Retreat to move forward!

20161114_141526Fifty undergraduate students, two days, and (supposedly) one of the most haunted houses in Britain… but the only ghosts to be found on our recent Aberystwyth English Department reading week retreat were those of literary predecessors: writers and critics whose work serves to point our third year English and Creative Writing students in fruitful directions as they begin their final dissertations and long-form creative writing projects.

With students and staff bussed to Gregynog Hall, a stunning country mansion four miles outside Newtown, the retreat began with a trio of talks on process: Luke Thurston discussed how he had recently gone about assembling an edited collection, Beth Rodgers showed the students how she had researched an academic essay for the same volume, and finally I walked the students through the research I have been conducting for a story I’m currently working on.

That, I admit, was dangerous! But I think I side-stepped the major risk here (never tell anyone your story before you’ve written it because then you mightn’t want to write it!) by not discussing the plot or characters in any great detail. Instead I covered my approach to online research, best practice for interviews, the pros and cons of sourcing details and insights from photographs (mostly pros… but beware the cropped image), as well as the value of visiting the place that one is writing about (or visiting a similar place; for instance, I thought Gregynog’s magical Dell – let alone the estate’s Tolkienesque sculpture of a giant hand reaching out of the ground – offered ideal inspiration for any students writing about fantasy landscapes).


Later that afternoon, and again on the second day, students and staff alike became ghosts of a fashion in our own lives during a series of “Shut-Up-and-Write/Read” sessions (though, as Beth put it, “writing is permitted at all times”!). We switched off our smartphones (uhh, sure we did…) and sat quietly, haunting the rooms of Gregynog with the sounds of our keyboards and scribbles and our pages turning. It seemed appropriate to the wood-panelled surroundings and, by all accounts, these sessions were highly productive for the students (for some of us, of course, it was more like “Shut-Up-and-Mark-Papers”!).

20161115_102545On day two, as everyone grew more comfortable with Gregynog, it was interesting to watch how the students began to inhabit both the physical and imaginative spaces of the venue. Most clustered together in the library or the seminar rooms in a manner which reflected the core, recognisable interests of any English and Creative Writing cohort. Though naturally there were always a few students to be found wandering the grounds – probing the outer edges of discourse, if you will, or seeking inspiration from less mainstream writers – and one got the feeling that the contemplative atmosphere was having a real effect on them.

For the rest of us there was Gregynog’s basement bar, site of giant Jenga (our students are really good at that!), an insanely difficult staff Vs students quiz courtesy of Mike Smith, as well as some end-of-night ghost-themed storytelling. Indeed, I think it was the combination of these casual activities with the formal benefit on student projects which helped make the retreat (brainchild of our brilliant Department Head Louise Marshall) such a great success. Taking the work of our undergraduates out of the four walls of the classroom setting and into the twisty-turny nooks of Gregynog hopefully helped them to see their projects from new and less rigid perspectives. For staff members too it offered a chance to indulge in our enthusiasms and, perhaps more importantly, the conversations we had there served as valuable reminders that all of us remain students at heart.


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Milford Writers’ Conference 2015

Last month I attended the week-long Milford Writers’ Conference for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers in beautiful north Wales. I was asked to write a reflection on it for the Milford website which I’m reposting here…

Milford Group, September 2015 L - R: Kari Sperring; Ben Jeapes, Jacey Bedford, Liz Williams, Dave Clements, David Turnbull, Val Nolan, Jackie Hatton, Tiffani Angus, Chris Butler, Sue Oke, Matt Colborn, Pauline Morgan (writing as Pauline Dungate), Heather Lindsley, Gus Smith.

Milford Group, September 2015 L – R: Kari Sperring; Ben Jeapes, Jacey Bedford, Liz Williams, Dave Clements, David Turnbull, Val Nolan, Jackie Hatton, Tiffani Angus, Chris Butler, Sue Oke, Matt Colborn, Pauline Morgan (writing as Pauline Dungate), Heather Lindsley, Gus Smith.

I gave serious thought to withdrawing from the Milford Writers’ Conference this year. I had, only ten days or so before the workshop was to begin, been appointed to a new job as lecturer in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. Thus I was in the middle of organising my move across the Irish Sea, wrapping-up prior commitments back in Ireland, and getting to grips with the requirements and responsibilities which the new position entailed. I thought that perhaps a week at Milford would be too much considering everything else that was going on but, standing outside the Trigonos centre after the first day, watching satellites and meteors crisscross the north Welsh sky and already feeling the benefits of the intensive critiquing sessions, I knew I had made the correct decision to attend.

Some of this year’s participants I knew well (Tiffani Angus and I attended the Clarion Writers’ Workshop together in 2009; Heather Lindsley and I have knew each other through conventions for several years) while other such as Jacey Bedford and Susan Oke I had met briefly at cons and so forth. The majority of participants were new to me but, regardless, everyone here shared the experience of being a published Science Fiction or Fantasy writer, as well as the desire to further hone their creative practice via peer feedback and constructive criticism. No surprise so that friendships and professional contacts were quickly made during our week workshopping each other’s writing, dining together on the wonderful Trigonos food (yes, its reputation is well deserved!), and sharing a few drinks in the library each evening.

I am therefore pleased to report that my first Milford experience lived up to the conference’s reputation. Participants were not just excellent writers but highly perceptive readers of the work of others. The group functioned as a microcosm of our potential audience and was often illustrative of the different kinds of readers which one’s work will ultimately encounter (particular distinctions were evident between, say, those who want overt connections made for them in a story and those wishing to piece things together themselves, or those who prioritise scientific realism over poetic licence and vice versa). Many of the observations made have stayed with me in the weeks since the conference concluded. For instance, when our discussion wasn’t orbiting lagrangian points (which appeared in three stories, including mine; and luckily Dave Clements was on hand to address issues of physics) we often found ourselves on the topic of trees and their symbolism for writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction. As Kari Sperring put it, in what is perhaps my favourite remark from Milford 2015: “Trees bind time together. They run between the past and the future”.

For indeed, just as important as the critiquing workshops were these kinds of meandering group conversations over lunch or dinner. On any given day there was intellectual stimulation to be found in everything from the histories of Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism (thanks, Matt Colborn) to the fact that “cows got really, really big in the 1700s” (that one was Tiffani, fresh off four years of horticultural and agricultural research for her PhD). The informal stretches of Milford thus offered opportunities for the knowledge (and, for that matter, the particular nerdishness) of individual participants to shine through and, in many cases, spark ideas in others. Among the new-to-me information unspooled over the course of the week was an explanation of the mechanism whereby cannibalism basically leads to the same problems as BSE and the fact that the machine for making Pringles was invented by author Gene Wolfe.


While I missed the Wednesday sessions (on account of a staff meeting at my new job some two hours down the coast), I was back in time for the Milford AGM that evening. I found this to be a mature and meaningful discussion of just how the conference intends to go forward, how it aims to attract participants from a wider range of backgrounds, and how the organisers take care to ensure that the event always ring-fences slots for new attendees.

Equally, the “Marketing Evening” – a discussion of what venues the participants thought the pieces workshopped throughout the week might be best submitted to – served to underline one of the great selling points of Milford: the pooling of knowledge and experience from a variety of published authors at various stages of their careers. The discussion of agents and editors was frank and beneficial, as was our discourse about both the “hot new markets” and the shifting moods of more established publications. The Marketing Evening was followed the next day by a group field trip to nearby Portmeirion, famous (as I’m sure you all know!) as the setting for the classic 1960s TV seriesThe Prisoner. This was a delight (I’ve always wanted to visit) even if it wasn’t strictly part of the workshop (!).

Of course Milford is not for everybody (I’m thinking of the kind of author – and we all know one – who reacts poorly to, for instance, a bad review; which is to say the unprofessional author). While robust Milford critiques are softened with an apologetic offering of sorts (a so-called “chocolate review”) they are also to be expected because the point of the exercise is to dismantle stories and make them better. If Milford was nothing more than a dozen people telling you that you are already great then it would be worthless. Instead it is a serious undertaking for authors who wish to improve their craft. As a writer and, for that matter, as a third level writing instructor, I found it an extremely valuable experience (and, if nothing else, it introduced me to the term “anti-ditto” which I have already begun using in my own workshops!).

I will definitely go back to Milford. Hopefully I will be more prepared for the heavy reading load on the next occasion (you know, by virtue of not moving my entire life to another country at the same time!) but, for now, I have returned with a wealth of meaningful feedback to fuel the revision of my submitted story. I imagine my fellow participants are all hunkered down in similar rewrites at present. I can’t wait to see where the work which they shared eventually appears in print.


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A Character Test for Authors

Here’s a recent piece I wrote for the Irish Examiner…

On Writers and Writing 

Margaret Atwood
Virago; £9.99
Review: Val Nolan

“Who do you think you are?” Margaret Atwood asks early in this volume. It is a question which frames On Writers and Writing as a challenge to both creators and consumers of literature. Within its pages, Atwood dares authors and audiences to rethink their self-constructed identities and their “position in relation to the rest of humanity”. As such, this collection of essays serves as a witty and cerebral exploration of creative possibilities rather than a text of a dourly didactic nature.

That a writer like Atwood advocates for protean qualities on the part of both creative practitioners and their readerships should not be a surprise. After all, this genre-bending Canuck has won everything from the Arthur C. Clarke Award to the Booker Prize. Best known on this side of the Atlantic for dystopian but prescient work including The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Oryx and Crake (2003), she has further made a robust contribution to the critical recognition of Canadian letters as a separate and energetic literary tradition.

The seeds of On Writers and Writing lie in Atwood’s Empson Lectures from fifteen years ago, her contribution to a Cambridge event which, in the proud tradition of academia trying to claim back those whom it once rejected, celebrates William Empson – he of Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) – who the university expelled when he was found in possession of contraceptives. Yet the style Atwood adopts here is not as abstract as the volume’s origins might suggest. It is intelligent, yes, but for the most part conversational, often jokey, and closer to an informal sit-down than it is to a scholarly address.

“I am a writer and a reader, and that’s about it,” she says, selling herself quite short but succulently setting out her self-deprecating stall. Here her focus darts frantically around as might one’s eyes in a well-stocked library. Her discussion circles “a set of common themes having to do with the writer,” with their medium and their art. Indeed, in many respects this book is – like her multi-layered historical novel The Blind Assassin (2000) – an effort to understand the character of those who create characters.

Again and again she interrogates the myths we as a society have constructed around the idea of being a writer, our very own “many-headed Hydra” indebted to melodramatic notions of creativity “inherited from the Romantics”. She is, for instance, wary of the way culture fetishizes the artist starving in their garret “like a self-mortifying Christian ascetic of old”. She is acutely aware too of the extent to which creativity is rooted in a more pagan “desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld”; to write is thus to subject one’s self to a little death of sorts, a petite mort which inevitably brings up the eroticized aspects of the creative act.

“It’s a short step from that to the femme fatale” stereotype, be it Salomé or Sylvia Plath, and so the manner in which creative women have long been sexualised by the male establishment out of fear or lust or both. This constraint on the role and position of women in literary circles is a key concern for Atwood. “The word ‘genius’ and the word ‘woman’ don’t really fit together in our language,” she says, “because the kind of eccentricity expected of male ‘geniuses’ would simply result in the label ‘crazy’ should it be practiced by women”.

Of course such issues are not merely theoretical for an author who has lived with their effects for decades. In what is half-way between the book’s moment of deepest frustration and its darkest instance of comedy, she reveals that she withdrew from poetry as a young women after being asked one too many times “not whether I was going to commit suicide, but when”.

Yet as a “highbrow” writer who happens to pen bestsellers (“Not on purpose,” as she allegedly assured a patronising Parisian intellectual), Atwood is also ideally placed to consider the on-again, off-again discord between the genres of literary and commercial fiction. She does so here by examining the sacred or religious function of literature – “Art with a capital A” – and asking if “the mark of a true priest is his lack of interest in money”? This dichotomy of “Apollo vs. Mammon”, as Atwood memorably phrases it, provides an intriguing means of exploring the issue of recompense, one which is too often dismissed as vulgar, occasionally even as prostitution, by the literary community.

“There are,” she says only “four ways of arranging literary worth and money: good books that make money; bad books that make money; good books that don’t make money; bad books that don’t make money.” Is a writer a hack for cranking out “stuff he thought would appeal to his audience”? Obviously not, though while Atwood provides (admittedly exceptional) examples of those who “lived by the pen”, Shakespeare and Dickens among them, she stops short of fully legitimatising art for money’s sake. In that way, On Writers and Writing raises more questions than it answers. But then that is the author’s stated intention: to generate debate and let the reader draw their own conclusion.

First published in 2002 as Negotiating with the Dead, these efforts by Atwood to engender discussion around the mutable nature of professional creative practice reveal a great deal about herself as a thinker, an author and, for that matter, as a voracious reader. Existing Atwoodians will delight in the humour, intelligence, and breadth of reference to be found here, while novice scribblers of all genders and genres are also sure to benefit. Though this book is not a guide to how one might begin writing, its provocative and insightful sketches of the kinds of writers which one could become are arguably of much greater value.

  • This article originally appeared in the Irish Examiner on 10 January 2015, Weekend, pp.34-35.


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Like a Hand on the Shoulder…

Always a pleasure to engage with the work of the late John McGahern. Here’s a recent piece I wrote for the Irish Examiner on the newest edition of his Collected Stories

John McGahern - Collected Stories

John McGahern – Collected Stories

Collected Stories
John McGahern
Faber; £10.99
Review: Val Nolan

Even in death, John McGahern remains Ireland’s greatest living writer. A strange thing to say, perhaps, but then, as an author known for decade-long silences, it does not feel as if he has truly left us. We might have expected a new novel from him by now if he were still alive but, in place of that, comes this reminder that he is in fact gone. It provokes sadness, yes, but also gratitude for the powerful work which he gifted us in the time available to him.

Famously, McGahern believed that Ireland was less a coherent state than a mosaic of ‘little republics called families’. Something similar can be said of his Collected Stories. It is a volume which exceeds the sum of its varied contents; a selection which both echoes and enhances McGahern’s long form prose in terms of its symbolism and its use of local reference. The stories here speak to the author’s working through – or, to borrow the title of his second collection, perhaps Getting Through – of the themes and architectures which have ultimately come to define him.

But McGahern’s stories are far more than exercises in narrative style or structure; they are masterpieces in their own right. ‘Korea’ surely ranks with Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ and Frank O’Connor’s ‘Guests of the Nation’ as one of the greatest Irish short stories. ‘Eddie Mac’ and ‘The Conversion of William Kirkwood’ deliver fresh angles on the well-worn ground of Anglo-Irish decline. The striking but atypical ‘Peaches’ plumbs McGahern’s own autobiography while ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’ unravels the impact of the Irish emigrant experience.

Of course, there are differences between this volume and the previous edition, styled Creatures of the Earth: New and Selected Stories and chosen by McGahern before his death. The contents here return to those of the 1992 Collected Stories and so, while the fine valedictory offerings ‘Creatures of the Earth’ and ‘Love of the World’ are absent, a number of key pieces are reinstated. These include not just the Spain-set ‘Peaches’, but also ‘Coming into his Kingdom’, in which a young boy discovers the adult world, ‘Doorways’, an urbane, and at times satirical novella of romantic entanglement, as well as the haunting ‘The Beginning of an Idea’.

The result is a stronger collection in that it presents more facets of McGahern, especially the work of the 1970s and 1980s. It foregrounds his outsider perspective at the time, something which allowed him to articulate the harshness of Ireland in a way few others have achieved. Indeed, it is debateable whether McGahern would have produced such striking short fiction had he not been sacked from his teaching job at the insistence of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and forced into exile after publishing The Dark in 1965.

And yet McGahern forgave the Church. Although he ceased to be a believer, his maturity – evidenced by his Memoir and by his decorum in general – makes him a very Christian writer at a time when the clergy were embarrassing themselves or, worse, actively harming the vulnerable. The complex relationship he developed with Irish Catholicism is apparent when one compares the sympathetic portraits of priests in stories like ‘The Wine Breath’ to his uncompromising critiques of the nation’s mid-century theocracy in pieces such as ‘The Recruiting Officer’.

What would McGahern have made of the ruinous state of the country today? Of the economic crash? Of the clerical sex-abuse scandals? In a way it doesn’t matter. ‘It is a writer’s job to look after his sentences. Nothing more,’ he once said, and when he broached such subjects in his work it was out of an interest in the way external forces squeezed the lives carved out by Everyman and Everywoman figures.

It is therefore the privilege of the reader and the scholar to explore his life and work anew with every passing year. For instance, Peter Guy, writing in Studies, has ably read McGahern’s fiction through the lens of the Murphy Report. Denis Sampson has recently published a volume on the author’s early, formative years and the influences which led to his fiction. Meanwhile academics such as Antoinette Quinn and David Malcolm have given detailed attention to the stories collected here.

Writers too continue to look to McGahern in an effort to emulate his credible depiction of Ireland’s conflicted heart and tortured soul. As he told Sampson in 1979, ‘Fiction always has to be believable, I mean that you have to convince the reader that it happened’. A corollary, perhaps, is that life is not just misery; life is going on despite the misery, as the characters of ‘Crossing the Line’ and ‘All Sorts of Impossible Things’ do. Though that said, the central, Chekhovian third of this volume can be hard going.

Those heavier pieces contribute to the impression that McGahern’s writing is mostly concerned with the old and the dying and the dead, but in fact young people predominate throughout the Collected Stories. Likewise, work such as ‘Gold Watch’ and ‘Bank Holiday’ is downright optimistic when compared to McGahern’s early novels. Sex, in particular, is acknowledged as an essential part of life. Its musk infuses the figuring-out of relationships in the twin vignettes of ‘Along the Edges’, the bittersweet comedy of ‘My Love, My Umbrella’, and the dagger pangs of want which stab at the heart of ‘Sierra Leone’ amongst others.

Thus these are stories about bodies as much as about characters. There is a physicality to the work collected here, and the timeless vitality of McGahern’s writing derives from the impact of just this weight upon the reader. The pieces here often arrive violently – Anne Enright has rightly called them ‘the literary equivalent of a hand grenade rolled across the kitchen floor’ – but they also linger long after the initial jolt. They lodge imaginative shrapnel, slivers of difficult choices, deep within the mind of the reader.

Such an effect ensures that the Collected Stories is less a time-capsule to be sealed and buried than it is a box of vivid memories to be opened and experienced again and again. The book possesses an instructional quality, this is true, but it never becomes didactic. Instead the pieces here are reassuring like a hand on the shoulder. They comprise a volume in which pragmatism is spiked with ambition, pleasure is tempered by realism, and out of which a unique vision of an Ireland in transition emerges. Reissued eight years after his death, McGahern’s Collected Stories presents us with the opportunity not for reassessment – his reputation is secure – but for reengagement. It is the work of a writer who will no doubt live forever.

Dr. Val Nolan teaches at NUI Galway. His work includes the definitive account of the McGahern banning, “If it was Just Th’ol Book”, published in
Irish Studies Review.

This article originally appeared in the Irish Examiner, Saturday 5 July 2014 (Weekend, pp.24-25).


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Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award: List of Finalists Announced

I was very pleased to discover yesterday that my story ‘The Irish Astronaut’  is among this year’s finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short science fiction. The list was announced by Christopher McKitterick, Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and the award will be presented this June as part of the Campbell Conference held annually at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Congratulations to all my fellow finalists!

The full list of 2014 finalists (linked to the stories where possible):

Four things jump out at me from this list:

  1. There is a respectable (though not quite 50/50) gender balance here. Nice to see that.
  2. The shortlist is a fantastic endorsement of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. While Ken Scheyer and I are both graduates of the 2009 Clarion class, the finalists also include: Gregory Bossert (Clarion 2010), Vylar Kaftan (Clarion West; 2004, I think),  and Will McIntosh (Clarion 2003). I hope I haven’t missed anyone anyone! Mind you, go take yourself on a Google tour of all the shortlist authors and, Clarion or not, you will find stunning talent, publications, experience, and imagination right across the board. This is a phenomenal group of writers.
  3. Asimov’s continues to hold its own as one of the leading science fiction publications out there. An impressive four of the ten stories on this list were originally published in its pages.
  4. Beyond Asimov’s, however, it is impossible to ignore the continuing influence of online journals such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and the recently closed Electric Velocipede.  The rise of the online magazine is an old hat story by now, yes, but what differentiates these publications in particular is the impact of their strong and discerning editorial direction on the short-fiction ecosystem; they’re not just publishing stories online, they’re publishing those stories which are rapidly coming to dominate awards lists, Best Of anthologies, and so on.

From yesterday’s press release: The Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award recognizes the best science fiction short story each year. It was established in 1987 by James Gunn, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at KU; and the heirs of Theodore Sturgeon, including his partner Jayne Engelhart Tannehill and Sturgeon’s children; as an appropriate memorial to one of the great short-story writers in a field distinguished by its short fiction. The current jury consists of Elizabeth Bear, Andy Duncan, James Gunn, Kij Johnson, and Noël Sturgeon, Trustee of the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Estate.

The Campbell Conference has been held each year since 1978 at the University of Kansas. It includes a Friday-evening banquet where the annual Theodore A. Sturgeon and John W. Campbell Memorial Award are given; a Saturday round-table discussion with scholars, scientists, and writers of science fiction; and other events. This year’s topic is “Science Fiction in the Real World,” with a special focus on long-time friend of the Center, Frederik Pohl.


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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year – Volume 8

Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy - Vol 8I’m very happy to say that editor and anthologist Jonathan Strahan has just announced the contents of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy  of the Year (Volume 8) and that he has selected my story ‘The Irish Astronaut’  for the book.

I’m really very pleased with this and very grateful to Mr. Strahan for seeing fit to include the story alongside work from a very intimidating group of writers including Ted Chiang, Neil Gaiman, Geoff Ryman, M. John Harrison, Ian McDonald, and many more. 

From the Amazon description: “The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume eight and will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents.”

I heard Mr. Strahan speak at last year’s World Fantasy Convention in Brighton and it gave me a real appreciation for the thought and effort he puts into crafting his anthologies. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how all these pieces work together as a volume.


  •  Introduction, Jonathan Strahan
  • “Some Desperado”, Joe Abercrombie (Dangerous Women)
  • “Zero for Conduct”, Greg Egan (Twelve Tomorrows)
  • “Effigy Nights”, Yoon Ha Lee (Clarkesworld)
  • “Rosary and Goldenstar”, Geoff Ryman (F&SF)
  • “The Sleeper and the Spindle”, Neil Gaiman (Rags and Bones)
  • “Cave and Julia”, M. John Harrison (Kindle Singles)
  • “The Herons of Mer de l’Ouest”, M Bennardo (Lightspeed)
  • “Water”, Ramez Naam (An Aura of Familiarity)
  • “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
  • “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (
  • “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls”, Richard Parks (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “Rag and Bone”, Priya Sharma (
  • “The Book Seller”, Lavie Tidhar (Interzone)
  • “The Sun and I”, K J Parker (Subterranean)
  • “The Promise of Space”, James Patrick Kelly (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Master Conjurer”, Charlie Jane Anders (Lightspeed)
  • “The Pilgrim and the Angel”, E. Lily Yu (McSweeney’s 45)
  • “Entangled”, Ian R Macleod (Asimov’s)
  • “Fade to Gold”, Benjanun Sriduangkaew (End of the Road)
  • “Selkies Stories are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
  • “In Metal, In Bone”, An Owomoyela (Eclipse Online)
  • “Kormack the Lucky”, Eleanor Arnason (F&SF)
  • “Sing”, Karin Tidbeck (
  • “Social Services”, Madeline Ashby (An Aura of Familiarity)
  • “The Road of Needles”, Caitlín R Kiernan (Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales)
  • “Mystic Falls”, Robert Reed (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Queen of Night’s Aria”, Ian McDonald (Old Mars)
  • “The Irish Astronaut”, Val Nolan (Electric Velocipede)

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (Volume 8) will be published by Solaris in the UK, Ireland, and Australia this May.


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The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 31st Annual Collection

Year's Best Science FictionThe table of contents was announced via SF Signal last night so I guess it’s official now: my story ‘The Irish Astronaut’ has been selected by Gardner Dozois for the 31st edition of his multi-award-winning annual anthology The Year’s Best Science Fiction (to be published in hardcover and paperback by St. Martin’s Press in July).

It’s a real thrill to be included alongside some of my favorite authors (there are people here who I’m sure my friends are well tired of me talking about at this point!) as well as what promises to be very exciting work by writers I wouldn’t be as familiar with (and discovering the latter is always one of the great treats of the Year’s Best series) . I’m humbled and awed in equal measure. Also very thankful to Mr. Dozois!

And of course of I’m very grateful too to John Klima at Electric Velocipede for originally publishing ‘The Irish Astronaut’ back in May, as well as to those who responded so favorably to the story since then.


  • “The Discovered Country” by Ian R. MacLeod
  • “The Book Seller” by Lavie Tidhar
  • “Pathways” by Nancy Kress
  • “A Heap of Broken Images” by Sunny Moraine
  • “Rock of Ages” by Jay Lake
  • “Rosary and Goldenstar” by Geoff Ryman
  • “Gray Wings” by Karl Bunker
  • “The Best We Can” by Carrie Vaughn
  • “Transitional Forms” by Paul McAuley
  • “Precious Mental” by Robert Reed
  • “Martian Blood” by Allen M. Steele
  • “Zero For Conduct” by Greg Egan
  • “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “A Map of Mercury” by Alastair Reynolds
  • “One” by Nancy Kress
  • “Murder on the Aldrin Express” by Martin L. Shoemaker
  • “Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince” by Jake Kerr
  • “The Plague” by Ken Liu
  • “Fleet” by Sandra McDonald
  • “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin” by Michael Swanwick
  • “Bad Day on Boscobel” by Alexander Jablokov
  • “The Irish Astronaut” by Val Nolan
  • “The Other Gun” by Neal Asher
  • “Only Human” by Lavie Tidhar
  • “Entangled” by Ian R. MacLeod
  • “Earth 1″ by Stephen Baxter
  • “Technarion” by Sean McMullen
  • “Finders” by Melissa Scott
  • “The Queen of Night’s Aria” by Ian McDonald
  • “Hard Stars” by Brendan DuBois
  • “The Promise of Space” by James Patrick Kelly
  • “Quicken” by Damien Broderick


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