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Nov 11, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Secret Histories and real history

A few days before WFC, I went to a panel hosted by The Kitschies about Secret Histories, with Tim Powers, Kate Griffin and Lavie Tidhar speaking. It was a fun evening, well worth the slight slog on trains disrupted by the previous night’s storm. (I want to take a brief moment to note that the storm was called St Jude, after the patron saint of lost causes. Meanwhile, the Scots named their storm last year Hurricane Bawbag. The English: “fancy way of expressing our misery”, the Scots: “aw, balls”. I like this island.) Errant branches and heavy rain conquered, I secured a chair and listened to the conversation.

There was plenty of discussion about historical research methods, the interest in alternate/secret histories, the fun in making the “secret” parts of history (ie: created) seem real, and so on.

My favourite remark came from Lavie Tidhar, who raised the point that a lot of real history is “secret” for a variety of reasons, and that rather than create history, he’d rather make real history more real. An unexpected example is that, when researching Hitler, he discovered that Hitler had received manuscript rejections when submitting Mein Kampf. It’s the kind of fact that you don’t really know what to with it! (Well, if you’re Lavie, you do: you write about it.) History is far weirder than fiction, a lot of the time. Far vaster, too.

There are many parts of history that remain widely unknown and that would make an excellent basis of a story or poem or novel, which has been my driving interest when writing historical fiction. (Fittingly, I’m currently using NaNoWriMo as an incentive to rewrite the 19thC Turkmen YA novel – and it’s working! In a week I’ve edited 15,000 words, which is about a quarter of the novel.) It’s not that I’m opposed to the alternate/secret history approach, but that I’m far more interested in historical fiction that attempts to tackle the question of “real” history. This is usually very difficult, given the limitations of surviving sources. Nicola Griffith’s new novel Hild, out tomorrow, and which I highly recommend, fills in many gaps around the figure of Hild. (It’s brilliant women-centric historical fiction. I loved it.) When I write about the relationship between people and foxes about 16,500 years ago, I have only burial remains to go on. When I write about 19thC Turkmen women, the closest I can get to their voices is a book of translations of slightly later written recordings of their folksongs.

Talking about the “real” in history is incredibly difficult, and there are many possible ways for historical fiction to approach the “real”. All we can ever do is give a voice to the past – giving, rather than receiving – as I’ve discussed before and done in poetry and prose. My interest in how we do this continues to grow.

Anyway, it was a good panel, and having really enjoyed Lavie Tidhar’s historical-inspired story “Dark Continents” in the excellent post-colonial SFF anthology We See A Different Frontier – as well as what he said on the panel – I’m now very curious about his new novel The Violent Century and how approaches the “real”. And how other writers do it. (Nicola Griffith’s Hild. I can’t recommend it enough.)

Nov 4, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

World Fantasy Con 2013

I was at WFC 2013 this weekend and had a fantastic time, in spite of rather than because of the con program. The panel descriptions were laughably basic: Style vs story? Should YA books have sex and other naughty things in them? Ebooks are rather new aren’t they? Women write fantasy?? I assume that some panellists ignored the descriptions and had worthwhile discussions, but I couldn’t be bothered finding out the hard way which ones didn’t. I did go to a few readings: Delia Sherman, Genevieve Valentine and Rochita Roenen-Ruiz. All were delightful, especially Genevieve’s story of bugs and tattoos and a sister lost in the desert. I can’t wait to read the rest when it’s on next April.

I spent the rest of my time talking to friends and good people, too many to name. Lots of good food too (I particularly recommend Street Thai omgyes).

And there were books!


Five free, four purchased. I also got the China Miéville chapbook, which I forgot to add to the small book tower, and a sampler for Sarah Lotz’s The Three.

I’m really looking forward to reading Shimon Adaf’s Sunburnt Faces after getting the chance to talk to him at WFC (and if you missed me mentioning it last week, I do recommend his conversation with Lavie Tidhar at Strange Horizons), as well as Jonathan Oliver’s pleasingly diverse anthology End of the Road.

Then there was the art room, which had some of the usual titties-and-spaceships of convention art rooms, but also had an art installation by Tessa Farmer that was just stunning. Bees hanging on see-through wire, tiny ant-human skeletons riding them, riding seahorses, riding a lizard-skin, climbing over bone-shell-wing-conglomerates and brandishing seeds. All hanging. Moving with the breath of its viewers. I went back to it several times. I showed it to Tessa Kum, who has shared this photo of it, which is just a small glimpse of its wonder. I remain in awe.

I was also very pleased by the number of people excited by my anthology projects: people who enjoyed Aliens: Recent Encounters and people looking forward to The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, which will be out in late 2014 (and is currently open to reprint submissions). It’s really satisfying to know that people enjoy my work!

In conclusion: some terrible (wheelchair-inaccessible registration and poor-looking accessibility to program areas should not be happening, especially after so many years of people talking about accessibility needs) and baffling (the program itself) choices made by the con’s organisers, but a great con for me because so many friends were there.

Oct 30, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Lackington’s Magazine

I’m very pleased to say that my story “An Orange Tree Framed Your Body”, originally published in Sybil’s Garage 7 in 2010, will be reprinted in the debut issue of the new semiprozine Lackington’s Magazine early next year.

Lackington’s describes itself as:

“This place where prose does more than get the job done. Where it shakes out its feathers or tries on outrageous costumes. Where it recalls tradition or flouts it completely. Where it’s a character in its own right. Where it expands its chest and breathes. This place, where prose itself speculates, is here.”

Needless to say, this is my kind of zine. I really look forward to reading the rest of the debut issue next year, as well as sharing my story “An Orange Tree Framed Your Body” with a wider online audience. I remain very fond of it. (Oranges! Clones! Depression!)

They’re currently open to submissions for the second issue. They also take donations from those with spare cash who want to support beautiful speculative fiction.

Oct 29, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Poetry in SF

There’s a really interesting conversation between Lavie Tidhar and Shimon Adaf on Strange Horizons this week. It covers a lot of subjects – Israeli fiction, publishing, the relationship between biography and fiction, the relationship between speculative fiction and poetry. The latter is what most fascinated me, personally, and I’d like to quote one or two bits on that (though I do recommend reading it all):

Shimon Adaf: For me the affinity between speculative writing and poetry is a fact of writing. And I think that for you as well. You also started by writing poetry, in Hebrew, and you integrate poetry into your novels, mainly using the heteronym Lior Tirosh. How do you see the connection between these two modes of expression?

Lavie Tidhar: That’s true! For me, poetry was a revelation, that you can do things with words in a way I never thought you could. … In a way, when I look at my early Hebrew poetry, I think I’ve lost that part of me. They’re expansive, they’re not fully controlled, but the poems feel fresh to me still, they come from a place I may have lost. These days I mostly work poems into the novels and short stories, knowing no one is ever really going to make much of a reference to them.

Shimon Adaf: … I mean, for me, it started by trying to write kind of sci-fi poems. I was influenced by Samuel R. Delany’s work back then. I love the way he is able to fuse the epic spirit of poetry and the lyrical one in his work. I think that SF/F literature can serve as the true heir of the epic form of poetry in our era. But I can never forget the lyrical aspect that has to do with basic expression of the self, emotion, and experience. So I’m trying to marry the two in fiction through merging genres: injecting the fantastic into my autobiography and following where it leads, or vice versa, starting with my autobiography and letting it open to the encounter with the fantastic.

This is a good moment to link to Lavie’s own story “The Long Road to the Deep North”, also in Strange Horizons (and one of my favourites of the stories I’ve read this year), a science fiction story which contains poetry in Bislama. It’s integral to the story: to the very personal approach taken by the story, and to the future it posits, one in which many more voices are heard than in most SF.

Another science fiction story with poetry is the novel Always Coming Home by Ursula K Le Guin, which is full of poetry (and screenplays, and tales, and fiction, all contextualising the narrative of the woman Stone Telling) and which I love. There’s also Eleanor Arnason’s story “Knapsack Poems”, which I reprinted in Aliens: Recent Encounters, and Aliette de Bodard’s excellent “Scattered Along the River of Heaven”.

This makes me think of something I said at Stone Telling about poetry last year: “I like the poetic potential for voice — for direct speech or song. Due to the length I tend to work with in poetry (much shorter than my prose), it can be a very precise, very pointed voice, a direct statement or exclamation or confrontation. There’s no reason that prose can’t be or contain this too, but for me, poetry is a way to whittle down to this direct voice, to make it the only thing — to amplify it by way of having nothing else around it. To make it loud and impossible to ignore.”

The poems in Tidhar’s, Le Guin’s, Arnason’s and de Bodard’s works are not standing alone the way a poem published on its own page is, but in their contexts they speak, they are voices reaching out from the text. There’s a quiet, personal power there, and I wonder if that’s a power of poetry that’s been lost in English-language speculative literature in the fantasy pastiches of Tolkien’s poetry. There is more to poetry than terrible rhymes about elves! I would like to see more of it in all types of speculative literature: poetry as voice, speaking out from the text. I would certainly read it.

Oct 21, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

CALL FOR REPRINT SUBMISSIONS: Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women

Announcing an open call for reprint submissions for my next anthology, The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, to be published in late 2014 by Running Press (USA/Canada) and Constable & Robinson (UK). Its bite-size summary: “an anthology of powerful, important science fiction stories by women, showcasing the unforgettable contributions made to the genre in recent decades.”


Genre: Science fiction.
Word count: Up to 10,000 words.
Publication history: Must be previously published, from around 1980 onwards, and available for reprint in late 2014.
Multiple submissions: Up to 3 stories.
Payment: 2c/word (USD) on publication in late 2014, plus contributor copies.
Deadline: 30 November 2013. I will respond by the end of January 2014.
Submit to: alexmacfarlane [at] gmail [dot] com — put MAMMOTH WOMEN in the subject line.
Important: I am only interested in stories written by women.


I take a very broad definition of ‘science fiction’. If you feel that your work is at the boundary between science fiction and literary/historical/fantasy/other genres, please send it to me. (If you know that your work is, say, a secondary world fantasy about elves or a contemporary fantasy about vampires, please don’t waste my time.)

I want the anthology to encompass the full range of the world’s women, in the authors and in their stories. I welcome submissions from all women: women of all cultural and linguistic backgrounds, women of all countries, women of all religions, women of all sexualities, trans and cis and genderfluid women, women of all abilities, women of all classes.

Stories do not require a specifically feminist or female-centric approach. I am simply interested in excellent science fiction written by women. However, stories that contain sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, cissexist, ableist and other -ist/hateful/hurtful elements that go unquestioned by the narrative will not be accepted.

Some particular areas of interest:
– the role of women in science in the past, present and future around the world (eg: Sofia Samatar’s “Girl Hours”)
– gender that goes beyond the binary
– futures rooted in the cultural breadth of the present
– science, space, wonder
– large stakes/scope, personal stories, everything in-between
– beautiful prose, non-linear and experimental narratives

This is not a conclusive list. If you have a science fiction story that does completely different things, please send it to me. Surprise me. Delight me. I want the anthology to encompass a wide range of approaches to and interpretations of the genre.

Stories need not be in SFWA “pro” markets. Authors need not be widely published. I intend to include major authors and authors who should be major. That could be you. Please send me your work.

It does not matter if the story is still available online.


I also welcome recommendations. Got favourite SF stories by women that you think I must read? Please let me know. If you’re able to provide a link to the story, even better.

Editors and publishers, I would love to read your authors’ stories. If you’re able to provide an epub/mobi/PDF of your anthologies/collections/magazines, I would be delighted to read them. I’m happy to look at print copies too.

Please put MAMMOTH WOMEN in the subject line of all emails, whether submissions, recommendations or queries. Thank you!

Oct 9, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Bristolcon 2013

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.

Oct 1, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Families in SF

Today I can also be found guest-posting on Liz Bourke’s Sleeps With Monsters column at Writing Families in the Future.

It’s about families in science fiction: how narrowly normative they are, how there are some (very few) awesome examples of variety, how I would like that variety to replace the norm.

Go read! Then go create more families in the future!

Oct 1, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

“Out They Come”


The new issue of Shimmer is here, with my story “Out They Come” in it!

It’s a story about anger and vomiting up foxes. I talked a little more about its origins in this interview with Shimmer, where I mention the image that inspired it:


A marginalia in a medieval manuscript, which I found here. It demanded a story. Indeed, it demanded two. If you want to read another story about vomiting foxes, read its sister-story, Brooke Bolander’s “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring”: gestated by the same marginalia, but afterwards gone in different directions.

To buy the new issue of Shimmer in print or ebook, and read short snippets of all the stories, click click. My snippet is as follows:

She speaks so little, out they come: foxes. One after the other, falling like russet tears. They land on all fours and shake the saliva from their fur and bare their teeth, sharper than knives. She wants to say to the village, “I’m not sorry, I hate you all, you deserve this.”

They are her strength, come to fight.

Sep 19, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

oh, I love to hear those conkers fall

A good A Softer World today:


It reminds of two of my favourite tumblrs: and

Everyone needs terrible houses in their life. (The bonus is that sometimes the Belgian houses are actually pretty cool. Then there’s this.)

Sep 16, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane


I went into London today to submit my MA thesis.

Then I celebrated with a friend at a great place on the Strand where I had white port and tapas.



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