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Jun 6, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Aliens! in bookstores!

Ahead of its official release date later this month (17 June is the date on the publisher’s website), print copies of my anthology Aliens: Recent Encounters have been sighted in the wild. Look! Look what I saw!

Aliens

I may have held it for a while. (I assume this is pretty normal for anyone who finds their book in a bookstore. In this case, Barnes & Noble in Dallas. I may spend the rest of my US trip looking in bookstores for it. Faint whispers of “My precioussss” from SFF aisles.)

You can already order print copies from Book Depository and the other usual online places, as well as any bookstore that’s got it out on the shelves already. A decent number of Prime Books anthologies wind up in the UK, so keep an eye on Waterstones and Forbidden Planet! You can, of course, request that they order a copy if you can’t find one. There will be e-books available from Weightless Books, Kindle, etc, but they tend to come out on time rather than early.

A reminder of the Table of Contents, which contains awesome authors like Ursula K Le Guin, Catherynne M Valente, Nancy Kress, Genevieve Valentine, Ken Liu, Yoon Ha Lee, Zen Cho, Lavie Tidhar, Vandana Singh, Sonya Taaffe and many many more.

All sales, reviews, word-of-mouth spread are hugely appreciated. The more this anthology sells, the more chance I have of getting to edit anthologies on a regular basis. (Of course, I already have the The Mammoth Book of SF by Women gig, which remains hugely exciting, but I’d love to do even more than these two. I have plans and dreams for future anthologies.)

Today I’m over at SF Signal being interviewed about the anthology and my own writing. There’s another interview about the anthology to come elsewhere, and if anyone else wants to interview me, I would love that.

On the subject of my own fiction, I’m also on Book Smugglers, in a roundtable about SF and gender with several other authors talking about our stories in the anthology The Other Half of the Sky. Check it out!

Now I need to get back to my final MA essays, which are hard to concentrate on when I keep thinking about how my anthology is on shelves! where people can buy it! and hopefully are!

May 19, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

gold anklebone cups

Poetry-friends, a question: have any of you published (or read) poetry about Sappho? I am writing an essay for my MA about Sappho and sexuality and personal reception, and am interested in other people’s writing about her. I already know Sonya Taaffe’s “Ψάπφοι Σελάννα” and several blog posts about Sappho, and Cat Valente’s translation years ago in Xelas Magazine, but what else is there?

(It is Sappho who makes me wish I read Greek. My languages are Akkadian and Sumerian; I want to continue with Akkadian this autumn, and the next on my list may be Classical Armenian, because it would open up under-studied aspects of the Alexander Romance, which is what I want to write a PhD on, eventually. Starting in autumn of 2014, I hope. So I am re-reading Sappho via Anne Carson, whose edition is beautiful; even in translation, Sappho’s words are wondrous.)

In gratitude for any poems you can give, and because I want to share this, a grave inscription by Nossis (whose wikipedia page yielded a book I want: Rabinowitz & Auanger, eds. Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World):

Stranger, if you sail to the land of lovely dances, Mytilene,
To catch fire from the blossom of Sappho’s graces,
Say that a friend to her and the Muses, this Locrian land
Bore me. And knowing my name is Nossis, go on!

May 16, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

oh oh rise up, rise up, rise up now from the earth

Today sees the publication of my story “Singing like a Hundred Dug-up Bones” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It is also available in audio format, read by Folly Blaine, for those of you who enjoy such things. It’s about ghosts, singing and archaeology on a remote island.

The island is inspired by the Orkneys. Here is the heather (although here it is in flower, in early autumn, not frost-got and flowerless in the early spring of the story):

heather

It is said of the Orkneys that you have only to take a trowel to the soil and you’ll find archaeology. The people living there thousands of years ago – up to five thousand years ago – have left plenty behind. When I visited last year, I went from site to site (with a lot of walking in-between, over 10 miles a day on some islands): from the iconic Maes Howe and Skara Brae to the possibly-unique Dwarfie Stane to a chambered tomb in the car park of a café, still being excavated by an archaeologist slightly possessive of it, where I crouched in the puddle-filled narrow corridor-chamber and he pointed to the side-chambers still stacked full of bones and soil and otter excrement. It is not one person per side-chamber but an accretion over years, body upon body, by now a mass of bones to be interpreted, under these mounds that dot the Orkney landscape just as they do Knowe’s island.

mound

That interpretation is one thing I am perpetually fascinated by in archaeology and history, as my poem “Thousands of Years Ago, I Made This String Skirt” attests (and another poem currently out on submission, and another story likewise). Of course, “Singing like a Hundred Dug-up Bones” cheats: there are ghosts to tell (or sing) their stories, bridging the centuries-long gap. Knowe can hear their voices directly. In a post written while I was writing an earlier draft of this story, I said of Patrick Wolf’s “Damaris”: “And yet again I find myself drawn to the stories of women that would otherwise be lost if not for a drawing out, an act of art that brings them back into wider memory.” The fun of fiction is that I can make stories – and the ghosts to tell them – where the bones in our world are nearly silent.

Knowe’s world, although inspired by ours, doesn’t completely match it. Knowe lives at a time not many centuries before ours, perhaps the 18th or early 19th Century CE. (Knowe’s name is a nickname, meaning ‘hill’, in the mostly-English now spoken in the Orkneys. I owe that name, some mentions of myth and the song Knowe sings in the mound to The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland by Ernest Marwick.) The mound she’s excavating is in the style of Maes Howe: a tunnel into a central chamber, from which you can access the small side-chambers where the bones of the dead were placed. Mounds such as Maes Howe are 5000 years old, yet the gap between Knowe and the mounds’ inhabitants can be measured in hundreds of years, not thousands. The mounds’ inhabitants – the ghosts – have Pictish names, taken in pieces from a list of kings’ names (Uuirp became Uuir, Gurum became Gur, Gurnait and Tolorg became Tolnait; others, like Tolorg, Aniel, Manath, stayed unchanged) – men’s names, but those are the ones largely attested, and google turned up a blog post (citing a piece in British Archaeology) about the possibility of Pictish women’s names being very similar to the men’s, distinguished only in writing by a symbol at the end. Taking that suggestion, I carved the women’s names from the men’s.

It is our world, askance.

It is Knowe’s own past, Knowe’s own heritage; but, though I know of no ancestors who lived in the Orkneys, it’s the closest I’ve yet come to writing about my own heritage (although, note, Scotland and the Orkneys are not the same; my cattle-thieving MacFarlanes were of a different place; in case there’s any confusion, the Mainland of the story is the main island, not Scotland). It’s written in my English, because that’s the only one I know; but if I’d lived in Scotland, I’d know Scots, which is not what the people of the Orkneys speak. (I say it’s written in my English, but of course the spelling was changed to American, sigh.) It’s remote. At the same time, it’s not so very. At the same time, it is.

It is also about singing, for which I owe a great deal of gratitude to Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman for leading a singing circle at Wiscon last year (how appropriate that this story is published just before this year’s Wiscon), as well as everyone who joined in, Liz Argall, Rose Lemberg and more, without whom this story would never have been written. Thank you. Perhaps the people who lived in these old houses (Skara Brae) by the sea would have sung similarly.

skara-brae-sea

skara-brae

It seems relevant to note, in a story about singing, that the songs I listened to while writing it were Loreena McKennitt’s “Standing Stones” and “Ancient Pines”, and Patrick Wolf’s “Damaris”, “Thickets” and “This Weather”. (For all their prevalence in the Orkneys, there are no standing stones in this story. Perhaps in another.)

And now I kiss
I kiss the earth

Oh oh rise up, rise up, rise up now from the earth

And I smashed my fist
Into the earth

Oh oh rise up, rise up, rise up now from the earth

May 13, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Questions

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.

May 13, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Wiscon schedule

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?

May 1, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

The market is always packing: / the paint peels, ready to go

Today I have a poem, “Always Packing”, in the new issue of Through the Gate. I wrote it after visiting Izmaylovo Market in Moscow, which felt like a fairytale market: not just because of the buildings you can see in those pictures, but because even in the morning it was already being packed up, as if about to be carried away on the autumn wind, yet another day it was still there, still packing.

I also realised recently that my poem “Most Beautiful in Death”, published last year in The Cascadia Subduction Zone and print-only for a while, can now be downloaded on their back issues page. The issue to download is Vol. 2 No. 3, Jul. 2012 (PDF download of the whole issue), although you might want to peruse their other issues for even more poetry, reviews, essays.

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

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."

- io9.com Best Books of 2013

Short Stories