It’s June! It’s summer, my favourite season! I’ve been mired a bit too much in the less happy corners of my head lately, which I’d like to leave — as much as I can — by doing more, which includes trying to blog more. I share or talk about interesting things on Twitter a lot, but that need not only happen there. Of course, June optimism may end mid-June if I don’t get funding for a second Masters (to learn Classical Armenian, necessary for the PhD research I want to do), which I’ll (hopefully) hear about this month.
I’m going to start the easy way, with links.
Two of my stories are being reprinted in anthologies later this year. The first is “Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead (572-571 BCE)”, a very short piece about royal Babylonian women corresponding and fighting zombies, which will be reprinted in Zombies: More Recent Dead edited by Paula Guran.
Both title-links go to the Table of Contents.
My Post-Binary Gender in SF column continues at Tor.com. I recently hosted a roundtable, Languages of Gender, with Rose Lemberg, Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Bogi Takács; I found their responses excellent and strongly recommend the roundtable to anyone interested in the subject of gender in SF.
On a far less happy — but important — note, there are serious flaws in Wiscon’s handling of harassment at the convention. Saira Ali wrote a post about FJ Bergmann’s harassment of Rose Lemberg in 2012, which Rose reported in 2013 (and which I reported too, as a witness), and which has not yet led to consequences for FJ Bergmann; I have co-signed Saira’s post. I have since heard of a person who was harassed by Jim Frenkel in 2013, who reported this harassment, and was subsequently lied to about why Jim Frenkel was allowed to return to the con this year. Natalie Luhrs has the links. I am appalled.
This is an email I sent on 15 July 2013 in support of Rose Lemberg’s report about harassment by FJ Bergmann at Wiscon 2012. It is posted publicly with Rose’s permission, in support of this post, which I’ve co-signed.
Dear Wiscon Safety,
With Rose Lemberg’s approval, I am writing a formal report of the incident of FJ Bergmann harassing Rose at Wiscon in 2012, which I witnessed. Rose is copied into this email.
I was at the Moment of Change launch reading that Rose Lemberg hosted, and I heard the poem that FJ Bergmann read. It was an offensive, anti-feminist poem in its own right, nasty about the woman at the core of the poem (surely a very 101-level failure and inappropriate for a feminist, intersectional reading). But as FJ Bergmann read it, I kept hearing things that made me think it was aimed at Rose: the references to Russia (where Rose is from, and Rose has talked about this publicly multiple times in the years before Wiscon 2012), to birds (which feature prominently in Rose’s work), to Siberia (where Rose has lived, although this is not as widely known, but this has also featured in some of Rose’s work). I know there are other details that other audience members picked up on (anti-Semitism, PhD references, accent mockery – all relevant to Rose, who is a Jewish academic with an accent).
It left me with the distinct impression that the poem had been aimed at Rose, down to its minute details, and the nastiness directed at the woman of the poem was thus directed at Rose.
It made me feel very uncomfortable, so after the reading I spoke to several other friends who had been present – and I found that we had *all* felt very uncomfortable and were sure that it had been aimed at Rose: an active attack on her.
I do not think it possible that this was a misunderstanding. It was too specifically targeted at Rose, too nasty and hurtful.
In the interests of disclosure, I was friends with Rose prior to that Wiscon, as were some of the other people I spoke to, but I do not think that coloured our interpretations at all. (I was thinking “Surely this poem isn’t aimed at Rose… surely…” but by the end of the poem I was sure it was, and I afterwards found that everyone I spoke to agreed.)
It was upsetting to witness, and I know it has been deeply upsetting to Rose and still is, and I offer my support to Rose in this situation.
All the best,
Alex Dally MacFarlane
Last Friday I posted at (Hugo Award-nominated fanzine) Pornokitsch with a Friday Five: five fascinating maps. Maps are the best! I love writing about maps!
Mentioned in my bio are a few map-related stories I’ll have out this year.
One is in Phantasm Japan, a Haikasoru anthology edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, out in September. They recently announced the TOC, which includes my story “Inari Updates the Map of Rice Fields”. The title gives away the contents: Inari, maps, mapping of the world from “centre” to “edge”. At the “centre” is a rice map, which looks something like this 8th C CE example (the grid, annotated, with landscape details at its edges):
I read a couple of interesting articles from the free The History of Cartography when researching it late last year: Kazutaka Unno’s “Cartography in Japan” and Kazuhiko Miyajima’s “Japanese Celestial Cartography before the Meiji Period”. (It actually turned out to be relevant to my academic research, in that it provided useful knowledge of comparative mapping approaches elsewhere in the world.) I’m incredibly excited to be in Phantasm Japan. The TOC is a mixture of Japanese and non-Japanese writers, which has produced a different line-up to other anthologies. I look forward to reading it. I’m also excited to be working (in a small way) with Haikasoru, which is a fantastic imprint, publishing an ever-increasing body of Japanese SFF in English translation. If #WeNeedDiverseBooks crossed your twitter/tumblr/Facebook at the beginning of this month and you want to read more widely, head over to Haikasoru; the sheer range of what they publish ensures you’ll find at least one that interests you. There’s even a non-binary SF book!
Another story is in Upgraded, Neil Clarke’s cyborg anthology. “Coastline of the Stars” is about a missing artist of maps, Sermi Hu, whose work includes a tactile star map inspired by the tactile wooden maps of Ammassalik I mention in the Pornokitsch post. I want a tactile star map. (I want to write about Sermi Hu more, too.)
Then there’s Gigantic Worlds, which is out in the next couple of months; and Interfictions Online, which is a recent sale to the fall issue, which I’ll talk about later.
Last week my novelette “Women in Sandstone” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. A general crosses a desert of living winds to outdo her world’s Alexander the Great. It opens:
“Your mouth is hanging open like a bell,” the South-East Wind said. “I wonder, if the wind blows between your teeth, will you clang or chime?”
The general tore her gaze from the temple’s walls. The tall wine-dark plume on her silver helmet bobbed and swayed in the North Wind | I blow through it and it is like the grass near a battlefield: heavy with the smells of burning and blood and bones | and then it tilted as she removed the helmet, revealing her hair — long and black with white running through it like embroidery, fastened in four thick braids — and the extent of her dark, scarred face. “I wish to honor your great temple,” she said.
Other favourite details include the Alexander references. Here’s a guide:
(1) Kandros is obviously Alexander. Where the real Alexander died in Babylon, after returning from India when his army mutinied and insisted on returning west, Kandros went alone to the desert of the winds. After Alexander (and Kandros) died, the lands conquered fell into generations of war between the Successors. Berenike was a common name for royal women among the Successors of Alexander.
(2) Berenike’s breastplate is embossed with “a woman, heroically nude, stabbing a lion that reared on its hind legs” because a) heroic nudity is an artistic convention for men in ancient Greek cultures, and I liked the idea of a woman using that convention, b) Achaemenid Persian kings (the dynasty Alexander defeated in Persia) liked to depict themselves stabbing lions on their hind legs, like so, just as Assyrian kings did before them. There’s a lot of inheritance of kingship motifs in the Near East, in architecture, textual traditions, etc, which Alexander’s textual traditions participated in (and Alexander himself!) so Berenike, as a Successor to Kandros, would adopt kingship motifs to demonstrate her (intended) kingship.
(3) Berenike’s shield is “embossed with a map of the world’s mountains” because mountains are an important motif in the way the world is described in textual traditions about Alexander, which draw (I argue) from Near Eastern traditions in which mountains are also important. Mountains are at the edges of the world, where heroes journey, heroic/legendary acts occur and “inhuman” peoples live. A conqueror like Berenike would embrace this motif in her own narratives — would want to reach every mountain range and outdo her predecessors’ deeds there. See, later: “…the high mountains where people with partridge bodies were rumored to live…” The people with partridge bodies are from the Cuthean Legend about Naram-Sin, a descendant of Sargon, a real and legendary king of Akkad.
(4) Berenike’s coins are described as having thick curls of hair over her forehead, though her hair’s straight. The famous coins of Alexander minted by Lysimachus depict Alexander with thick, curly hair, which it stands to reason a Successor like Berenike (especially one, like Berenike, who is noticeably mixed race) would emulate.
(5) Berenike’s mother was Central Asian: an Amazon, a tradition of warrior women inspired by the real warrior women of Central Asian societies. The Amazons were said to have sent a delegation to Alexander, at a different point in his invasion to when they meet him in this story. The sea of grass is the steppe.
(6) Šammuramat (Š = ‘Sh’) is the name of the real royal Assyrian woman who may have been the model for Semiramis, who Alexander is said to have outdone in crossing the Gedrosian desert. (Semiramis and Alexander are interesting: they’re both exemplars for each other.) It’s convenient for Berenike that she has a good story (that happens to be true) about herself in the desert of Šammuramat.
(7) This simile: “…like one of a pair of snakes leading her across the desert.” When Alexander went to the temple at Siwa (in Egypt) to consult Zeus Ammon, he became lost in the desert, upon which two snakes appeared to lead him to the temple. This is told by Arrian, who is considered our ‘sober’, ‘factual’ source for Alexander’s campaigns.
(8) Roshanak is the name of Alexander’s Bactrian wife. It’s not impossible that she would have had contacts among the nomadic peoples of the steppe. Her life after Kandros’ death is a lot better than her life after Alexander’s.
I think that’s all. If anyone wants to know more, do ask!
I had a lot of fun mixing ancient history into a world that’s very fictional, too, with winds that “blow the winged women of the Aĝir people into the snowstorms where they test their strength” and see “a palimpsest of women, mother under daughter, granddaughter like a scarf around them both”.
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
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:
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.
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!
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 Tor.com 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!
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 (Tor.com)
“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”
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.
"...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