I was on holiday for over a month! It was very needed. Highlights of the holiday: time spent with excellent friends, eating endless tasty food, being covered in cats, 1,500km road trip, rocks. Not highlights: so many long flights. Now I’m living in Oxford where I’ll soon be starting the Masters in Classical Armenian Studies. I’m in college-owned housing, in a room on the top floor where I can see the sky and leaves (on deciduous trees, sadly, turning to brown like the death of the sun and warmth), and it’s going to be a good (and hard, and rewarding) year.
For now, a snake sign on the Southern Ocean coast of Western Australia (which I thought was a snake-warning sign, but am informed – see comments – that it’s much more likely to be the Waugal pictured on signs along the 1000km Bibbulmun track):
There’s a fun meme on Facebook at the moment: list the 10 books that have most influenced you, the 10 that first come to mind not the list of 10 you might carefully craft to show the world. I’ve variously seen it as the books that specifically influenced you as a writer, or more generally influenced you as a person. My list is a mixture of both approaches.
10 Books That Influenced Me
1. Enid Blyton – The Famous Five
The whole series, not just the first book. It was my first(?) introduction to the idea that a girl could want people to think she’s a boy, which had a huge impact on me in a wide variety of ways. I’ll summarise it as: I am called Alex, not Alexandra, because of George.
2. Lylat Wars (for the Nintendo 64)
It’s not a book, but rules are for breaking. I can’t talk about influences on me as a writer or a person without mentioning this game! (Called Starfox 64 in non-European territories.) It’s what started me writing, before I ever saw the word “fanfiction” – I discovered the internet a year or two later and was delighted to find other people writing stories about Starfox. It’s key to my love of science fiction. It’s also one of the fox-related narratives I adored as a child, which has had obvious consequences for my fiction and poetry.
Then, in my teens, I started to lose interest in fantasy or science fiction. I’d go to that section in the bookstore and be utterly bored by everything I noticed, which was dominated by things like Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind and other names. The backs of their books bored me so much. (I never even liked Tolkien! That kind of fantasy has never been my idea of fun, and that’s all I was seeing.)
Around 2006, I stumbled across some interesting writers.
3. Andreas Eschbach – The Carpet Makers
4. KJ Bishop – The Etched City
5. Catherynne M Valente – Yume no Hon
6. China Miéville – The Scar
7. Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber
Thanks to them, I started writing fantasy and science fiction again. It could be weird, beautiful, thought-provoking; it could be about things beyond the Tolkien-style fantasies or Star Wars.
I also expanded my limited literary reading into work that ignores the literary/SFF boundary that a lot of people are fond of, that stands with its feet in many genres. Of these books, the most memorable I’ve read remains the following, but there are others I could name.
8. Milorad Pavić – Dictionary of the Khazars
Aside from Anne McCaffrey, I’ve read very little older science fiction and fantasy, which included Le Guin until fairly recently.
9. Ursula K Le Guin – The Wild Girls
10. Ursula K Le Guin – Always Coming Home
The Wild Girls is, of course, quite a recent work of hers, but it prompted me to read more. It is such a perfect, beautiful, angry, cutting story. Meanwhile, Always Coming Home is the construction of a huge body of cultural output from a group of people in a post-apocalyptic near-future: poetry, plays, prose, histories. It’s affected what I want to do with the Tuvicen stories and poems I’m gradually assembling.
I got bored and downloaded Instagram. It’s really fun! There are so many filters and I find (you may disagree) that they give low quality tablet photography a certain charm. So far I’ve taken photos of (1) the stack of contributor copies I received in 2013 (2) the view from my window this evening, when the sky stained the estuary water pink at the shore (3) amazing fox paperclips I bought in Brighton during WFC (4) reaching 40,000 words of edited still-titleless YA novel. Another 10,000 words remain to be achieved in the next 4 days, which will not mark the end of editing (the novel is about 60,000 words) but a significant milestone. I’d like it to be done in the near future so I can shift to other projects. I’d like to give it a title. I need to go through the Turkmen women’s folksongs again for something a little less cumbersome than “Selin That Has Grown In The Desert”, the name of the story from which this novel grew.
Later this month I will be at Bristolcon (26 October)! I will be wandering around, perhaps near/in the bar, and I will also be on a panel about SPAAACE and other forms of science (but really, it’s all about SPAAACE for me).
How Science Got Its Groove Back – Programme Room 2 (Summit Suite) – 17:00–17:45
Recently, both on TV and in real life we have seen resurgence in the kind of popular science that feels like it’s been missing for years. Is it all down to that Cox chappie? We’ve been inspired by the antics of Commander Chris Hadfield and his magic flannel, Felix Baumgardener’s breathtaking freefall from the edge of space, and the final flights of the shuttle fleet. How is science inspiring current and future generations? And how is this influencing SF?
With Peter Sutton (M), Cavan Scott, Rosie Oliver, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Dave Bradley
I look forward to seeing some of you there.
A good A Softer World today:
Everyone needs terrible houses in their life. (The bonus is that sometimes the Belgian houses are actually pretty cool. Then there’s this.)
Nine Worlds is this weekend! I will be there! Here is where you can find me:
8:30pm-9:45pm – Britannia – Electric Spectra: a queer poetry gathering
A friendly evening poetry session in our cosy Queer Library. Grab a pint, bring some friends, and share some poems! (Rated 18+)
11:45am-1:00pm – Britannia – Why is the Future so Binary?
With the endless potential for reimagining the world that science fiction offers, why do so many imagined futures stick to heteronormative, binary conceptions of sexuality and gender? Come and discuss the implications of futuristic technology for queer, trans* and genderfluid characters, and share recommendations for work exploring these possibilities.
With Tori Truslow, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Jude Roberts and Cel West.
1:30pm-2:45pm – Britannia – New Goggles: Diversity in Steampunk
‘Anachrotech’ genres like Steampunk give writers, makers, and musicians a chance to tinker with the past, resulting in, at best, a way to reclaim and subvert popular historical narratives and tropes; at worst, a nostalgia that uncritically repeats those tropes. Let’s trade in those rose-tinted monocles for new goggles, and discuss the importance of queering and diversifying the genre.
With Zen Cho, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Maki Yamazaki and Sam Kelly.
5:00pm-6:15pm – Caravelle – Women’s Worlds: Feminist Utopias in Literature
A panel discussion about feminist utopias throughout literature. How have they changed as feminism has developed, how do we imagine what we do not have, and how close are we to that reality?
With Alex Dally MacFarlane, Cel West, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Tricia Sullivan and Alison Morton
10:00am-11:15am – Britannia – Better History = Better Fantasy: Writing Outside the Binary
Fantasy worlds based on historical periods often lack gay, trans* and other queer characters. Blaming this on our own world’s history is a mistake: history is full of people living outside normative sexualities and gender roles! Sappho (and the queer women who wrote about her), sworn virgins, monks and nuns, Two Spirit people, shamans, the Chevalier d’Éon, and many more! Come and discuss queer people in history – and how to research them to make your fantasy worlds better.
With Alex Dally MacFarlane, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Koel Mukherjee and Hel Gurney.
Following on from my Wiscon schedule post, some questions:
I need to get from Madison to Chicago on the Monday (27 May). The Greyhound site shows several stops in each city – does anyone know which ones I should use? Or, a long shot: if anyone’s driving that route on that day, do you have a spare seat? I’m happy to chip in for petrol.
Another long shot: does anyone have a bed/sofa/floor in Chicago that night? If not, I shall find myself a hostel.
I will be at Wiscon in (ahhh) under 2 weeks’ time! My schedule is pretty light – 2 readings, 1 panel – which means lots of time for hanging out with everyone. I look forward to seeing lots of people there! (I will also be at Readercon, and remaining in the US between the two cons, for maximum people-seeing. As well as essay-finishing.)
Open Secrets: a Speculative Poetry Reading – Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm – Senate B
Lisa Bradley, Amal El-Mohtar, Gwynne Garfinkle, Nancy Hightower, Kathrin Koehler, Shira Lipkin, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Elizabeth R. McClellan, Julia Rios, S. Brackett Robertson, Sofia Samatar
Members of the Secret Poetry Cabal (a speculative poetry group) will read their work.
Spindles and Spitfire – Sat, 4:00–5:15 pm – Conference 2
Lisa Bradley, Shira Lipkin, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Patty Templeton
Join us for a reading packed full of sinister whimsy, hidden hearts, folkloric sensibilities and SNACKS! Lisa Bradley dances with the skeletons in her closet. Shira Lipkin will apparently write anything if you dare her to on Twitter. Alex Dally MacFarlane works at a spindle of bones and gold. Patty Templeton writes hellpunk in a handbasket, full of ghosts, freaks and fools.
Gender in Science Fiction – Sun, 10:00–11:15 am – Capitol A
Dr. Janice M. Bogstad, Keffy R. M. Kehrli, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Lauren K. Moody, Joan Slonczewski
How have our views of gender changed in real life and in science fiction? Is gender now like ethnicity — many different types that shade into each other? As new possibilities emerge, are there new taboos — new things we don’t allow?
For those of us who are stressed at the moment, a gif that is perhaps* relevant:
*picture, if you can, your preferred drink/food** of comfort
**some foods may be more difficult than others
So there’s a laughable defense of poor little Eastercon in the Strange Horizons 2012 round-up, which I may or may not blog about. This isn’t about that, but it’s inspired by the negative side of my feelings for cons.
Last year I went to Bristolcon and had a great time: hanging out with friends, going to some interesting (although sometimes a bit frustrating) panels, having fun talking about toilets IN SPAAACE. It’s a small, local con and very well-organised and I plan to attend again this year.
I was on a steampunk panel, where I was loud and vocal about things like the representation of women and lesbians, and the importance of stories that reconstruct history from non-dominant viewpoints, with some speaking about issues of colonialism/racism to the extent that my white self can – and afterwards Anne Lyle, a fellow panellist, described the panel as such: “The panel, on “The Evolution and Future of Steampunk” was lively, to say the least, but the very dapper Philip Reeve* did a splendid job of keeping us all in order.”
Because when someone’s being lively~ about under-represented voices, what we need is a man to keep her in order.
That has been making me a feel a bit sick whenever I’ve thought about it since the con.
And today I finally got weary of not mentioning it in public.
*For the record, I thought Philip was a good panel moderator. I did not feel “kept in order” by him at all; I felt like he let everyone on the panel say their piece.
"...the 33 stories that MacFarlane has gathered for this volume dazzle with the virtuosity of their contributors’ talents."
- Publishers Weekly: STARRED REVIEW
"Works from around the world, some in translation, provide an invaluable snapshot of this moment in the genre as well as some tremendously enjoyable reading."
- Publishers Weekly: Best Books of 2014
"The stories range widely in scope and form — from prose poems to metafiction — to capture a dynamic, forward-thinking genre that plays with history, myth and science."
- The Washington Post: Think science fiction is dominated by men? Think again.
"...ground-breaking and superbly conceived..."
- Nina Allan: Strange Horizons: 2014 In Review
Aliens: Recent Encounters
"...this [anthology] blew us away more than any other. Mostly because of the sheer volume of greatness contained in these 32 stories... These are classic stories of alien encounters, from some of the best science fiction writers working today."
- io9.com Best Books of 2013