(Run from 16 September to 14 October 2013)

The Blurb

     Is Mars a dead and sterile desert, or teeming with life? Are the Martians long gone, or waiting still? Will we become the Martians? Will humanity settle Mars in gleaming antiseptic domes, or terraform it into a lush new paradise? Will invaders from Earth come from the skies, raining down death on the innocent canal-dwellers? Are the Martians beautiful humanoids or tentacular monstrosities? Unfallen angels, devils welcoming us in order to corrupt us – or worse? Will humanity’s Mars colonies be utopian or hellish? How many different colours can you put in front of ‘Mars’ to make a clever title?

     These Marses are, of course, mutually incompatible, contradictory and in many cases quite impossible. And Iris Wildthyme has visited them all.

     An anthology of Iris Wildthyme stories set on Mars, exploring as many different takes on the planet as possible, wandering from hard SF to steampunk to space western to planetary romance to horror to boys’ (or girls’) own adventure – unified, as always, by the presence of Iris and Panda.

The Book

Iris Wildthyme of Mars will be a hardback Iris Wildthyme anthology from Obverse Books, to be edited by me, Philip Purser-Hallard, and published in August 2014. It will be 75,000 to 8,000 words long, and consist of ten to twelve stories of 6,000 to 8,000 words each.

The Characters

Conceived partly as a response to Doctor Who, Iris Wildthyme is a feckless, drunken, chain-smoking tourist in time and space who travels in a Routemaster double-decker bus (ostensibly the Number 22 to Putney Common). Created by Paul Magrs, she has enjoyed a baroquely complicated publication history involving five different prose publishers and a spin-off series of audio plays, where she is played with brash Northern abandon by Katy Manning.

Although notionally our protagonist, Iris can be self-centred, hedonistic and irresponsible, treating her adventures primarily as entertainment (and thus liable to wander off and do something else if she gets bored in the middle of an alien invasion). Like the Doctor’s, her adventures take her into multiple and varied genres and fictional texts, but crucially she maintains a metafictional awareness of these worlds and their different rules. Her experiences have brought her into direct contact with a number of fictional characters – most frequently the Doctor himself, but others including Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Thomas Carnacki, Zorro and Santa Claus.

Like the Doctor, Iris comes with a number of different bodies and personalities. The Iris who will appear in Iris Wildthyme of Mars is the so-called ‘Barbarella incarnation’, who physically resembles Jane Fonda in the film of the same name and has the fashion sense to match.

The most glamorous of Iris’s personas (who tend on the whole to resemble middle-aged bag-ladies), this version is also superficially cooler, more urbane and sophisticated. Her speech is less northern than the Katy Manning Iris (though it remains British, rather than American like Fonda’s). She totes a shocking-pink laser-pistol which she is entirely willing to use, and tends to appear more competent overall, although to some extent this is about putting on a more convincing act. At heart, however, she remains a bibulous, forgetful old bat in a young woman’s body.

Her companion Panda appears to be an animate stuffed toy panda, some ten inches tall, though he takes grave exception to being described as such. Pompous, self-important and intolerant, as fond of a drink as Iris, he writes as an art critic and prides himself on his good taste. Though prone to act the drama queen, he is resolutely heterosexual, apparently finding human women as attractive as females of his own supposed species. Panda has a sentimental streak beneath his bluster and, though he and Iris argue constantly, it’s clear that they are very fond of one another. (Since it’s sometimes difficult to find appropriate things for him to do, Panda need not necessarily appear in every story.)

The Settings

The stories must be set wholly on Mars (or at least close to it – if there’s a good reason for visiting Mars’s moons, that would be acceptable).

You are free, however, to envisage the Red Planet in whatever way most interests you, without reference to the other authors and stories in the collection. As I’ve said, Iris visits many different fictional universes, and the idea of the anthology is to make as wide-ranging use as possible of ‘Mars’ as a setting. Deserts, canals, alien jungles, underground cities, colonial farmsteads, pressurised domes, artificial ecologies – all are fair game, as is any genre or subgenre you choose to write in. All we ask is that the various contributions are strong stories in their own right.

Feel free to be heavily influenced by any author who’s written fiction set on Mars, from Dante onwards (earlier if you can find anyone) – but please be aware of intellectual property issues, and don’t use anyone’s inventions overtly unless you’re certain they’re out of copyright. It shouldn’t need to be said, but yes, this does include the Ice Warriors and other elements from the Doctor Who universe.

The Stories

While the multiple interpretations of the setting are the collection’s unique selling point, the stories still need their own plots, characters and themes – so aimless travelogues, however interesting and well-written, should be avoided. (Travelogues with a strong storyline are, of course, welcome.)

Your story can reference previous Martian adventures of your own invention, but they should assume that the Mars Iris visited then is the Mars you are writing about now.

Examples of types of stories you might want to pitch might include:

Optional Reading List

Iris’s ‘Barbarella’ persona appears primarily in the novel Doctor Who: The Blue Angel by Paul Magrs and Jeremy Hoad (BBC Books 1999, ISBN 9780563555810). Previous Iris Wildthyme anthologies from Obverse books (mostly featuring Katy Manning’s Iris) include:

The Competition

We need to see a 600-word synopsis (including details of your setting) and a similar-length sample of your story by 14 October 2013, sent by email to At least one story will be selected on the basis of quality and originality for inclusion in Iris Wildthyme of Mars. Because of the likely volume of submissions, it unfortunately won’t be possible to provide individual feedback on non-winning stories.

Reading all the submissions may take a while, but unless I let you know otherwise, you should expect to hear back from me by 31 October. If you’re commissioned, I’ll be asking you to submit your story by the end of March 2014. The book will be published around August 2014.

Payment is a not especially princely £25 per story. Copyright in your stories and characters, other than Iris and Panda, will remain your own. created and maintained by Philip Purser-Hallard.
All material © Philip Purser-Hallard 2014 except where otherwise noted, and not to be used without permission.
Iris Wildthyme of Mars cover design © Cody Quijano-Schell 2014.
Iris Wildthyme of Mars cover artwork © Paul Hanley 2014.
Iris Wildthyme logo © Anthony Dry 2009.