Interview with Alex Dally MacFarlane, Author and Anthology Editor of ALIENS: RECENT ENCOUNTERS

Alex Dally MacFarlane lives in London, where she is pursuing a MA in Ancient History. When not researching ancient gender and narratives, she writes stories, found in Clarkesworld Magazine, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer and the anthologies The Mammoth Book of Steampunk and The Other Half of the Sky. Poetry can be found in Stone Telling, Goblin Fruit, The Moment of Change and Here, We Cross. She is the editor of Aliens: Recent Encounters, out in June 2013 from Prime Books, and The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, due out in late 2014.


Kristin Centorcelli: Alex, will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Alex Dally MacFarlane: I’m British, currently living in London, where I’m working on a MA in Ancient History after five years of various office jobs. Academic research is a wonder. I’ve been writing for a long time, always hoping to make a career from it. Academic work and writing aren’t the easiest to balance, but this is my favourite set-up so far.

KC: You’ve written numerous short stories yourself and recently edited a brand new anthology, Aliens: Recent Encounters (with dynamic authors such as Elizabeth Bear, Nancy Kress, and more contributing)! What did you look for when selecting stories for the anthology?

ADM: Variety. I want the experience of reading Aliens: Recent Encounters to be one of seeing quite how unpredictable any encounters with alien life could be. From a multi-dimensional alien object appearing in the streets of New Delhi, to an immigrant woman’s experience living with the Moon’s inhabitants, or humans aging wine in the stomachs of alien horse-like animals with the permission of the planet’s sentient life — anything could happen.

KC: What fascinates you the most about alien stories and worlds?

ADM: It’s that variety — that imaginative potential — that most fascinates me. We really don’t know what’s living out there in the universe. Current research seems to indicate that in our solar system we’re likely to find very small extremophiles, if anything, but that could change with future missions. Beyond our solar system? The distances are so vast, the possibilities are ours to imagine. The fun of science fiction is that we get to find out in our lifetimes.

KC: What do you love most about writing, and reading, SF?

ADM: I enjoy it and I get paid for it.

KC: Who, or what, has influenced you in your writing, and the world of SF, the most?

ADM: I’ve had different powerful influences at different points in my life, which makes pinning down the most influential quite difficult. Right now, a big influence on my writing is history. It makes me question how histories are told, by whom, for whom, with what evidence, with what interpretations. There is never one history. SF is not always good at acknowledging this. It also inspires me even more directly: several stories and poems have been written in reaction to specific archaeological finds. I also spend a lot of time thinking and talking to friends about representations of the future, which is reflected in my writing and editing: futures in which everyone is present, everyone is not merely a distant detail but given space to talk and act.

KC: Out of the stories you’ve written, do you have a favorite?

ADM: My favourite is “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints“, published in Strange Horizons last year, which is about a lot things, including the ugliness of long wars and the preservation of history. It’s also fun: a society of women and foxes, born in pairs when the two suns cross. Another story I’m very pleased with is “Under Falna’s Mask”, published in The Other Half of the Sky (eds. Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt), an original anthology of science fiction stories with women protagonists. Mine is set among nomadic people living on a different planet, dealing with the encroachment of other people onto their land. It’s the kind of science fiction I find most interesting: operating not on the scale of worlds but in small groups of people, seeing how they individually deal with what’s happening around them.

KC: If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

ADM: I don’t think there is one. I tend to only read books once: the wonder and delight and surprise (and frustration) of each book is what keeps me reading more books. If I want to experience a book again, it’s because it’s the kind of book that remains thought-provoking and beautiful even when I know what’s going to happen, or it’s complex enough that it’s still new, or my changed life circumstances make it relevant in ways it wasn’t before. I want new experiences, not the same ones over and over.

KC: When not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?

ADM: Free time? I’m doing a MA, so I’m not overly familiar with the concept. I do try to spend some downtime each evening watching TV, which is usually nature documentaries or QI. I also go walking and lift weights.

KC: What’s next for you?

ADM: I’m editing The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, which will be out in late 2014, so I have a lot of wonderful reading ahead of me for this. It will be mostly reprints, encompassing science fiction stories written by a wide array of women in recent decades. Anyone who reads the finished product will know that the future is complex and spectacular, and that we are all going to be shaping it. On the fiction side, I have more short stories I’d like to write, and I’m contemplating putting together a collection. When the MA is over I intend to rewrite a novel.