Issue 4 is out now!

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Illustration by Wendy Xu

Illustration by Wendy Xu

It’s time for the next quarterly issue of Mothership Zeta! We’ve got a beautiful cover from Wendy Xu.

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 subscribe to the magazine at Weightless Books, or buy individual issues for a mere $2.99 at the following locations:

Continue reading…

The Absence of Being Alone: Companions in McCaffrey’s Pern, Lackey’s Valdemar, Hobb’s Farseer

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The feelings Sean shares with us in this article brought me back to my own middle school experiences with teasing, bullies, and loneliness and how deeply I bonded with the science fiction and fantasy books I was reading at the time. If I could, I would save every child from experiencing the pain of alienation, but since I can’t, I will write and write and write my stories for them. –Karen Bovenmyer, Nonfiction Assistant Editor

 

The Absence of Being Alone: Companions in McCaffrey’s Pern, Lackey’s Valdemar, Hobb’s Farseer

by Sean R. Robinson

 

During the 99-00 school year, I was assigned to Ms. Lamontagne’s seventh grade English class. In my middle-of-nowhere school, it meant that I shared yet another class with the same fourteen people I’d been sharing classes with since kindergarten (our graduating class was 33 people total, but that’s another story).

One of the units in class was a series called “Who Am I”—as we hormone-riddled thirteen-year-olds explored who we were, through literature and writing, and whatever else, I (hormone-riddled, weird-smelling, probably-gay) had never felt more alone in my life. I was convinced, with all the conviction of said age, that I was the Most Misunderstood Human in the World.

I was, as many (all?) of us were—more than a little bit lonely.

In those days, literature units had collections of stories—fiction and nonfiction. Ms. Lamontagne had us read each of the stories, usually aloud, and talk about them. You probably remember doing something similar and probably did it with as much enthusiasm as we did.

On one page was the picture of a dragon, behind it a mountainous background. The class (rolling their eyes, because Fantasy is “For Girls”) began to read The Littlest Dragonboy by Anne McCaffrey. Continue reading…

A Non-Hero’s Guide to The Road of Monsters by A.T. Greenblatt

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We’re suckers for non-hero stories. Not even anti-heroes, just people who aren’t Chosen Ones. People who have to do the damn work. Prince Lir from The Last Unicorn goes out daily to kill monsters to impress his love. Our narrator is someone who will happily laugh when she turns away from the lovelorn prince.

A Non-Hero’s Guide to The Road of Monsters

by A.T. Greenblatt

  1. The Siren

There are three basic guidelines that any idiot can follow when faced with a shape-shifting Siren hell bent on drowning you. One: Plug your ears and sit tight. She’ll tire eventually. Two: If easily visually swayed, use a blindfold. Three: Don’t be a hero.

Which around here is like telling people not to breathe.

The Siren guarding the bridge at the end of the road is a beauty in the classic sense and she’s relentless with all those brave, brave heroes attempting to cross the river. From the way her lips linger over syllables, I can tell she’s singing some slow, breathy song and between the lulls in victims, she brushes her radiant hair with a flimsy dollar-store brush and glares at me, challenging me to approach.

I don’t, of course, because unlike heroes, I’m not easy prey. Instead, I smile at her and wait, sitting in the hot, dusty road a healthy hundred meters away with my headphones turned up to deafening. (I forgo the blindfold because I do have a measure of self-control.) Continue reading…

Lasting Fiction Review: Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl by Karen Bovenmyer

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Lasting Fiction Review: Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl

by Karen Bovenmyer

Lasting fiction, or books on the New York Times bestseller with staying power, teach the reader specialist knowledge they would have not otherwise have access too. This issue, I’d like to take a close look at Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009), winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and Campbell Memorial awards. Named one of the best novels of the year by Time, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and the American Library Association, this book builds a clear vision in visceral strokes, well rendered characters, and asks those questions science fiction most wishes to explore.

Bacigalupi majored in Asian studies and traveled extensively in southeast Asia. After a close encounter with SARS in Bangkok trapped him in the sweltering city for days waiting for a flight out, he was inspired to explore those confined and hopeless feelings through fiction. He returned to Thailand specifically to research The Windup Girl, and the sense that this author truly understands Thai culture, politics, and society is evident throughout this novel. Continue reading…

Straight Lines by Naru Sundar

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An A.I. with OCD sounds like the start of a joke—or someone reciting the alphabet drunk—but Naru Sundar’s story treats this computer program with more empathy than some people treat actual humans with mental illness.

Straight Lines

by Naru Sundar

This time they sent someone in a suit, neutral gray silk with utterly glorious creases, monofilament thin.

“I’m Xiao Quan-Fei. They said you like to call yourself Em?”

Emergent Behavior in full, but I always hated the pontificating tone in the name. Fucking shipwrights. Fucking irony too, but let’s not go there yet. Xiao doesn’t begin with questions. Not like the seven others before her, cold military men and women jumping into reconstructions and maps and comm chatter. Xiao is different. Xiao just sits there.

I’m allowed a tiny little virtual. It’s in the charter, as much as they like to snigger at it. It’s still a prison, still a cramped little low bandwidth room with none of the expansive feel of space and star outside my hull. Xiao sits in the rectangular plastifoam chair and examines the coffee table. There are books atop it, unlabelled, empty, just for show. Each spine aligns with the edge of the table, two centimeters from each side.

Fuck. She moved it. She moved one. Not on purpose. Almost by accident, or is it on purpose? I can’t tell. But now that spine is a touch off. I can feel it. I can feel the angular deviation down in my gullet, down in every algorithm-scribed bone of me. It’s Io all over again. I built this damn space for myself and now she comes and moves a book. Continue reading…

Interview: Finder’s Carla Speed McNeil by Adam Gallardo

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Interview: Finder’s Carla Speed McNeil

by Adam Gallardo

Described as “aboriginal science fiction” when it was first released in 1996, Finder is the brain child of cartoonist Carla Speed McNeil. The comic is set in a world which may be our own in the far future, or it may be something else entirely. Regardless, the landscape is vast enough to encompass all manner of stories and a large cast of characters. The series has long been recognized as one of the best ongoing comics currently being published and has won several awards, including an Eisner, two Ignatz, and the Russ Manning Manning Award. In addition, the book has received praise from a number of comics luminaries including Jeff Smith, and Warren Ellis who calls the series “completely fascinating.”

Finder was self-published by McNeil’s own Lightspeed Press for thirty-eight issues before moving to a web-only comic. Eventually, Dark Horse Comics began publishing new material as well as collecting all the previous issues. The publisher is currently serializing the latest Finder story in their monthly anthology, Dark Horse Presents.

McNeil was gracious enough to let me email questions to her. The body of our discussions follows. Continue reading…

Movie Review: There Is No “I” in Lazer Team by Rachael Acks

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Author Rachael Acks once again inflicts movies of unknown quality on zirself, much to our delight.

Movie Review: There Is No “I” in Lazer Team

by Rachael Acks

Lazer Team is the first feature length, theatrical release film by Rooster Teeth. Whether that company name rings any alien invasion klaxons depends on if you’re in the part of the nerdosphere that adores their Halo-related Red vs. Blue series, American anime RWBY, or various Let’s Plays and video game-related streaming video. Rooster Teeth has a loyal and active fanbase which contributed significantly to the production of Lazer Team to the tune of almost $2.5 million on an IndieGoGo crowd funding project.

I’ve given various Rooster Teeth products a try and found that I’m definitely not the target audience—my dudebro quotient is probably on par with the average quiche—but hey, they made a movie? I like movies. I mention all of this as fair warning that while I did my level best to watch this movie with an open mind, I walked into the extremely guy-heavy theater with a sneaking suspicion that I might not be the target audience for this one either. Continue reading…

A Man Most Imperiled by Dan Malakin

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Zircon is unlike any man you’ve ever met. And when his home is threatened, he reacts like no man you’ve ever met. Dan Malakin presents a zany tale of mad science, bureaucracy, and more mad science.

A Man Most Imperiled

by Dan Malakin

I am Zircon. My father, the illustrious Professor Zircon, created me by bombarding his own DNA with neutrons from Neptunium 237. He grew me first in a Petri dish, then in a test tube, and finally in an artificial womb made from silicone, which remains on a bed of dried rose petals in my lab, and which I affectionately call Mother.

For ten years since the death of my father I have lived a solitary existence, away from the Herd, away from the radio mouths of modern society shouting their empty words; I do not wish to be told for what to wish; I do not need to be told how to be. It is in originality, in invention, in creation, that we stride the path of self-understanding. The Herd promotes consumers, not creators. They do not make or do; they lust or want. It is a lonely life, my life, but in the twenty-five years since I first took air in my lungs I have known no other—and how can you miss something you never had?

But alas, a hand-delivered letter arrived this morning from a body called WTP Developments that threatens my status quo. They claim to have purchased all the land in the area, including where my cottage sits, which they say has never been registered with The Land Registry and hence does not legally exist. I have two days to leave my home. Continue reading…

I Wish I’d Read Xenogenesis Twenty Years Ago by Rachael Acks

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Mothership Zeta is please to honor Octavia Butler’s birthday with an early posting of this article from our July issue:

We agree with Rachael–where were the valuable lessons we needed to hear from Octavia Butler when we were growing up? If you haven’t read this master of science fiction, check out what ze has to say about Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy.

 

I Wish I’d Read Xenogenesis Twenty Years Ago

by Rachael Acks

 

As I write this, I am actually angry that I didn’t read any Octavia Butler in high school. Really, that I didn’t read any of her books until now, at the age of 35. That I hadn’t really even heard of her as a writer of note who should be read until I was a writer myself and witnessing the ongoing conversation about diversity (or lack thereof) in the genre.

We did read a bit of science fiction in high school. I don’t know if this is normal or not. 1984, Ender’s Game, Tunnel in the Sky, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World are the ones I remember off the top of my head. In my own time, I read Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, and a lot of the other white dudes of the genre, because that’s what I heard was important and interesting.

None of them have left me as awed as Octavia Butler. And this is the first time as an adult I’ve read a book—several books—that made me think, I wish I’d read this twenty years ago, because maybe it would have helped me think a little differently about myself and the world around me.

The Xenogenesis trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago) has left me fascinated and profoundly disturbed in a way no book has in years. Butler created two of the most fascinating species I’ve ever read, the Oankali and their descendent Oankali-Human constructs, and then wrote first person narratives from their perspectives that are simultaneously eminently readable and discomfortingly alien.

The Oankali rescue the last remnants of humanity from an Earth that’s been all but destroyed by nuclear war, and salvage the planet as best they can. They then give the survivors a choice of how they will become extinct as a species: either die off of old age after being sterilized, or mate with the Oankali to produce an entirely new species but no more humans. They say humans are too fundamentally flawed (with the “Human Contradiction” of genetically guaranteed intelligence but also a desire for social hierarchies) to be allowed to continue on their own. Humans take this about as well as you’d expect—why rescue us just to kill us in this different way?—and the resulting mass of conflict, contradiction, inevitability, and unpleasant choices makes for a disturbing and fascinating read.

Octavia Butler doesn’t write unambiguously righteous characters except maybe Akin, the Oankali-Human construct main character of the second book, who makes it his mission to see that humans as a species are able to continue via a colony on Mars. There is no good species and bad species in this to make this easy on us as readers. The humans rape and murder each other at the earliest opportunity and happily rekindle all their old prejudices and hatreds. The Oankali, while supposedly abhorring death, condemn an entire species to die and offer them only fundamentally coercive mating as an alternative.

There’s this sense of struggle and rage against the inevitable that pervades all of the books, though in Dawn most of all, something that caught me emotionally and refused to let go. Lilith Iyapo, the main character of Dawn, is constantly forced by the Oankali to choose between equally untenable options. Eventually she becomes the mother of the first Oankali-Human hybrid children—impregnated against her will, note—because she chooses survival at the cost of what to her feels like a fundamental betrayal of her humanity. Lilith is such a tough, angry hero, I can’t help but love her and feel her helpless frustration and sympathize with her attempts to make the best of a terrible situation and find what happiness she can.

I wish I had known Lilith when I was younger, and angry, and feeling out of place with no good options. I wish I’d known these books, with their incredibly diverse array of humanity (Lilith is African-American, and the majority of the other human characters are non-white) long before I ever started hitting the discussions of the stunning lack of diversity we see in much popular media. Because look, Octavia Butler did it, and wrote fascinating books that were all in print before 1990!

And for all the creepy, coercive nature of their sexuality, I wish I’d known the Oankali. Octavia Butler imagined a species with a third gender, called ooloi, which is the most powerful and important in their society. It would have done me good, to have it sitting in my mind that apparent gender during childhood isn’t a straight line to adult gender—for the Oankali, there’s a certain amount of choice involved, where if a child feels like they would rather be male or female or other, they spend more time with the parent of that gender prior to their metamorphosis. I wish I’d had those notions percolating in my thoughts twenty years ago, rather than reading yet another novel about how horrible humans become when they’re cut off from civilization. Heck, Dawn or Adulthood Rites could have covered that base—though here I feel like Butler’s point was more devolution due to profound lack of hope—while still including a lot of other crunchy goodness.

There’s so much social and scientific complexity in what Octavia Butler wrote in Xenogenesis, and she does it with spare prose and from a perspective so different from mine. There have been excellent pieces written about the racial component in her work; I’m not going to rehash it here when I could only do a poor job. But thirty years later these are still relevant socially, and also on a personal level to me as a queer individual, if a white one. I’ve gotten more out of these books than I ever did from Clarke or Asimov. They’ll stay with me far longer, and I’m better for it.

I’m angry I didn’t know Octavia Butler’s work when I was younger, but I’m glad and honored and humbled to have met her now through her words.

 

Rachael Acks is a writer, geologist, and dapper AF. Ze’s written for Six to Start and been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Rachael lives in Denver with zir two furry little bastards, where ze twirls zir mustache, watches movies, and bikes. For more information, see http://www.rachaelacks.com

Nobody Puts Baby in a Chamber by Alexis A. Hunter

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It’s a damn shame that appliances don’t talk to us in such soothing tones as SF has led us to believe they will someday. I guess the closest we have is Siri, but she’s programmed with snark. Which can be fun at times, and at other times you just want to be comforted. If Siri ate your baby, she’d probably just show you maps to grief counseling centers. Let’s hope she won’t go baby eating.

Nobody Puts Baby in a Chamber

by Alexis A. Hunter

Please stop screaming. [110dB—adult human is distraught.]

I am sorry. I did not intend to suck up your baby.

[Physical force—nonlethal, safety protocols prohibit self-defense.]

I assure you your offspring is just fine. It appears to be entertained by the dust “bunnies” in my holding tank. Oh—please stop screaming—it has found those plastic keys I sucked up last week. See, all will be fine.

Please remain calm.

[Cessation of physical force—reassurance remains necessary.]

It is imperative that you do not use my emergency power-off. I am continuously running gentle suction in order to pipe oxygen in for your baby. Continue reading…