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Nov 26, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Šerua-eṭirat writes to Libbali-šarrat

As the sparcity of posts has probably indicated, the MA is eating a huge amount of my time – it’s delightful, it’s making me so happy, it’s also a bit like this.

But! I found something cool today that I want to share.

I’m reading an article about the education of Assyrian princes (7th C BCE), when all of a sudden it quotes a letter from Šerua-eṭirat (eldest daughter of Esarhaddon, the king) to Libbali-šarrat (wife of Assurbanipal, crown prince of Esarhaddon at this time, later king):

Why don’t you write your tablets and recite your exercise, or people will say ‘Is this the sister of Šerua-eṭirat, the eldest daughter of the succession palace of Aššur-etelilani-mukinni, the great king, the legitimate king, king of the world, king of Assyria?’ And you are a daughter-in-law, the lady of the house of Assurbanipal, the great crown prince of the House of Succession of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria.

I love finding women in history. Here is proof of the princesses’ literacy. Here is a conversation between two women, where one admonishes the other for not studying hard enough. Here is evidence of women’s lives for a change.

It also makes me think of all those fantasy novels set in a secondary world where women are nothing more than walking vaginas, illiterate and possessing no skills of “worth” (on which note, please read this post from Kate Elliott on why her character Cat sews: because it is practical, because it is important to survival, because it is a communal activity among women, because sewing has a place in a secondary world adventure, because it is not remotely worthless). Here we have Assyrian royal woman – of course, the most privileged in their society – existing in a very male-dominated society and living lives not wholly revolving around men. (You will find that even less privileged women’s lives did not revolve around men. Gasp!) Here we have written fucking proof of some women’s skills.

It makes me hate shitty male fantasy writers even more for their wet dreams of worlds where women do nothing at all.

Nov 1, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

her Sapphic conversations

One of things I’ve read for the MA this week is a terrible book about Alexander’s Successors that was supposed to be a light, straightforward introduction to the chronology, as I want to write an essay about post-Alexander coinage issued by women, but turned out to be full of ridiculous statements that would make a fine drinking game (Robin Waterfield, Dividing the Spoils, 2011 – for the one or two of you who might actually want to know – drink whenever the words ‘megalomaniac’ or ‘purges’ are used!) but I did make a few notes from it, mostly things that had very little to do with the subject matter. I particularly liked this commemorative epigram, quoted as part of an aside:

All Nicomache’s favourite things, her trinkets and her Sapphic
conversations with the other girls beside the shuttle at dawn
fate took away prematurely. The city of the Argives
cried aloud in lament for that poor maiden,
a young shoot reared in Hera’s arms. Cold, alas, remain
the beds of the youths who courted her.

(Posidippus 55 Austin/Bastianini; tr. Kathryn Gutzwiller. I am pretty curious about the use of the word ‘Sapphic’ – does anyone know if its use actually referred to lesbian relationships, or intimate conversations among women, or something else? I am assuming it’s in the original Greek; I don’t have that to hand…)

‘Sapphic’ conversations while weaving? I think it’s probably quite obvious why I like this.

This is also quite fitting, as I’m hoping to use November and the challenge-framework of Nanowrimo to revise the Turkmen YA novel, which has a lesbian and plenty of textile craft-work. Now I need to leave the library and get started on that!

Oct 30, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

SF: why there are no women

There are a lot of far-future SF stories where the military characters are 100% male, where they extoll the splendour of their family’s military pedigree (families that seem to only contain men), where women don’t even get a mention.

I just want you to know that whenever I read this, I think of this. ← NOT SAFE FOR WORK. (If you cannot click that right now, let me describe it to you: a group of men have kept their bloodline “free from woman’s taint” by breeding among themselves, with some men getting pregnant and giving birth to male babies from their arses.)

SF: full of arse-babies.

Oct 29, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

little sister let your sharp teeth show

Working on a story (this story, although its details have changed lot since that post) and I have a question:

If I talk about a North Wind, would you expect that to be a wind that comes from the north or blows towards the north?

Whether the wind is the North Wind or the South Wind, here is a bit of what it encounters as it blows.

I blow down from the mountains, where stones are stacked for me to scream between: thick limbs full of holes, hundreds together or one apart, tucked in a gully. I blow the winged women of the Aĝir people into the snowstorms where they test their strength. I blow out the fires of foolish foragers, their fur matted with mud. I blow into the faces of the Saqnaga foxes, their ears thronged with beads. I blow between the glass spires of the desert city In-barash and devour the meals left on its high roofs. I blow from temple to temple. I blow–

And, because it interests me to see how old material (quoted in my previous post about this story) has been re-used, Berenike (formerly Nila) on the temple’s walls:

Together they stepped out — but Berenike stopped, staring, at the ankle-high, knee-high and life-size figures surrounding her, carved and blown smooth by the wind, and the bells, gleaming and dull, chiming, tinkling, ringing, banging in over a thousand mouths as the little winds of the temple played through them. The figures clustered on the sloping pinnacle of the temple. They stood scattered around the high walls; they covered the lower walls, all the way to the ground, far below. They filled Berenike’s eyes.

Her figure, held in her arms, began to chime, its bell high, strong.

“Follow me,” the South-East Wind said, and Berenike did, on a well-worn way between the figures like a sheep-trail on a mountainside.

Also in this story so far: Berenike being an arrogant general, a brief mention of coin iconography (which actually resulted in an idea for an MA essay), a wind getting aroused by bells’ tongues. I’m having fun.

Oct 15, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Story sale + Bristolcon timetable

My story “Thin Slats of Metal, Painted” has sold to the Boundaries issue of Crossed Genres Magazine! This will be the first issue of the relaunched magazine, due out in January 2013. I’m very happy that this story will be a part of it.

This Saturday, 20 October, I’ll be at Bristolcon (a local UK SFF con in Bristol), where I’ll be on the following panels:

12:00 – 12:45: Toilets in Space – Day to day practicalities in a fantastic universe (Programme Room 2)
Everything we do on 21st century Earth, SF writers might have to do in zero-gravity. That might include eating, pooping, and the horizontal space-tango. If you’re going to include a level of reality in your fantastic fiction, these might be issues you have to address. So how would you go about using a space toilet?
With Jaine Fenn (mod), Mark Clapham, Nick Walters, Michael Dollin, Alex Dally MacFarlane

18:00 – 18:45: The evolution and future of steampunk (Programme Room 2)
A lot of steampunk fans don’t read in the genre, preferring the costuming aspect of it, and the community has come under accusations of celebrating Colonialism and excluding ethnic minorities. Where did this love of cogs and brass come from, and where can it go in the future? Can it throw off the shackles of Victoriana, or is the genre destined to rust and stagnate, nothing more than a flash in the shiny brass pan?
With Philip Reeve (mod), Patrick Samphire, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Nimue Brown, Anne Lyle

I’ll also be going to the launch for Stephanie Burgis’ new book and lurking around the hotel. I’ve booked a late train back to London so hopefully I’ll be able to find dinner companions. See a few of you there!

Oct 10, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Aliens: Recent Encounters submission window still open

This is reminder that I am still seeking recommendations and submissions for Aliens: Recent Encounters. I’ve found a lot of amazing alien stories, but I need a few more. Have you read any? Published any?

I am particularly interested in seeing more stories about futures (or other eras) inhabited by all people – people of all ethnicities, sexualities, genders, religions, abilities, etc – written by diverse authors.

Full guidelines are here, but note that I am looking for reprints only.

Oct 1, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

and I kneel to the wheel of the fox confessor

Some fox-related news, but first, a fox, found on tumblr:


It’s kept me company through a day in which I got far less achieved than I would have liked. But! While I am neck-deep in anthology work, other things have happened.

The first is that Bogi Takács has reviewed “Feed Me the Bones of our Saints” and liked it very much. After some commentary that makes me very pleased indeed, Bogi calls it my “best story to date”. :>

The second is that my poem “Sisters” has been published in the first issue of Through the Gate. Go read! And read the other poems! Rose Lemberg, Shira Lipkin, Adrienne J. Odasso, Sonya Taaffe and more! Mine is, as the inspiration page says, about foxes and women c.16,000 years ago, and was a successful attempt to find the voice for a story I was working on about the same subject matter: a more straight-up historical look at this bit of history. That story, “Burials”, is currently out on submission. (“Feed Me the Bones of our Saints” is what happened when I wrote a completely fantastical take on the idea.)

The next story I’ll work on when I’m done with the current anthology work won’t be about foxes. I KNOW. I KNOW.

Sep 17, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Writing news!

Several things!

My very short story “The 17th Contest of Body Artistry” has been published in Expanded Horizons. Body modification in the far future. Art and memory. Go read!

Athena Andreadis has published the table of contents for The Other Half of the Sky — and, to whet readers’ appetites, she has included opening snippets for every story, including my “Under Falna’s Mask”. Based on the snippets, I particularly look forward to reading the stories that Nisi Shawl, Aliette de Bodard and Vandana Singh have contributed to the anthology. It looks like it’s going to be a really interesting read.

And, excitingly, my story “Out They Come” has sold to Shimmer!

You may have heard that Shimmer started paying pro rates in response to the backward, racist direction that Weird Tales has taken. Shimmer aims to bring readers dark, beautiful stories — a continuation of their many years of publishing, as well as a statement that the kind of stories that Weird Tales published under Ann VanderMeer’s brief editorial leadership are wanted (and racist stories are not).

So I’m especially happy that “Out They Come” was the first story Shimmer bought after starting to pay pro rates. I look forward to seeing how the zine continues to grow over the years ahead.

Sep 17, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

the storm blows around this harbour town

Hello! I’ve been in the Orkneys for over a week, walking a lot, seeing prehistoric tombs and gorgeous scenery, getting rained on — just the kind of relaxation I enjoy. :>

There are a few things I want to post about, but first of all I want to let people know:

I will be moving to a new place in London very imminently. If you have my 11 T– Street address, do not use it anymore. Let me know if you’d like my new address!

Aug 29, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Story sale!

“Under Falna’s Mask” will be published in the anthology The Other Half of the Sky, edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt.

This is yet another story in the SF setting I’ve been working on a lot lately, and I’m really excited that it’s going to be published alongside a lot of awesome authors (the official TOC announcement is coming soon!) in a space opera(ish) anthology. One of the editors described my story as “a welcome shift to a view from the ground up”. Think: fewer (ie: no) space craft, more land-based, low-tech nomadic people.

I’m also really excited to be in this anthology because Athena is using it to address the imbalance that still occurs in a lot of science fiction, namely the overwhelming focus on men at the expense of women. Of the anthology’s purpose, Athena says:

The Other Half of the Sky offers readers heroes who happen to be women, doing whatever they would do in universes where they’re fully human: Starship captains, planet rulers, explorers, scientists, artists, engineers, craftspeople, pirates, rogues…

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.”

This is exactly the kind of science fiction I want to see more of.

I’ve been working on “Under Falna’s Mask” for some time, so it’s a relief to have it done. It wasn’t easy to write. I enjoyed writing it, though, and I doubt it’ll be long before I return to this part of the SF setting. (There’s already another story out on submission.) (“Under Falna’s Mask” is the SF novella I mentioned once or twice, which became an SF novelette after some extensive trimming. I’d still like to publish the full-length version at some point – perhaps as a standalone, perhaps with even more content than in the existing full-length version – but I assume that would have to wait until the exclusivity period on the story expires.)