Browsing articles in "Short Stories"
Apr 23, 2016
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Links!

My short story Pocket Atlas of Planets published in Interfictions Online is on the Long List for the James Tiptree Jr. Award of 2015, which honours the exploration and expansion of gender in SFF. It’s a tremendous honour and I’m very pleased.

My new short story “Two Bright Venuses” was published in Clockwork Phoenix 5 earlier this year. A.C. Wise reviewed it as part of their Non-Binary Authors to Read blog series, saying: “This is the kind of story that slips between the cracks of genre, straddling and blurring the line between science fiction and weird fiction. It is both a tale of space exploration, and a tale of ghosts, as the planet Venus reaches out to overwrite the astronauts trying to understand it. … The story is richer for making readers pay close attention and work to understand the shape the of the world. Haunted and haunting, it is an excellent starting place for MacFarlane’s work.” I can’t imagine a better review!

Fittingly, as it was an article about translation, my “Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages” has been translated into Japanese on the publisher’s website and into Spanish, with an additional interview with Spanish translator Victoria Morera by Manuel de los Reyes, in SuperSonic Magazine.

Sep 24, 2015
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Gigantic Worlds

I have a new story out! “Iddad Library Catalogue of Surviving Foxes” is in Gigantic Worlds, eds. Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto. It’s an anthology of very short science fiction stories, with uncollected work by Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard, new work by Jonathan Lethem, Charles Yu, Ted Chiang, a translation of a Romanian story by Iosif Eseki from 1924 (trans. Jason Leib) about spider-goats that are not the same as the goats that produce spider-silk today, and much more! My story is about taxidermied foxes, poetry and far-flung future planets.

I owe Ekaterina Sedia a nod of thanks for sharing the below picture several years ago, which inspired me to write this.

May 26, 2015
Alex Dally MacFarlane

O flea! you offspring of evil!

In news that will surprise no one: a Masters at Oxford University takes up a lot of time. I spend most of my days translating set texts from Classical Armenian to English in preparation for my increasingly imminent exams. (Highlights: everything in the Alexander Romance, particularly the kafas — a type of poem — introduced to the text by Armenian writers and often describing the peculiar animals Alexander encounters on his more legendary journeys. Giant fleas! Bats with human teeth! Foxes!)

I barely have any time to write, but the nice thing about having written in the past is that books reprinting my stories appear in the post from time to time.

This is definitely the prettiest: XIII edited by Mark Teppo, reprinting my story “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints”. (The bees/wasps on the cover continue inside.) It is modelled here on top of whatever I was translating that day. Other books that have arrived in recent months are How to Live on Other Planets edited by Joanna Merriam, Clarkesworld: Year Seven edited by Neil Clarke & Sean Wallace, and Women Writing the Weird II: Dangerous Daughters edited by Deb Hoag, which marks a wonderful treat for me: the cover art by Ashlyn Fenton is based on my story, “Fox Bones. Many Uses.”

Nov 27, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

someone will remember us / I say / even in another time

Two very kind reviews of my story “Because I Prayed This Word”.

J.Y. Yang selects Fiction Nuggets on her blog, saying of my story:

“Gorgeous treacly prose about a magical city crafted by desire. Poetry and myth and history woven into beautiful narrative. Also, come on, as if I would leave a story about a literal city oF LESBIANS out of this list!****

****HOW DO I APPLY TO BE A RESIDENT OF THIS PLACE SERIOUSLY SOMEONE TELL ME”

At io9.com, K. Tempest Bradford includes my story in her latest weekly round-up, saying:

“I chose this story for the idea of the city—why it exists, what it’s made of, how women move in and out of it. I must admit, the actual story of the characters felt a little light to me, but the imagery of the city seized me and wouldn’t let go.”

I wrote the city foremost, so I’ll cop to the characters not being as central! I’m really really glad the idea of the city has stuck with some readers. I want it to be real. In a less literal sense it is, of course, real: sharing what I know of it, talking about it, is one reason I write.

Nov 12, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

New stories!

I’ve had two new short stories published recently!

“Pocket Atlas of Planets” is in Interfictions Online. It’s about exoplanets (which means the science may be out of date already!) and gender, inspired in format by the excellent Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky (translated by Christine Lo) and in content by a great deal more. I’m working on several other stories connected to this piece. Maybe even a novel.

Infinity Of Worlds

Giordano Bruno says of space in 1584, of its fixed stars: In it are an infinity of worlds of the same kind as our own. Each heliocentric system, like ours, holds worlds.

Torild, a child, reads those words and burns with longing to see those worlds, but space exploration is frightening: the self-splitting required to reach superior Venus and inferior Venus, the un-welcoming government of Caskia on Mars, the complete inability to communicate with the aliens seen as blurs in space, the distances, the inevitability of insanity. So Torild studies early space exploration in London, where hen is called ‘she’ for hens body, for hens specific interest in women’s pre-20th Century observations of the solar system and early travels. Hen hates it and leaves after less than a year — but the women, they remain.

An infinity of women studying — reaching — an infinity of worlds. What a dream!

Torild adds other genders to that dream.

“Because I Prayed This Word” is in Strange Horizons as a bonus in their annual fundraiser, which is ongoing and needs support! The story is about a magical city for women who love other women — women not welcome in Christine di Pizan’s City of Ladies — and the long (or lost) memory of texts. I wrote it during my MA in Ancient History, after writing an essay about personal reception of Psáppho. I am deeply grateful to Sonya Taaffe and Sofia Samatar for giving me permission to use their translations.

The city appears between the pillars of the cloisters like a dream of an embroidered wall-hanging: more gold thread than is ever available for the Sisters, more precisely tidy stitches than Perrette will ever manage. For a moment she sees it on the edges of her vision, and though she thinks of telling her Sisters, she does not. She assumes it is the fast. She walks on.

She keeps seeing it.

Alongside her Sisters she bends over vellum, copying. Barbe, whose freckles are like the stars above the monastery, is at her left. Ragonde, who snores while Perrette and Barbe work, is at her right. They have each been chosen for their skills: Perrette for her precise letters, Barbe for her paintings that face Perrette’s copied words, and Ragonde, who sparingly applies the gold, trusted because of her seniority with that most precious adornment. They copy Lives of the Desert Fathers. Perrette admires the strength required to hold faith in the desert. Barbe paints the female saints.

Jun 23, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Phantasm Japan + Upgraded

Not one, but TWO covers for anthologies I’ll be in this year.

Haikasoru has released the cover art for Phantasm Japan! It’s gorgeous, as is the TOC.

Phantasm Japan

Zachary Mason: “Five Tales of Japan”
Gary A. Braunbeck: “Shikata Ga Nai: A Bag Lady’s Tale”
Yusaku Kitano: “Scissors or Claws, and Holes”
Lauren Naturale: “Her Last Appearance”
James A. Moore: “He Dreads the Cold”
Nadia Bulkin: “Girl, I Love You”
Quentin S. Crisp: “The Last Packet of Tea”
Seia Tanabe: “The Parrot Stone”
Jacqueline Koyanagi: “Kamigakari”
Project Itoh: “From the Nothing, With Love”
Tim Pratt: “Those Who Hunt Monster Hunters”
Alex Dally MacFarlane: “Inari Updates the Map of Rice Fields”
Sayuri Ueda: “Street of Fruiting Bodies”
Miyuki Miyabe: “Chiyoko”
Benjanun Sriduangkaew: “Ningyo”
Joseph Tomaras: “Thirty-Eight Observations on the Nature of the Self”
Dempow Torishima: “Sisyphean”

Neil Clarke has likewise released the cover art and TOC for Upgraded, his anthology of cyborg stories (edited by a real cyborg!) that looks really great.

upgraded

The TOC is a longer one, so I’ll link to the Upgraded page rather than reproduce it here, but it includes Yoon Ha Lee, Genevieve Valentine, Elizabeth Bear, Xia Jia, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Seth Dickinson and many others.

I’m looking forward to reading my contributor copies of these (which I don’t always do).

Jun 17, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

and now you the players, handsome and rare

The third volume of Lavie Tidhar’s excellent anthology series The Apex Book of World SF is now available for pre-order. The page includes bundled deals with the first and second volumes. Lavie notes that the full set contains 58 stories, from 34 different countries. I highly recommend taking a look at these anthologies, if you haven’t already. They’re strong and important collections of SF.

The Table of Contents for XIII, ed. Mark Teppo, has been posted. It reprints my story “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” among many new works. It is due out in March 2015.

Speaking of anthologies, I’ve recently seen a preview of the cover art and a PDF of the page proofs for Phantasm Japan, ed. Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington. It looks very attractive. I can’t wait to get my contributor copy later this year.

A cool thing I saw on Twitter: manuscripts used as dress linings.

A less-cool thing I read: my post about Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai is live at Tor.com. It’s a really unfortunate book, terrible in so many ways that I couldn’t find a single positive thing to say about it. I got it for the gender-change and the possibility of interesting conversation about bodies/gender/fluidity. Instead I found… that.

I didn’t even mention the dire quality of the writing. Or some serious problems: the house of forced sex and manpain, where a bell tolls daily to commemorate the moment Chen’s ex-partner left him. (If you do decide to read this book, TW for rape. I decided I’d be far happier if I skipped some chunks, and I was.) The non-animal woman who decides to lead the animal-people for their own good, because they’re too disorganised without her guidance. (She’s also a bit of a quirky object of male desire: a manic pixie white saviour?) The herbalist who finds herself pregnant, a condition that could kill her due to an irreparable bone condition, but doesn’t even consider abortifacents. Or, on a far lighter note, the house of waterlogged marble that the main characters intend to set alight. Good luck!

There’s a sequel. I won’t be reading it.

Jun 2, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

you were waking, day was breaking

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.

The second is “Fox Bones. Many Uses., a story about fox magic and dealing with imperialism, which will be reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Warriors and Wizardry edited by Sean Wallace.

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.

May 5, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

MAPS!

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):

japanese-rice-map-bw

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.

Apr 29, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

the desert’s blowing and nothing grows

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.

Lois Tilton has given it a RECOMMENDED in Locus Online, with particular enjoyment of the bells. This pleases me: the bells are the oldest part of the story and one of my favourite details.

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”.

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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