Kelly Link: An Introduction

Article excerpt

KELLY LINK UNABASHEDLY DESCRIBES HERSELF AS A GENRE WRITER, SAYING "I finally decided that everything I wrote was SF, whether or not it had science fiction in it. And I decided there are two things science fiction does: it takes things which are comfortable and familiar and makes them really strange, or else it takes things which are strange and impossible and finally makes them feel comfortable ..." ("Making" 7). Link certainly works with tropes familiar to science fiction and fantasy readers. However, her motile stories defy expectations in many ways. One characteristic of Kelly Link's fiction is that her stories are liminal; they lie betwixt and between the spaces within which we ordinarily confine fantastic fiction. Many of her stories depend on her readers' knowledge of fantastical literature but then defy the readers' certainty by moving into unexpected places and using characters difficult to define in genre terms.

I am using the term liminal here as it used in cultural anthropology, where liminality is a social construct indicating movements between social strata and/or states of being. The related term liminar describes someone in an in-between state: one who is in flux between one social position and another. We see this pattern over and over in Link's characters: Claire and Samantha in "The Specialist's Hat" are poised on the edge of puberty, "liv[ing] in "a state of marginality"; they are nebulous and changeable figures within a static world (Turner 167). Eric, from "The Horlak," lives in a space where he converses both with the dead and the living; he is a quantum figure in the sense that the more we try to figure out his motivations, the more he eludes us. James, in "Monster," is experiencing a rite of passage in which he is further made special and separated from his fellows by dressing as a female zombie, with hair sculpted out of mud. James is "betwixt and between" many states of being (male/female, monster/human, living/dead).

Link's characters exist in an indeterminate state where "things are not as they were, and they are not yet what they are to become" (Hogue 5). …