would certainly include Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, William Gibson, Kelly Link, Will Self, Neal Stephenson, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, Jeff VanderMeer, Lev Grossman, Susanna Clarke and many others. If you're really into one or two of these authors, you'll probably like the rest of them to a greater or lesser degree.

I'll call this group of writers the Murakami-Miéville Continuum after two writers who I think most typify the phenomenon, Japanese "literary" writer Haruki Murakami and the English "genre" writer China Miéville. The name is deliberately long and cumbersome, because that last thing we need is more labels and genres; the Murakami-Miéville Continuum is not a genre label and it's definitely and emphatically not a marketing term. It is instead a critical term, a means of contextualization. This may seem like a niggling point, that contextualizing things together is a form of marketing, but the idea is that the Murakami-Miéville Continuum is not something that can be slapped on a book jacket by a publisher seeing dollar signs or degraded into something else entirely. It is only something that can be discussed, only something that can be used in a conversation where one can explain who Murakami and Miéville are and why they represent a continuum of writers.

And the thing about Murakami and Miéville, besides the fact that their names sound cool together, is that there's also a lot of people who've only read one and not the other, because they are both so firmly identified with their respective genre camps (at least in the US, where they're foreign imports—I can't speak for how they're read in their own countries). There's even a kind of neatness about the fact that they literally come from opposite sides of the world, with the US straddled between them. And yet, I think if someone not familiar with genre distinctions were to read Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle followed by Miéville's Perdido Street Station and The City and The City, he or she wouldn't think they were writing in different genres at all. There is a similarity there, in the attention to language, in the willingness to create a well-thought-out secondary world where things are and are not as they are in our own, in the weight they give to character and plot and idea without over-privileging any one of them. Murakami and Miéville have much more in common than Murakami and, say, John Updike, or Miéville and, say, Robert Heinlein. They are, in other words, the perfect example of two writers separated only by artificial and anachronistic notions of genre divides, lines that have little to do with content and everything to do with marketing and class and pretension and tribal allegiances.

The objective then is clear: To get people who read Murakami to read Miéville and vice-versa, along with the other writers I mentioned and the many others who could be included in the same camp. Because the only way to obliterate preconceived notions of genre differences is through example.