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Apr 25, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

TOC for The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women

SF Signal had the announcement yesterday: the TOC and cover for The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women. Here it is, for those who missed it.

The anthology is scheduled for release in the UK and USA (and other territories where UK/USA books appear) late in the year.

I’m incredibly excited and proud.


Sofia Samatar — Girl Hours
Kristin Mandigma — Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang
Vandana Singh — Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra
Lucy Sussex — The Queen of Erewhon
Tori Truslow — Tomorrow Is Saint Valentine’s Day
Nnedi Okorafor — Spider the Artist
Karen Joy Fowler — The Science of Herself
Alice Sola Kim — The Other Graces
Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette — Boojum
Natalia Theodoridou — The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul
Ursula K. Le Guin — Mountain Ways
Nalo Hopkinson — Tan–Tan and Dry Bone
Zen Cho — The Four Generations of Chang E
Élisabeth Vonarburg — Stay Thy Flight
Carrie Vaughn — Astrophilia
Hao Jingfang — Invisible Planets (translated by Ken Liu)
Nicole Kornher–Stace — On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse
Shira Lipkin — Valentines
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz — Dancing in the Shadow of the Once
Nancy Kress — Ej–Es
E. Lily Yu — The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees
Toiya Kristen Finley — The Death of Sugar Daddy
Kameron Hurley — Enyo–Enyo
Genevieve Valentine — Semiramis
Aliette de Bodard — Immersion
Greer Gilman — Down the Wall
Karin Tidbeck — Sing
Nisi Shawl — Good Boy
Thoraiya Dyer — The Second Card of the Major Arcana
Ekaterina Sedia — A Short Encyclopedia of Lunar Seas
Benjanun Sriduangkaew — Vector
Angélica Gorodischer — Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities (translated by Ursula K. Le Guin)
Catherynne M. Valente — The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew

Apr 15, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

aš, aš / words unfinished, unfound

My poem “Her Sun-patterned Eye” is in Strange Horizons!

It belongs to a wider series of poems I’m writing about ancient/prehistoric archaeological finds, which includes “Bowl” and “Thousands of Years Ago, I Made This String Skirt” in Stone Telling and “Sister” in Through the Gate. I’m fascinated by people very distant in time, by people whose stories are rarely told and by how the past is written about: the metaphor of a palimpsest is useful here, the past visible between the lines of the future, and I’d like what’s visible to be a truer look at the past than what we get in most popular discourse.

When I read about the bones of a c.2900 BCE woman found at Shahr-e Sukhteh, 6 feet tall with a prosthetic eye covered in gold, carved with a sun-pattern, I wanted to write about her. What an eye! What a story she must have had! One artist on tumblr drew her, which I love. Here she is, as we know her:

Shahr-e Sūkhté

Bones. Is writing for a find of bones and grave goods truly history, or historiography? I started writing a narrative for her, a world she saw through her gilt eye. I stopped. The problem of filling in the gaps, of fictionalising, is one that historians (especially of the ancient world) face, and though I can embrace writing story in fiction or poetry, I apparently can’t do it for long without stopping to question it. “Her Sun-patterned Eye” is me questioning it: the opening up of possibility, the narrowing down again to truth, to bones. Remarkable bones, a surely remarkable woman. I hope this poem means more people are aware of her.

Apr 4, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Verse Kraken launch!

Last night I went to the launch of issue 2 of Verse Kraken, a zine edited by Claire Trévien and Tori Truslow. The new issue will be online soon; at the launch, the contributors present read their work – a really enjoyable mix of poetic, experimental pieces – and the editors sold out the super limited print edition. It’s stuck into old copies of The Handbook of the British Astronomical Association, in places a palimpsestical collage: my poem, “Three Palimpsests on Ganymede”, is on a page called Lunar Occulations. Look:


Two more glimpses: Alex Boyd’s “St Kilda (The False Land)” and the back, listing items published in earlier editions of the handbook, including “Pleiades, The” and “Stars, The Brightests and Nearest”.



My favourite piece at the launch was Hel Gurney’s “The Book Remembers”, an audio palimpsest of Anglo-Saxon voice and women’s stories. I also loved James Coghill’s “Sunt Stellae XIII: Three Surrealist Translations”. Very short pieces lend themselves well to a reading event: there’s plenty of variety, and ample time between and after the readings to actually talk to people. (I’m not such a fan of reading events that are just the readings.)

An excellent, tentacular night!

Mar 24, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane


2014 so far: BUSY BUSY BUSY.

Earlier this month, PodCastle published the podcast of my story “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints”, read by Eleiece Kraweic. It’s free to listen. Foxes and women without men waging war for revenge and survival.

My Post-Binary Gender in SF column on continues. The latest post is called Poetry’s Potential for Voice, in which I talk about the potency I love in poetry and its potential for post-binary voices. I take a closer look at poems by Bogi Takács, Natalia Theodoridou, Tori Truslow and Shweta Narayan.

I’ve got a great roundtable about languages and gender in the works for the column, a conversation with an expert on Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels (once I’ve done more reading), as well as more posts about specific texts. Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man is up next.

I’m in a different roundtable today: “Inclusive Reviewing: A Discussion” in Strange Horizons. The roundtable includes Samuel R. Delany, L. Timmel Duchamp, Fabio Fernandes, Andrea Hairston, Sofia Samatar, Aishwarya Subramanian and me, responding to Nisi Shawl’s article “Reviewing the Other” in the same issue. I speak briefly about reviewers and lack of understanding of non-binary gender.

Lastly, co-editor Claire Trévien posted a sneak-preview of the limited edition print versions of Verse Kraken‘s next issue, which will also be published online and will include my poem “Three Palimpsests on Ganymede”. You can read a bit of it in the bottom-left part of the sneak-preview. The full TOC of issue 2 is on their blog. It will be launched on 3 April at the Dogstar in Brixton, London. Event info on FB!


Feb 20, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

“Found”, reprinted

I’m so pleased to say that my genderqueer science fiction story “Found”, originally published in Clarkesworld‘s August 2013 issue, will be reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Rich Horton. The list of contents was announced at SF Signal, but I’m reproducing it here because I think it’s great: Maureen McHugh, Lavie Tidhar, Yoon Ha Lee, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Yukimi Ogawa, CSE Cooney, Eleanor Arnason, Geoff Ryman, Erik Amundsen and many more writers whose work I admire and enjoy. I look forward to reading a contributor copy. The anthology is scheduled for June 2014.

“Social Services” by Madeline Ash (An Aura of Familiarity)
“Out in the Dark” by Linda Nagata (Analog)
“The End of the World as We Know It, and We Feel Fine” by Harry Turtledove (Analog)
“The Oracle” by Lavie Tidhar (Analog)
“Call Girl” by Tang Fei (Apex)
“Ilse, Who Saw Clearly” by E. Lily Yu (Apex)
“They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s)
“The Wildfires of Antarctica” by Alan De Niro (Asimov’s)
“The Discovered Country” by Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov’s)
“A Stranger from a Foreign Ship” by Tom Purdom (Asimov’s)
“On the Origin of Song” by Naim Kabir (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee (Clarkesworld)
“Soulcatcher” by James Patrick Kelly (Clarkesworld)
“Found” by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Clarkesworld)
“The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
“Loss, With Chalk Diagrams” by E. Lily Yu (Eclipse Online)
“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel” by Ken Liu (F&SF)
“Kormak the Lucky” by Eleanor Arnason (F&SF)
“Grizzled Veterans of Many and Much” by Robert Reed (F&SF)
“Rosary and Goldenstar” by Geoff Ryman (F&SF)
“The Dragons of Merebarton” by K.J. Parker (Fearsome Journeys)
“Martyr’s Gem” by C. S. E. Cooney (Giganotosaurus)
“Such & Such Said to So & So” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Glitter & Mayhem)
“Killing Curses, a Caught-Heart Quest” by Krista Hoeppner Leahy (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet)
“A Fine Show on the Abyssal Plain” by Karin Tidbeck (Lightspeed)
“Paranormal Romance” by Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed)
“The Dead Sea-Bottom Scrolls” by Howard Waldrop (Old Mars)
“Blanchefleur” by Theodora Goss (Once Upon a Time)
“The Memory Book” by Maureen McHugh (Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells)
“Live Arcade” by Erik Amundsen (Strange Horizons)
“Town’s End” by Yukimi Ogawa (Strange Horizons)
“A Window or a Small Box” by Jedediah Berry (
“Trafalgar and Josefina” by Angelica Gorodischer (Trafalgar)
“Firebrand” by Peter Watts (Twelve Tomorrows)
“Game of Chance” by Carrie Vaughn (Unfettered)

“Found” will also be reprinted in How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens edited by Joanne Merriam, scheduled for 2015. It’s an anthology about the immigrant experience in science fiction. The list of contents was announced on the publisher’s website, but I want to share it as well because it looks great: Rose Lemberg, Sonya Taaffe, Bogi Takács, Nisi Shawl, Indrapramit Das, Zen Cho and many other excellent authors whose work I’m delighted to have mine alongside. Again, the contributor copy is going to be a treat.

Dean Francis Alfar, “Ohkti”
Celia Lisset Alvarez, “Malibu Barbie Moves to Mars”
R.J. Astruc, “A Believer’s Guide to Azagarth”
Lisa Bao, “like father, like daughter”
Pinckney Benedict, “Zog-19: A Scientific Romance”
Lisa Bolekaja, “The Saltwater African”
Mary Buchinger, “Transplanted”
Zen Cho, “The Four Generations of Chang E”
Abbey Mei Otis, “Blood, Blood”
Tina Connolly, “Turning the Apples”
Indrapramit Das, “muo-ka’s Child”
Tom Doyle, “The Floating Otherworld”
Peg Duthie, “With Light-Years Come Heaviness”
Thomas Greene, “Zero Bar”
Benjamin S. Grossberg, “The Space Traveler’s Husband,” “The Space Traveler and the Promised Planet” and “The Space Traveler and Boston”
Minal Hajratwala, “The Unicorn at the Racetrack”
Julie Bloss Kelsey, “tongue lashing” and “the itch of new skin”
Rose Lemberg, “The Three Immigrations”
Ken Liu, “Ghost Days”
Alex Dally MacFarlane, “Found”
Anil Menon, “Into The Night”
Joanne Merriam, “Little Ambushes”
Mary Anne Mohanraj, “Jump Space”
Daniel José Older, “Phantom Overload”
Sarah Pinsker, “The Low Hum of Her”
Elyss G. Punsalan, “Ashland”
Benjamin Rosenbaum, “The Guy Who Worked For Money”
Erica L. Satifka, “Sea Changes”
Nisi Shawl, “In Colors Everywhere”
Marge Simon, “South”
Sonya Taaffe, “Di Vayse Pave”
Bogi Takács, “The Tiny English-Hungarian Phrasebook For Visiting Extraterrestrials”
Bryan Thao Worra, “Dead End In December” and “The Deep Ones”
Deborah Walker, “Speed of Love”
Nick Wood, “Azania”

Feb 14, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

my labour to the east by knit and by darn

A new zine is live: Lackington’s! Their inaugural issue includes writing by Rose Lemberg, Amal El-Mohtar, Erik Amundsen, Helen Marshall, Christine Miscione, Kate Heartfield — and a reprint of my story “An Orange Tree Framed Your Body”. It’s about clones, depression and oranges, and here’s the opening:

the boy and the road talk youth

I’m sitting on the side of a dusty road, thinking of oranges. Thinking of my father and of death—his and mine. The Emperor’s assemblage of cars comes past, shining and identical, but today I do not care about him and the fighting for the city.

I am surprised­—every hour today, this moment of not understanding—that I have reached this birthday.

The story originally appeared in the much-missed print zine Sybil’s Garage 7 in 2010, edited by Matthew Kressel. Big thanks to Matt for originally publishing the story, and to Ranylt Richildis of Lackington’s for presenting it to a new audience.

In other good writing news, my story “Selin That Has Grown In The Desert”, published in Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories in 2011, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, will be reprinted in Sean Wallace’s The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures, forthcoming later this year. The TOC is here. It looks pretty great.

I’ll also have a new flash-length story, “The (De)Composition of Evidence”, in Noir edited by Ian Whates, part of a double anthology (paired with La Femme) to be released by Newcon Press at Eastercon this spring. It gave me an opportunity to play with plunderverse and a dead person’s skin.

Jan 29, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Civility and Comments Sections

I recently launched a column at about post-binary gender. So far the introduction has gone live. Go read, if that’s your sort of thing! I hope to do awesome things with this column: talking about books/stories I’ve read, both recently published and older, talking to other writers and readers about the subject, broadening my own horizons while (hopefully) broadening other people’s too.

I opened the introduction by saying: “I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.”

I really truly do! I’m not being hyperbolic to kickstart discussion. I really want an end to the default of binary gender, which apparently I need to translate for some people: I want there to be no default does not mean I want there to be no binary-gendered people in science fiction. There are many binary-gendered people in the world! This will no doubt continue to be the case.

I also said: “People who do not fit comfortably into the gender binary exist in our present, have existed in our past, and will exist in our futures. So too do people who are binary-gendered but are often ignored, such as trans* people who identify as binary-gendered. I am not interested in discussions about the existence of these gender identities: we might as well discuss the existence of women or men. Gender complexity exists. SF that presents a rigid, unquestioned gender binary is false and absurd.”

This is not an opinion. This is a fact. Non-binary people exist. Not including non-binary people is false. Barely including non-binary people is false. No, there isn’t a magic number of non-binary that you need to include (haven’t we already discussed how no one is calling for quotas when they call for diversity?) but there does need to be a feeling, when I read about a future, that it includes people of all genders, even if the individual story is focused on a cis man, or a cis woman. Needless to say, sometimes non-binary people should be the focus. But not always!

I didn’t think this was an especially confrontational or controversial demand, but hey! The internet is here to prove me wrong.

Larry Correia wrote a long post about how I’m wrong! damnit, so wrong! and only in my twenties! and stuff like that, which Jim C Hines took apart so you don’t have to, for which I am grateful. Jim’s post nicely shows how Larry circles around the same strawmen while calling himself a fascist for misgendering me. Thanks, Jim!

Then Jim got comments.

NEVER READ THE COMMENTS! you shout. TOO LATE! I lament. Actually, the comments are really interesting, because there’s this regularly raised idea of being “civil” or “polite” or “reasonable”. Some commenters complain that people’s comments got unfairly deleted from my post despite being reasonable, which amuses me because I know one comment got deleted for saying that non-binary people are just insane, so BULLSHIT. Indeed, a moderator stepped in to explain why comments got deleted. But here’s another thing: let’s take a look at the comments Jim got.

EXHIBIT 1: “You see, when you are struggling to survive these are lesser concerns. Nowadays, at least in Europe, the US, Canada, etc., people have the leisure to worry about whether they were born with the right sex organs, etc. Or whether people can marry their sofa.” quoth Mike Murley

1. Equating trans* and non-binary gender rights to marrying a sofa is transphobic and cissexist.
2. Equating equal marriage to marrying a sofa is homophobic.
3. Non-binary and trans* people existed throughout history.
4. Non-binary and trans* people exist in the contemporary “third world”. Here’s an example: Thailand is the leading country for SRS (re-assignment surgery) and has people of non-binary gender (kathoey). The idea that only in the West do people have the “leisure” to be trans*/non-binary is racist, Western-centric bullshit.
5. Piss off.

EXHIBIT 2: “First, yes, there are people out there that list their “gender/sex” however the heck you want to say it as other than male/female. Whoopdeedoo. Basic biology is… for evolved life forms on planet earth, there is male and female. There is not computersexual, there is not barcoloungersexual, there is not magazinesexual. There are just two.” quoth Rick

1. I’m so glad you’re our biology teacher today! What with your utter ignorance about biological sex. Read up on intersex people, then on genital and chromosomal differentiation more widely. The biological binary is bullshit.
2. Equating real genders and biological sexes to computers, barcoloungers(?) and magazines is gross.
3. Piss off.

EXHIBIT 3: “There are, in Terran-based biology, two sexes (usually misidentified as “genders” – nouns have genders, people are one of two sexes). Male and female. This is reality. There are a significant number of human-based sexual preferences and gender identifications, which have become increasingly more apparent due to a larger number of humans having their basic needs met and having the leisure time to concern themselves with these (in first world societies, if we use the out-dated World Bank definition).” quoth Mike Murley, again

1. What is it with Terran-based cis people and the faulty biology lessons?
2. See above, re: racism.
2. Piss off.

EXHIBIT 4: “The vast majority of people want the characters to be just men and women. Sure every now and then its good to expand your horizons but that doesn’t require and end to the defaults. Its like getting rid of the english default on your computer. Sure every now and then a customer wants something like klingon or farsi but most people just want to play video games and surf the web and so the default english works for them. Do you really think the majority of twilight fans want Bella to secretly be a dude dressed as a girl?” quoth Demetrias

1. Saying that real people’s lived existence, ie: the existence of non-binary people, is an exercise to “expand your horizons” is cissexist.
2. Not everyone’s keyboard has English default. Did you know that some keyboards have Farsi as a default? Or one of several language settings? Klingon is not a language beyond Star Trek. Equating it with Farsi is racist.
3. Baffling transphobia seals the deal, I guess?
4. Piss off.

That’s enough of that.

Tell me more about how cissexism, transphobia and racism are “civil” and “reasonable” and “not insulting”. How the fuck is this shit okay to say? How the fuck can you hide behind words like “reasonable” because you didn’t, what, call me a bitch or threaten to harm me while you were spewing your hateful, bigoted words all over Jim’s comments section? The idea that you are being civil in comments because you’re not being aggressive or using slurs or threatening violence is a fascinating one. It is not reasonable to be bigoted. It is not civil. It is not “not insulting” to say that non-binary and trans* people don’t exist in non-Western countries and that there are only two sexes and lol r u computersexual.

Closing comments on this one. Don’t actually tell me more about your bigotry. Piss off.

Jan 16, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

dark to one spark and I have your heart

A joy: The Literary Omnivore reviews Heiresses of Russ 2013: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction — which reprinted my “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” — and says:

“Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” is as burning as Russ’ own anger.

I’ll have that in gold.

I also sold the audio rights for it to a podcast (no contract yet, so no name), so it’ll be listenable in the near future. It works well aloud — it had such a strong voice as I wrote it — so I look forward to this.

Dec 31, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane


Two big things happened this year:



I spent almost 9 months of the year working on my MA in Ancient History, for which I got a Distinction. I learned a lot about the Ancient Near-East, about textual traditions of Alexander III of Macedon, I learned a little bit of Sumerian, I read up on queer theory to write an essay about personal reception of Psáppho that I want to adapt for online consumption, I wrote about Neo-Assyrian elite women’s role in the textile industry and got a 77 (a good mark in the UK system), I developed my research interests into the textual traditions of Alexander a lot further – into narrative maps and marginalised subversions – and realised my inter-disciplinary interests are going to make my future academic path very complicated. I still want to take that path.



The release of my debut anthology ALIENS: RECENT ENCOUNTERS, which was listed on io9’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2013. I’m really proud of it and I love its table of contents (which can be seen here). I’m happy that others agree: Lavie Tidhar said of it recently that it’s “a really strong, diverse list of authors and stories. And I love what she said recently: ‘Editing cannot be a passive act.’ It’s so true!” I continue to believe that very strongly.

I’m really excited about following it up in 2014 with THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF SF STORIES BY WOMEN. I’m working on the table of contents at the moment – it’s going to be amazing.

With my own short stories, I had a good year.

I had a story reprinted in a Year’s Best for the first time: “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” in Heiresses of Russ 2013: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, edited by Steve Berman & Tenea D Johnson. The Publishers Weekly review of the anthology described my story as possessing a “stark ferocity”. The same story was translated into Bulgarian by Petar Toushkov and published in Сборище на трубадури. It can be read here. It also came in third place in the Strange Horizons readers’ poll for Best Story. It remains one of my favourite stories that I’ve ever written, so I’m pleased it got more readers in 2013.

Three new stories appeared online:

“Found”, about non-binary gender, spice trade and the deteriorating habitability of asteroids in another solar system, was in Clarkesworld Magazine. A reading group at NASA read the story, with an interest in the questions raised about asteroid habitation challenges and problems in our solar system. NASA. N A S A. A friend who works on the Cassini mission said very lovely things about the story. I remain awed that my science fiction has, in a small way, touched the people who work on the science I so admire.

“Singing like a Hundred Dug-up Bones”, about singing and memory on an island inspired by the Orkneys, was in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Lois Tilton called it “profoundly misandristic”. I remain LOL.

“Thin Slats of Metal, Painted”, about bird-people trapped on a shop’s shutters, was in Crossed Genres‘ Boundaries issue.

Five new stories appeared in print:

I published two Tuvicen stories, set in a far-future solar system among a cultural group of lower-tech people on a terraformed planet. (Incidentally, they’re set about 200 to 300 years after the events of “Found”). “Unwritten in Green” was in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, edited by Hannah Strom-Martin & Erin Underwood. “Under Falna’s Mask” was in The Other Half of the Sky, edited by Athena Andreadis & Kay Holt. I particularly enjoyed starting to develop the culture’s non-binary gender in “Under Falna’s Mask”, something I talked a bit about here and looked at in my poem “Tadi”, published this year in Strange Horizons, and will develop further in a planned novelette about Tadi and gender in a non-performative culture.

“Out They Come”, a fox story (vomiting up foxes! revenge!), was in Shimmer‘s Issue 17.

“Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead (572-571 BCE)”, another fox story (zombies! women corresponding and solving the zombie problem!) inspired by an Akkadian tablet about a fox falling into a well, was in Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages, edited by Steve Berman.

“Gerayis (or Gedayis)”, a wikipedia article about Tomyris’ grand-daughter, was in Missing Links and Secret Histories, edited by L Timmel Duchamp.

I had some new poems published too:

“Tadi” in Strange Horizons.

“Always Packing” in Through the Gate.

“The Bone Woman” in Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry, edited by Shira Lipkin & Michael D Thomas.

I also participated in an Exquisite Corpse with KJ Bishop, Sofia Samatar and Katie Lavers.

None of the poems published this year belong to the ongoing project of poetry about ancient and prehistoric archaeological finds, but I’ll have new poems in that project in Stone Telling, Strange Horizons and Mythic Delirium in 2014.

I’ll have new stories in Strange Horizons (a queer historical story that’s very important to me), Beneath Ceaseless Skies (a woman general in a desert, outdoing her world’s Alexander) and Gigantic Worlds, edited by Lincoln Michel, Nadxieli Nieto & Michael Barron (taxidermied foxes IN SPAAACE), as well as a reprint in new zine Lackington’s. News on more stories is hopefully to come.

I’m pleased with 2013. I hope to do even more (on the SFF front) in 2014.

Dec 12, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

10 Books That Influenced Me

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.


Out now!

"...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."

- Best Books of 2013

Short Stories