Mothership Zeta: Issue Six is out!

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Cover by Elizabeth Leggett

It’s time for the sixth quarterly issue of Mothership Zeta, featuring another beautiful cover from Elizabeth Leggett.

As always, in the coming months we’ll be bringing you some of the content from the zine, for free. If you want all the awesome content we offer, you can buy individual issues for a mere $2.99 at the following locations:

Continue reading…

Review: Joe McDermott’s The Fortress at the End of Time

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Check out some new, thoughtful scifi on the outer rim.

Review: Joe McDermott’s The Fortress at the End of Time

By David Simms

THE FORTRESS AT THE END OF TIME by Joe McDermott
Tor Books 272pp
TPB/Kindle editions
ISBN-10: 076539281X
ISBN-13: 978-0765392817

The deepest parts of space. The places where soldiers are sent to die, to wither, to watch their own souls fold in on themselves from the despair of lives tossed away by a civilization that has closed its mind off from a forgotten war. This is the place where they have sent Ensign Ronaldo Aldo, a newbie from the academy, where he can live with the awful sin he has committed.

Joe McDermott has penned a tale that is difficult to categorize. True, it has some of the tenants of classic space opera and hard science fiction, but The Fortress at the End of Time shuns both labels in its story, for the most part. Sure, drama exists and those who live on the dilapidated station fight through horrid conditions, both literally and with themselves, but the true conflicts comes from a deeper place. Though marketed as “hard” the science does not overwhelm and takes a backseat to the characters. What can readers expect? Existential scifi applies, yet the inward journey here delves more into the psychology of the young ensign and the dead end, both physically and metaphorically.

McDermott spins a different sort of story that is a confessional, conversational in manner, and a far cry from the typical action-filled military science fiction it has been lumped in with. The prose pours from the ensign’s voice as if he has been resigned to his fate and nearly sings his own dirge. What results is a mostly easy read, one with pages flowing and thoughts cracking. Continue reading…

The Story Doctor is (In):Thakrar’s “The Mango Tree”

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The Story Doctor is back to tell us why The Mango Tree’s magic works so very well on us.

The Story Doctor is (In):Thakrar’s “The Mango Tree”

by James Patrick Kelly

I’m wondering how many of you paused in your reading “The Mango Tree” to look up some of the Hindi words. Did you know that a sadhu is an ascetic holy man? That the nakshatdras are the lunar zodiac of Vedic Astrology? Perhaps you stumbled over this sentence?

Whether it was a nightly cup of warm turmeric doodh for inflammation, a regimen of ashwagandha and pranayama breathing for depression, or sweetened coriander paste taken internally for excessive menstrual bleeding, Baa and Dadaji always had a prescription ready to dole out.

For those of us who are spice-challenged and can barely tell the difference between salt and pepper, envisioning turmeric (a herbaceous plant of the ginger family) or coriander (also known as cilantro) might have been challenge enough. But doodh? A tea beverage. Ashwagandha? A powerful herb in Ayurvedic healing. Pranayama? Breath control.

I bring this up not to criticize but rather to point out how Shveta has finessed what might have been a problem for her readers. Because I never once felt compelled to look up any of the Hindi phrases she sprinkles throughout her story. Sure, I knew some of the words, but there were many others that were new to me. Nevertheless, I read along without a stop, caught up by the skillful telling. Does that make me a lazy reader?

Nope! Continue reading…

The Mango Tree by Shveta Thakrar

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This beautiful story explores the concept of healing much more than the physical body. Shveta shared this is “for Bai and Bhaa, who live in the flat of my heart.”

The Mango Tree

by Shveta Thakrar

“When I was young,” Baa said, “and I lived in Bhuj, my best friend was a kesar mango tree.”

She picked up a mature yellow-orange mango from the kitchen counter and began slicing it with her small knife. Lata could already taste the tangy, sweet-tart juice on her tongue. Sucking on the pit was her favorite thing, even though she always ended up with fibers lodged between her teeth.

In the adjoining living room, the fan whirred overhead, a lazy rhythm that did little to move the humid, stifling air around. Even the ancient window unit didn’t help. Lata gulped down her glass of water and, still thirsty, stared at the luscious fruit.

“These mangoes are nothing like the ones from that tree,” her grandmother went on. “Dry and sour in comparison. That tree loved me.” Continue reading…

The Story Doctor is (In) by James Patrick Kelly

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The incomparable Jim Kelly is back, story-doctoring the equally incomparable Maurice Broaddus’s “At the Village Vanguard (Ruminations on Blacktopia)” for your delight. Learn how Maurice works his magic in this original story.

The Story Doctor is (In): Broaddus’s “At the Village Vanguard (Ruminations on Blacktopia)

by James Patrick Kelly

Not every story needs to be told in the same way. In my experience, the gene for experimentation in a writer’s DNA is most frequently expressed in the short form. While the straightforward craft of building upon the three-sided foundation of plot, character and setting works best for most readers—and writers—other strategies can pay unique dividends. Limiting narration to one point of view is not a law of nature, nor is sequential narrative required to earn one of the coveted spots here on the table of contents at Mothership Zeta. What is important at the end of the day is whether the reader has a sense of a time and a place, whether she can appreciate the motivations of someone who takes action and whether she understands the importance of the matters under consideration by the writer.

Case in point: “At the Village Vanguard (Ruminations on Blacktopia)” by Maurice Broaddus. By my count there are eight points of view on display in this intricate story, with only one brief dip into the point of view of the character who is arguably the protagonist, Astra Black, born Livinia Watson II—and that is actually a brief transcript of her final transmission. The vast majority of this story is told in first person narration by friends, colleagues, rivals and enemies. To call it jumpy would be an understatement, but Maurice manages his transitions so adroitly that soon the reader settles in the rhythm he has established. The story purports to be part of a historical feature from a future news outlet and is told in reminiscences, or perhaps testimony, as the many characters try to understand Astra and the meaning of her sacrifice. While the exact nature of her sacrifice is this story’s subject, we are told at the outset that the lunar colony survived “a terrorist threat which nearly ended it” because of “the heroic actions of the Science Police Officer, Astra Black.” Since the narrative consistently refers to Astra in the past tense, most readers will intuit that her heroism will cost her life. So we know the ending almost as soon as the story starts. This one is not about suspense in the traditional sense.

Continue reading…

At the Village Vanguard (Ruminations on Blacktopia) by Maurice Broaddus

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We are putting the shine on Issue 6, so while you wait, please enjoy this story!

To use a phrase in the text below, this story is “straight up blackity-black,” indicative of Maurice Broaddus’s singular voice. If you’re not already a fan of Afrofuturism, this will hook you.

At the Village Vanguard (Ruminations on Blacktopia)

by Maurice Broaddus

 

In this, the 25th anniversary of the founding of the lunar colony, First World (colloquially called Blacktopia by its residents), The Indianapolis Recorder, the nation’s oldest-surviving African-American newspaper, continues its series re-visiting key events. Their reporter interviewed (and re-interviewed) many of the principals in order to piece together a picture of the terrorist threat that nearly ended it and the heroic actions of Science Police Officer, Astra Black.

 

Jiminy Crootz (aka J-Croo, Science Police, Senior Investigator. Retired.)

When the alarms sounded for the converter station, I had no doubt she would beat me there. The gate surrounding the solar panel farm had been slit open, like someone wanted to perform a Caesarean but only had a rusted pair of clippers at their disposal. The backdoor of the converter station had been battered in. The air, heavy and re-breathed, like the filters weren’t working at full efficiency. Panels ripped open, wires everywhere. Nanobots probably skittered across the room like roaches in my aunty’s old kitchen. The farm was strictly a backup source of power for the lunar colony, so it wasn’t as heavily guarded as say the nuclear fission power station or the magnetic generators. But there was still a man down and Astra Black stood over his body.

 

Dr. Hensley Morgan (aka Dreamer, ranking Science Council member)

Astra had an elegance about her, like the waltz of a First Lady. When she walked, she stepped with purpose. Long strides, though only the balls of her feet ever seemed to touch the ground. At first glance, nothing about her stuck out as exceptional. Average height and build. Hair drawn back in Afro puffs. But she had this way about her. Continue reading…

The Indigo Ace and the High-Low Split by Annalee Flower Horne

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We are putting the shine on Issue 6, so while you wait, please enjoy this story that’s…

Part detective story, part family drama, part superhero action, all fun: Annalee Flower Horne delivers the goods and a well-placed Hamilton reference.

The Indigo Ace and the High-Low Split

by Annalee Flower Horne

 

Izzie Benitez was halfway through her chemistry homework when the red phone rang. She barreled through the coat closet and slid down the banister into her dad’s secret lair to answer it. “Azure Ace’s line.”

“This is the Mayor,” said the mayor, as if anyone else ever called the red phone. “Tell the Ace he’s needed at the Gem Depository. There’s a theft in progress.”

Click.

Izzie pulled out her mobile and called her father’s encrypted line.

“Azure Ace,” he greeted, in a voice auto-tuned to booming.

“The mayor called. You’re wanted over at the Coaltown Gem Depository.”

“Are there giant robots at the Gem Depository? Rampaging towards Steel City?” Something exploded on his end of the line.

“No, just thieves.”

“I hope they enjoy their thieving, then.”

“Can I take it?”

“Is your homework done?”

“Yes.”

“You suck at lying.”

“Mom lets me fight crime when I’m at her house.” Continue reading…

Story Ideas from the Oxford English Dictionary by Karen Bovenmyer

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MZ’s nonfiction editor is back with more story-idea-generating words from the Oxford English Dictionary. Discover new words, story concepts, and reflections on how English evolves (or some say, steals words shamelessly and makes up the rest).

Story Ideas from the Oxford English Dictionary

by Karen Bovenmyer

I’ve been working with my editor on my first novel, which releases next year. It’s an LGBT historical pirate adventure set in the Caribbean of 1822, so I’ve relied heavily on the Oxford English Dictionary and Historical Thesaurus to check that I’m not using words and phrases that weren’t in common use yet. I also love to write science fiction and fantasy, so during my OED adventures, I keep a digest of interesting words for personal reference. Here are the ones I’ve collected during the last six months I think will inspire you the most—read this long-tongued article, get scienced, then get kilig, don’t be a rudesby, and sit down to make some autoschediastic stories. Send them out—don’t leave us any Nachlass! Stuck? Have a character puggle a latebricole from a dream-hole and act bahala na about it.

antelope (1417): A fierce and elusive mythical creature with long serrated horns, said to haunt the banks of the Euphrates river; (now more fully heraldic antelope) a heraldic animal representing this (often depicted also with a spiked nose, and a tufted mane and long tail). Now archaic or historical

Anthropocene (2000): The era of geological time during which human activity is considered to be the dominant influence on the environment, climate, and ecology of the earth. The Anthropocene is most commonly taken to extend from the time of the Industrial Revolution to the present, but is sometimes considered to include much or all of the Holocene

The Penelope Qingdom by Aidan Moher

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Childhood is a time for escapist fantasies and sweet friendships. Aidan Moher spins a heartwarming tale about magic real and figurative, the kind that brings two kindred spirits together and links them forever.

The Penelope Qingdom

by Aidan Moher

It was during the particularly frozen-solid Prince George winter of ’91, a few days after the new neighbours had arrived, that I first stumbled into the Penelope Qingdom.

“What are their names?” I asked my moms as they bustled about the kitchen getting ready. They’d invited themselves next door for a “Welcome to the Neighbourhood” dinner. We’d never had new neighbours before.

“Mr. and Mrs…Qw- Qwing?” said Mom. “They have a daughter. She’s eleven, too, so you’ll probably be in the same class after Christmas break.”

“You’d better be nice to her,” Mum muttered as she dug around the fridge. “And, I think it’s more like ‘Sching’ than ‘Qwing.'” Mom made a face and stuck out her tongue. The oven timer dinged—Mom took the lasagna out and put it on the counter. Mum appeared from the fridge with a bottle of wine.

“Can you grab this, Ivan?” Mom said, gesturing at the pasta. “Can’t let it cool.” Without waiting for my answer, she disappeared toward the front of the house to get our winter boots and jackets. Mum followed her with the wine. I wrapped the lasagna in a tea towel, met them in the mud room, and we left the house.

The neighbour’s front door swung open before I could ring the doorbell. A girl with rumpled black hair greeted us. She wore jeans and a knit sweater decorated with the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701, naturally).

“Hello,” she said, her voice like dappled sunlight.

There was a moment of awkward silence. What do you say to a new neighbour? “My mom made her classic lasagna.” Not my finest first impression.

“I see that,” she said. Her grin was challenging and endearing all at once. I wasn’t used to such complexity in a smile.

The girl’s mother came to the door, martini in hand.

“Hello, Mrs…” said Mum, trailing off to avoid an indelicate pronunciation.

“Mrs. King. With a Q,” she added with a flourish—the way she’d probably said it a million times before. “But, please, call me Cathy. With a C.” Her tight blonde curls bounced as she winked with her whole face.

“Why ‘with a Q’?” I asked.

Mum smacked me lightly across the back of the head. “Don’t ask things like that!” she said.

“Hello, dear,” Mom said to the girl before Mrs. Qing could reply. She had an oddly irritating smile on her face. “What’s your name?”

“Penelope,” said Penelope.

“Well, invite them in!” called a man’s voice from deeper in the house. It wasn’t quite teasing, but almost.

Their home wasn’t much bigger than ours, but where my moms kept things spotless, chaos reigned in the Qing household. Respectable, understandable chaos—boxes stacked high in the hallways, furniture covered with old sheets, and walls half-painted; the detritus of an upheaved life—but chaos all the same. I loved it.

“Why don’t you show Ivan the basement while we share a cocktail with his parents, Penelope?” Mrs. Qing said as soon as the front door shut. Penelope’s face broke into a mischievous smile. She grabbed my hand and pulled me through a nearby darkened doorway and down a stairway. Continue reading…

Game Review: Have You Met My New Birdie? He’s a Lawyer by Rachael Acks

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Rachael is back again to amuse us all with zir adventures. This time we assigned zir the game Aviary Attorney (to continue the theme we started with Hatoful Boyfriend) and giggled behind our hands. Check out Rachael’s take and then, in the spirit of MZ, try out this fun game.

Game Review: Have You Met My New Birdie? He’s a Lawyer

by Rachael Acks

Paris is on the brink of revolution—when is it not—and there’s been a murder most fowl. A hapless society kitten stands accused with blood on her paws. And the right bird for the job is… not available, so it looks like you’ll be defending her instead. Good luck.

You might just be playing Aviary Attorney.

Like the game Hatoful Boyfriend, you could describe Aviary Attorney as “game type X, but with birds.” Dating game with birds, meet Ace Attorney with birds. And wolves, and foxes, and various felines, and a rabbit as the world’s worst prosecutor—he’s got no killer instinct, you know. There’s significantly less pudding in Aviary Attorney than Hatoful Boyfriend, with all that empty space filled by an array of puns, political class jokes, and plays on French language.

But boy, does it get dark. Crying over my fictional pigeon boyfriend did not even prepare me for the journey Aviary Attorney took me on. Maybe I should have known, considering the setting is a fictional 1848 Paris that stands on the brink of explosive mob violence, and the main character JayJay Falcon is an attorney who defends those accused of murder. In the first chapter, you defend a cat accused of gutting a frog over her father’s business interests. In the second, it’s a fox who’s accused of attempting to assassinate the king—an extremely dumb penguin who would be endearing if he weren’t so infuriatingly privileged that it makes you want to haul out Madame Guillotine yourself—and accidentally murdered his guard captain instead. And in the third chapter? The bird shit hits the fan. You’re assigned to track down a mysterious arms dealer who supplies the revolutionaries. You’ll end up only wishing it was that simple.

That all sounds really serious, right? And it is. When you’re looking at the spooky backgrounds of the crypts under Paris and spying on a lioness casually talking about torturing someone? Boy is it. But it’s also sublimely ridiculous.