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Apr 23, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

The Other Half of the Sky

The Other Half of the Sky is here!

It’s an anthology of science fiction stories with female protagonists, and this quote from the anthology description remains one of my favourite things, capturing the scope of roles not always given to women no matter how far into the future writers look:

As one of the women in Tiptree’s “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” says: “We sing a lot. Adventure songs, work songs, mothering songs, mood songs, trouble songs, joke songs, love songs – everything.” Everything.

It contains my novelette “Under Falna’s Mask”, in which a young woman, Mar-teri, has recently taken charge of her group and must lead them to safety in a time when the danger from people on the other side of the planet is growing – navigating the legacy of violent retaliation left by the Falna of my poem “Sung Around Alsar-Scented Fires”.

I plan to write more in this setting – I’ve had another poem, “Tadi”, published in Strange Horizons this year, which I never did blog about because it’s such a personal poem that I’m not always comfortable with it being published, but here you are, and I’ve had a story, “Unwritten in Green”, published in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, edited by Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood (and was recently told that Rich Horton put “Unwritten in Green” on his recommended reading list in the latest issue of Locus!), and when I have time (haha) I have a novella of intersecting stories planned… There is a lot to be written here. I hope that readers enjoy “Under Falna’s Mask”.

Other writers in The Other Half of the Sky include Aliette de Bodard, Vandana Singh, Nisi Shawl, Martha Wells, Ken Liu and more! You can find out more here and buy it in print or ebook directly from the publisher. Anyone who buys the print edition from the publisher will get the ebook as well. Readers based outside the US will probably want to turn to the Book Depository or elsewhere for print copies with more favourable shipping rates.

The Other Half of the Sky has received many positive reviews already, my favourite being the Library Journal review, which concludes with: “Fearless writing and a broad selection of topics makes this a good choice for fans of women-centered sf and excellent storytelling.” Fearless writing!

Apr 9, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

“They”

Here’s something I come across a lot: refusal to see “they” as a singular personal pronoun. It seems to primarily be a US English problem. I grew up using “they” where you could also use “he/she” or “he or she”, for example: “This author is great! I really like the way they use surreal imagery.” I later learned that some genderqueer and non-binary-gendered people use “they” as their personal pronoun of choice, because neither “he” nor “she” fit, and they like “they” more than Spivak pronouns or any of the many others that have been proposed.

The resistance this gets!

Every time I tweet about these uses of “they” (and please do note: these are two separate ways to use “they”), I will get several people telling me that singular usage is grammatically incorrect as if this is universally so (or even relevant) or that they find it weird or or or —

I want to focus on “they” as a singular personal pronoun of choice for those who are genderqueer and non-binary.

I want people to think about what they’re saying when they complain this isn’t grammatically correct or it just doesn’t sound right to them.

This is erasure: telling someone their pronoun isn’t correct, telling someone their pronoun is strange — and, by extension, their identity. The dictionary is not a neutral resource. Stop using it to tell someone the way they identify is wrong. Stop making someone’s usage of the word “they” all about your discomfort with a word-usage you’re not familiar with. I understand that not everyone grew up with the more flexible “they” I did, but now you know that people use it to refer to themselves, why are you still talking about your discomfort? Even if you’re not talking to a genderqueer person, if you’re just telling this to a cis person (or a person you think is cis), stop doing this. Stop.

I can show you the impact this has, the erasure, the not-seeing it leads to. Here’s just one example, in two reviews of a story: “Annex” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (a new writer whose work I have been really enjoying, with this story no exception). The protagonist is non-binary-gendered, as revealed in the opening lines of the story:

On the eve of Samutthewi’s entry into the Costeya Hegemony, Esithu was sloughing off the shell of their birth-body. There would be speculation afterward what Esithu was born as—someone’s son, someone’s daughter? To that Esithu would always say, “I was born as I am now,” which became a stretch after Esithu obtained a second then a third body. A hardware upgrade, they liked to say. You can never have too many.

I love this. A non-binary person who can change their body multiple times. It reminds me of Tori Truslow’s poem “Terrunform” in Stone Telling, specifically these lines:

It wasn’t new Earth we wanted, but to be
double-mooned, double-dreamed, multiformed in
mix-matched parts; to put our bodies on
each day, in shapes to fit our hearts

How wonderful to be able to easily and often modify our bodies! How wonderful to read a story like “Annex”, imagining a future where this is possible. (Of course, it is not a stretch that Esithu was born as they are now — but I think here Sriduangkaew is representing perception.) Esithu’s gender is not even the point of the story: this is simply a future in which non-binary people exist (although it seems there is still some resistance to the idea, but that could be born of authorial necessity to get their gender across).

Here are excerpts from two reviews of “Annex”.

Carl V. Anderson at SF Signal: “Two alien entities wage a surreal battle to save an alien world from absorption by powerful hegemony … A multiple-entity known as Esithu …”

Lois Tilton at Locus: “Unfortunately, the author has chosen to distract readers with a lot of unoriginal Lookit! We’re in the Future! stuff that I find more irritating than interesting, especially Esithu’s plural pronouns.”

A person using “they” as their pronoun is an ALIEN, is IRRITATING and UNORIGINAL. I can’t actually decide which of these reviews makes me more angry!

This is what happens when people aren’t comfortable with “they” as a singular personal pronoun, when people don’t use it, when people tell others it’s strange and incorrect. Non-use and non-seeing. Erasure.

Stop doing this.

Apr 7, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Exquisite Corpse

A little while ago, Sofia Samatar interviewed KJ Bishop. At the end of that conversation, Sofia suggested that she and KJ and two other people create an exquisite corpse, a surrealistic collaborative poem. Two volunteers were called for. I was one of them, Katie Lavers the other. Between the four of us, we created this:

Wet hands grasp stormy feathers.
Neon-yellow stutters against a crow-black sky.
The tapestry-tailed fox touches the filagree firmament
and a dead dove plucks its guitar in the frosty arbor.

A great secret will drown a small heart.
“Sing me a song, bad boy,” she said. “See my hands still have blood on them.”
Crow feathers fall bundled like hail.
At the opera, suddenly, towers of burning coal.

I think it’s amazing. Its lines resonate with each other, forming a whole, yet it is a pleasingly strange one. (I think one of those lines is quite obviously mine, but the others could be anyone’s! They could belong to the crows.)

Apr 3, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

that town will try to suck you dry

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

Mar 27, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

reach up and hold their tails, pull up and out of here

I was supposed to be looking for references to doors in a database of Sumerian literature, but then I realised I could search for “fox”!

I rather like this curse, in the cursing of Agade: “May foxes that frequent ruin mounds brush with their tails your uzga precinct, established for purification ceremonies!”

And in Sumerian proverbs, there are many foxes:

“The fox lies (?) even to Enlil.”

“The fox’s door-bolt is a wooden beam.”

“A lion having fallen into a trap, a fox came up to him and said: “I’ll take your sandals home to the other side for you!”"

“The fox’s tail is heavy: it carries a harrow.”

Then there’s a quite fanciful one: “To the wolf vegetable, to the fox-grape (?) vegetable, to the lion plant, to the …… plant, to the dog’s-tongue plant, to the property plant, to the shouting plant, the lion roars out: “These have no names.” The fool’s lot was created by Utu.”

I want a fox-grape. The wine would have teeth.

Mar 23, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Heiresses of Russ 2013

Steve Berman has announced the table of contents for Heiresses of Russ 2013, co-edited with Tenea D Johnson, collecting the best lesbian science fiction and fantasy stories published last year. It contains my “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints”, from Strange Horizons (which recently placed third for Best Story in the Strange Horizons readers’ poll!). Here is all of it, in alphabetical order by surname:

“Harrowing Emily” by Megan Arkenberg
“Reality Girl” by Richard Bowes
“The Witch Sea” by Sara Diemer
“Saint Louis 1990” by Jewelle Gomez
“Narrative Only” by Kate Harrad
“Nightfall in the Scent Garden” by Claire Humphrey
“Only Then can I Sleep” by Tenea D. Johnson
“Elm” by Jamie Killen
“Beneath Impossible Circumstances” by Andrea Kneeland
“One True Love” by Malinda Lo
“Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“Winter Scheming” by Brit Mandelo
“Nine Days Seven Tears” by JL Merrow
“Oracle Gretel” by Julia Rios
“Otherwise” by Nisi Shawl
“Chang’e Dashes from the Moon” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Astrophilia” by Carrie Vaughn
“Barnstormers” by Wendy Wagner

I’m really looking forward to reading this.

One of the pleasures of reading JoSelle Vanderhooft’s lesbian steampunk anthologies Steam-Powered 1 & 2 was the fact that relationships between queer women were normalised. Every story contained them. They varied in tone – some light-hearted fun, some serious, some quite dark – but it meant that whenever something unpleasant happened to lesbians, it was not to the only lesbian in the entire anthology. It did not feel like Dead Lesbian Syndrome (or the alternative where they don’t die, but everything is horrendous and tragic), just one of many stories about lesbians in which different things happen. Anthologies like Steam-Powered 1 & 2 and the Heiresses of Russ series are the still-rare places where queer women can exist in multitudes.

So I’m really happy to be included in this anthology – and especially with “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints”, which is my favourite of the stories I’ve had published so far.

Feb 20, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Sunshine, the Thames, abandoned structures

The Thames is beautiful in the sun, which was so low that walking into it was half-blinding, turning everything golden-orange. I will never stop appreciating that I currently live a 10 minute walk from the river. One of my favourite walks takes me past an abandoned building and, right by it, an odd structure out in the river:

I have no idea what that is. (My phone’s camera, meanwhile, has no idea how to cope with low sunlight. The entire sky was, as the other photos show, a wonderful blue. Poking blurrily over the top of those riverfront buildings is the city centre, including the Gherkin and one of the many, many cranes. London is full of construction right now.)

The abandoned building I like is on a bit of the bank that juts out:

I climbed a bit of fence (not the orange fence, which is tall and spiked and beyond which is a CCTV camera, but a lower fence) to get a closer look. I love the detail on the windows. I have no idea what this building is either. Nothing else around it is abandoned; there’s a block of flats overlooking it, which would be a wonderful view for anyone who likes interesting abandoned buildings (and, I guess, the view of the city centre beyond it).

I assume that with a bit of poking around online (especially with those initials in the windows) I could find out the building’s now-lost purpose, but I quite like the mystery.

Feb 13, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Omens! Fetuses! Hearts!

I continue to have my life eaten by essays and slow progress on the story still affectionately known as “spices IN SPAAACE” (I think it will actually be called “Found”), but! There is amusement to be found in hours of work! Because this weekend I was reading about 3rd millennium BCE omen texts for extispicy and they are HILARIOUS.

Firstly: “If, as for the gall bladder, its nose is like a lizard, it is a symbol of Sargon.”

And then: “If the fetus is like a lion, it is an omen of Naram-Sin, who subdued the world.”

I assume these are sheep fetuses, as the other animal parts are from sheep. I prefer to imagine the next one is a human fetus, though.

“If the fetus has lion’s hair on the right side of its shoulder, it is an omen of Sargon.”

AND THEN IT GETS EVEN BETTER.

“If the heart is like a scrotum, it is an omen of Rimus whom his servants killed with their tablets.”

SCROTUM-HEARTS. MANE-SHOULDERED FETUSES. This is why I study ancient history.

Feb 12, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Stories eligible for awards

The Nebula Award nomination deadline is close and the Hugo Award one isn’t far off, which means I need to decide what I’m nominating – and, for those of you who are also deciding, I thought I would offer up some of my own work for your consideration! They’re all in the short story category.

“Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” in Strange Horizons – I think this is one of the best stories I’ve ever written, if not the best (so far). Bogi Takács agrees!

“The 17th Contest of Body Artistry” in Expanded Horizons – This one’s been surprisingly popular! K Tempest Bradford included it in her favourite stories of 2012, and Benjamin Gabriel did the same in the Strange Horizons 2012 round-up. I also found out yesterday that Polenth Blake plans to nominate it for the Nebulas!

“Fox Bones. Many Uses.” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – More foxes!

“Numismatics in the Reigns of Naranh and Viu” in The Mammoth Book of Steampunk – Lots of coins! (I’m happy to send people a copy of this story if they want to read it.)

Feb 4, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Editing news that requires CAPSLOCK OF GREAT JOY

Huge news:

I WILL BE EDITING THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF SF STORIES BY WOMEN.

Yes. That Mammoth Book anthology series, that massive anthology series. I will be editing an anthology for them. I’M SO EXCITED.

It will be a collection of powerful, important science fiction stories by women, showcasing the unforgettable contributions we have made to the genre in recent decades. It will contain a wide range of women’s voices. It will be released in 2014. It will be AMAZING.

I will do a more serious post about submission windows soon (short version: definitely want to do an open call for reprints later this year, not sure yet about originals) but for now I am full of AHHHHHHHHHHHH and CAPSLOCK and huge gratitude that I have been given this opportunity.

SO EXCITED.

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