I am looking for the name of a sci-fi short story I read in 2002 that was part of either an anthology or a sci-fi subscription where a planet (not Earth) had a race of beings with many tentacles that would stage a ritual dance every year that people from around the galaxy would gather to witness. At the end of the multi-day dance, the creatures would all die as their tentacles became more and more frenzied in the dance moves. A human woman wanted to be a part of the dance and had extensive plastic surgery to allow her limbs to move as the dancers' did. Does anyone recall the name or author of this story?

Edit: Since I read it in the summer of 2002, the story had to have been written well before then - if that helps narrow it down.

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    Searching for 'tentacles and woman' on google did not yield the results I wanted... Also, please pass the eye-bleach.
    – Valorum
    Apr 22, 2015 at 18:16
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    LOL @Richard! I know EXACTLY what you mean...it's just so wrong! Try adding "undulate" to that search for more fun! Thanks for trying! Apr 22, 2015 at 18:31
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    A woman dancing with tentacle creatures? Perhaps this belongs on the Anime SE...
    – Omegacron
    Apr 22, 2015 at 18:54
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    I thought I had it for a moment, but no, doesn't look like the right story.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 7, 2017 at 17:20
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    @Omegacron I guess you were joking, but just to avoid confusion: the Anime SE no longer allows ID questions, so this post wouldn't work there.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 7, 2017 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


I have read the short story you are describing. A bit of research suggests that it is probably one of the Marionettes stories by Adam-Troy Castro, probably The Funeral March of the Marionettes, or its sequel The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes.

What little I can remember: I think the dance of the alien species was intended as communication of some kind, and that the species was unable to communicate with humans in any way other than via dance, and even when they did, the messages were so garbled as to be almost useless. Humans that learned to speak the alien dance-language to any substantial degree seemed to think they were starting to understand it, and yet also become increasingly incomprehensible to ordinary humans.

The big ritual dance that you refer to was described by the aliens as being somehow crucially important for the universe, but they could never explain why in a way that humans could understand, and whether the dance was somehow artistically/aesthetically important or important in some other more tangible way. And I seem to remember that participants in the dance died afterwards.

(Note: According to here, The Funeral March of the Marionettes was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards in the Best Novella category in 1998, as well as taking 16th place in a Locus poll. The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes was nominated for the Nebula awards for the Best Novella category in 2004, as well as being shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards.)

(For the record, when searching for the story title, Google availed me naught, but I finally found a brief description and the story name on TVTropes for "Starfish Language" in the "Literature" section.)

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    Thanks @Some Guy! “The Funeral March of the Marionettes” is the story I’ve been looking for! I was able to confirm it by reading a few pages from the link user14111 also helpfully provided. I knew I could count on an awesome SE community to find the answer...albeit 2 1/2 years after asking the question initially! You’ve earned the bonus and my gratitude! :-) Nov 14, 2017 at 13:17

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