Issue 3 is live!

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It’s time for the next quarterly issue of Mothership Zeta! We’ve got another cover by Hugo-award-winner Elizabeth Leggett.

Coming this month 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:

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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…

Lasting Fiction: China Miéville’s The City and the City by Karen Bovenmyer

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Lasting fiction teaches the reader something, demands hyper reality, and is populated with realistic and believable characters.  

Lasting Fiction: China Miéville’s
The City and the City

by Karen Bovenmyer

China Miéville fulfills my MFA professor Liz Hand’s observation that bestselling and award-winning fiction “teaches” the reader. Miéville, in addition to being a lifelong native of London, studied anthropology in Zimbabwe and Egypt. His Ph.D. in International Relations was earned in 2005 with the publication of Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law: He’s a socialist who has run for office. I mention these points because they’re all relevant to The City and the City, an intensely realized and vivid setting that explores two cities existing in the same place at the same time—with layers and levels on top of and interwoven between each other. As a Londoner, Miéville is intimate with the socio-cultural atmosphere of cities, as a traveler in Europe and Africa, he encountered first-hand how different and yet similar these can be. In The City and the City, we see two cities of mixed peoples with distinct cultures interlaced. We might guess Miéville has noticed similar interlacing in the very real cities of his experience and internalized these observations. It is said “write what you know” and in Miéville’s masterful hands the reader can share Miéville’s experience. Continue reading…

Astronauts Prepping to be The Martian: They build things and grow things…in space by Dr. Pamela L. Gay

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Astronomer Dr. Pamela L. Gay returns what it really takes to be an astronaut—an inside look at required skills and the long timeline involved.

Astronauts Prepping to be The Martian:
They build things and grow things…in space

by Dr. Pamela L. Gay

“Kid, by the time you’re grown up NASA will have built all the cool stuff.”  I heard those words in 1988. That dude was wrong—today is a great time (for somebody else) to be an astronaut.

At the time, eighth-grade me was standing in front of a diagram of the planned Space Station Freedom at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center. I was there to pretend to be an astronaut as I attended Space Camp. At that adolescent moment, all I wanted to do was fly among the stars, help build space stations, conduct research, be a science communicator, and build international peace one rocket launch at a time. I was a kid; I wanted to do everything, and I wanted to do it in space. Continue reading…

You, an Accidental Astronaut, by Sonja Natasha

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You may not have left your girlfriend, and you may not have traveled to space, but in a thousand words Sonja Natasha paints a gorgeous picture of you doing just that.

You, an Accidental Astronaut

by Sonja Natasha

You leave Earth like you leave your girlfriend: tripping over your shoelaces because you hurried too much to tie them right. You need to be gone before she wakes up, before you have to fumble an awkward goodbye. So you hitch a ride on a rocket ship with your legs curled against your chest and with the stars shooting by, thinking about the things and people you’d left behind: the diner with the all-you-can-eat waffles every Sunday morning, the temple across the way with a smooth paved lot so good for rollerblading, and your mom who always baked her own bread, who always gave you the first steaming slice glazed with sugar and dusted with cinnamon, but who never liked your girlfriend, the same girl you left, remember, without even saying see you later.

She’ll get over you just like you’ll get over her. She’ll find another nice girl. You’ll find someone on a planet somewhere over there after the engines harness a sun flare, tearing holes in space and time to where everything’s gonna be just fine.

You fall asleep and wake up to an event horizon of faces peering down at you and asking why you aren’t back home because you’re not supposed to be here. It’s too late to turn back and you’ve bet your life there’s nothing they can do to ground you.

They put an astronaut’s fish-globe helmet over your head. They don’t offer you anything to eat because they’re too busy exonerating themselves for leaving you behind in their exhaust fumes. You’ll be okay, they tell you. It’ll be just like falling asleep, and you’ll wake up in a better place.

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The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell, by Carlie St. George

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The great thing about reading for Mothership Zeta is the stories are fun. So fun! Often very funny! Sometimes you’re having an absolutely wretched day, and you dive into slush and discover a ridiculous screwball zom-rom-com that lifts your entire mood, with snappy banter, pop culture references a-plenty, and an affecting relationship at the center of its undead heart. We hope Carlie St. George’s mash-up of mad science, zombies, and Girl Scouts brightens your day as it’s brightened ours.

The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell

by Carlie St. George

My boyfriend Brandon had been dead two days. He smelled like he’d been embalmed in lavender.

Lavender wasn’t our first choice. Originally, I’d picked out Warm Vanilla Sugar. That had been a bad call: Warm Vanilla Sugar made Brandon hungry. But Sweet Pea faded too quickly, and anything strawberry gave me hives. Sea Island only made Brandon smell like rotting fish.

So I went to Bath & Body Works on a lavender shopping extravaganza, buying every vaguely purple product I could find. I left with lavender hand soap, massage oil, body lotion, shampoo.

Brandon wasn’t impressed.

“It has to be written down somewhere. It’s gotta be a rule.” He’d already said this three times, so I ignored him and worked the conditioner into his ridiculous Goku hair. We were sitting in the upstairs bathroom, in a tub deep enough to drown a Newfoundland, were it actually filled. It wasn’t filled because I suspected that soaking my sort-of dead boyfriend in bubble bath would be counterproductive. It shouldn’t have made a difference—Brandon wasn’t actually decomposing, not anymore, and yet? The charming smell of early putrefaction remained. Thus the lavender and a glaring lack of bubbles.

I filled a cup of water and carefully rinsed out Brandon’s dark hair. He tickled my toes absently with his pale spider fingers.

“Stop it,” I said.

Brandon didn’t stop it. He was the kind of guy who couldn’t stop tickling someone until she kicked him in the nuts. “The dead,” he said, “should not smell like little old women. Seriously, that’s a rule, right? Some zombie commandment?”

I didn’t want to hear about zombie commandments. I wanted him to appreciate how thrifty I’d been. Shit like this didn’t come cheap, and while I came from money—old, ridiculous money, the kind where you could just give your daughter a house because you still owned five other vacation homes to choose from—my parents weren’t paying for anything that might lead to awkward questions. Like, “Why do you need all that lavender?” or “Rachel, you don’t know who stole Brandon’s body, do you?”

Mom and Dad were already disappointed I wasn’t someone’s trophy wife. Corpse thief and mad scientist might have broken them.

Continue reading…

A New Hope by Rachael Acks

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FYI: SPOILER ALERT! Rachael returns to review Star Wars: The Force Awakens for us–and also make me cry, but that could be my residual feels from watching the film. I hope you enjoy Rachael’s nuanced review–it gave me a lot more to think about than my impulse “WOO HOO YAY SO HAPPY” reaction and the fact that I, like most kids in the 1970s, could do nothing for the entire weekend before Christmas except ask my mom over and over if we could go and see it again. –Karen Bovenmyer, Nonfiction Editor

A New Hope

by Rachael Acks

Great news, everyone—Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t suck! In fact, it’s pretty damn fun. This is a difficult movie to review objectively because the prequel trilogy was just so soul-destroyingly bad. They set the bar so low that the new film just had to not spit in our collective popcorn to pass with flying colors. But not only was there no Bantha saliva in my snacks, I came out of the theater feeling excited and hopeful for the next film.

In The Force Awakens, the Empire, which is now run by Gollum (actually named Snoke, played by Andy Serkis) has (sort of?) been replaced by the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Sith Lord with both daddy and impulse-control issues, leads the First Order in the hunt for Luke Skywalker. The Resistance, which is kind of the Republic but somehow not and is basically a rebranded Rebel Alliance, is also looking for Luke. General Leia Organa (I will never get tired of typing that) sends her best pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) to the planet Jakku. There he picks up a Storm Trooper named Finn (John Boyega) who wants to escape the civilian-murdering life. Finn allies with Rey (Daisy Ridley) to get Poe’s droid, BB-8—who is impossibly even more adorable than R2-D2—to the Resistance. They escape Jakku in the Millennium Falcon, inevitably reunite the old girl with Han and Chewie, and the film rolls on from there, with spaceship battles, lightsabers, and an even bigger planet-destroying weapon because apparently the Empire—sorry, the First Order—only has one idea.

The Force Awakens is at its best when it trusts in its feelings and lets go of the original trilogy long enough to be its own story. The cast is excellent. The actors from the original trilogy—Fisher, Ford, Mayhew and the little you get to see of Mark Hamill—are everything you could have hoped. Leia and Han bicker like an old married couple and deftly invite us into their unfortunately no-longer-private heartbreak. Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac as Rey, Finn, and Poe make an even more compelling trio than Luke, Leia, and Han did. Driver plays a convincing villain who is terrifying because he’s anything but suave and in control; he’s flailing for legitimacy and about to go the full Caligula, though with (I fervently hope) less incest and more lightsaber. BB-8 represents the droid contingent solidly, taking a place as one of the most empathetic characters in the movie. The cast plays in a colorful world that’s chock full of practical effects, puppets, and background actors in full creature makeup rather than the eye-gouging CGI that characterized episodes I-III.

It’s when the plot and the slavish devotion to the original trilogy get in the way of these larger-than-life characters that The Force Awakens hits the rocks. This film is tied strongly to episodes IV, V, and VI, and that’s both blessing and curse. When you see the little details, like the shot of Finn going down into the gun well of the Millennium Falcon and you can feel the echo of Luke doing the same? It’s wonderful. When the Empire’s plan to rule the galaxy is literally the same fucking plan that they had in the last three movies, it’s a lot less charming. I can only surmise that there’s some engineer living in Emperor Gollum’s closet, whose only function is to pop out and say yes sir, but what about an even bigger laser that can blow up a whole galaxy? What about time itself? And then presumably J. J. Abrams pulls off his mask and reveals he was Russell T. Davies all along.

There are also some profound issues during the second act, when the movie attempts to pull all the disparate plot elements together for the third act climactic battle. Rey runs off not because it meets any kind of narrative logic, but because she needs to be alone in order for the next plot point to occur. The Death Star Supreme With Extra Cheese destroys several planets we’ve never heard of for…reasons, presumably. And these planets are conveniently located in such a place that the heroes can witness the destruction because. Uh. Other reasons.

These plot issues and the regurgitation of the original trilogy into a new film fill me with concern more than hope. J. J. Abrams’s previous science fiction effort, the new Star Trek, had many of the same problems in its first installment. I came out hoping that it would make a clean break and come into its own in the next film, Star Trek Into Darkness. I’m sure if you’ve seen that movie, you’re shaking your head, or possibly throwing something across the room. So while I have hope for Episode VIII and its strong cast, I’m also worried.

What struck me the hardest in The Force Awakens, though, were the casting decisions. The Force Awakens gives us General Leia Organa (still not tired of typing that), and Rey as the obvious inheritor of the Jedi tradition. But women also undeniably exist in secondary spaces, not as slaves and eye candy, but presented as if they belong there of course. Captain Phasma runs her division without needing boob armor, thank you very much. A female X-wing pilot, Jess Testor, exists and doesn’t die, but is seen celebrating with the rest of her squadron later. Finn, a man of color, has the best character arc in the film and exemplifies the quality of loyalty. Poe, played by a Latino, is the best pilot of the Resistance. These details may seem small, but they aren’t. The galaxy far, far away is bigger than ever before, and more welcoming. On the way out of my viewing of the movie, I saw one little girl dressed as Princess Leia, and another as Rey.

And that’s the real reason I came out of this movie feeling hope.


Rachael Acks is a writer, geologist, and sharp-dressed sir. In addition to a steampunk mystery novella series, she’s had short stories in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and more. She’s also written six episodes for Six to Start’s Superhero Workout game. Rachael lives in Houston (where she bikes, drinks tea, and twirls her ever so dapper mustache) with her two furry little bastards. For more information, see her website (http://www.rachaelacks.com) or watch her tweet (@katsudonburi) way too often.

Fire in the Belly, by Rachael Acks

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Meet Henrietta, your new favorite preteen space Western thief. She’s all alone on a brand new planet, and she’s about to have a life-changing adventure. Rachael Acks weaves together a few genres in this rip-roaring tale, hopefully not the last we’ll see of this spunky young firebrand!

Fire in the Belly

by Rachael Acks

Henrietta squinted up at the rift ship Phoenix, a skyscraper of blinding metal and until recently the only home she’d ever known, as it lumbered into the sky. Choking clouds of dust turned the sun blood red, but she refused to duck her head or cover her eyes until the ship had become no more than a shining point of light. The wind died down, raining dust onto the landing field, but she kept her pointy chin high and blinked her blue-gray eyes against the sting.

“So this is what bein’ free tastes like,” she murmured, then wiped a swath of dust from her cheek and licked it from her finger. Taste the dirt and know the world, she’d heard the spacers say, and she focused on that instead of the shrill of fear waiting to become full-blown panic in the back of her head. She hadn’t had much of a choice about jumping ship, not if she wanted to keep her skin in one piece. The security boss on the Phoenix had made that abundantly clear with his fist. And so she stood here, wherever that was. “Don’t tell me what this place is called, though.”

Had to make the best of it. Had to keep moving.

A shadow fell over her as she bent to pick up the bundle of clothes at her feet, and someone kicked the back of her knee. She fell on her meager luggage, but came up swinging. “The hell was that for?”

The culprit was a man dressed in a blue suit, the special shade all TransRift employees wore, black tie pencil thin and tacked with a gold four-leaf clover. He wore sunglasses, but she felt him staring all the same, his lip curling up. That was her warning to grab her bundle and scoot. Half a second later, a glob of brown tobacco spit landed where she’d been. “Show some respect, trash muffin.”

She made a rude gesture, dodged another wad of spit. “Ain’t like you’re showin’ any. Got to give to get!”

The man sneered. “Fine words from a damn pocket picker.” He drew his jacket aside, reaching for the smooth black handle of a baton, spring-loaded to break bones. She swallowed back a whimper at the familiar sight. “Get off my landing field before you stink it up.”

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Hatoful Boyfriend Is the Greatest Pigeon Dating Sim in the History of Human and/or Bird Existence by Sunil Patel

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Sunil, Mur, and I share an ongoing “editorial e-chat” and I’ve been hearing about my fellow Associate Editor’s deep enjoyment of this video game for quite a while. As you might imagine, working with Mur and Sunil is a blast (our non-editorial squeeing over the fun and uplifting things in our lives is as enjoyable as our Mothership Zeta work) and I’m glad he agreed to share how much he loves Hatoful Boyfriend with you. Thanks, Sunil! –Karen Bovenmyer, Nonfiction Associate Editor

Hatoful Boyfriend Is the Greatest Pigeon Dating Sim in the History of Human and/or Bird Existence

by Sunil Patel

Imagine you’re a teenage Japanese girl.

This may be easier for some of you than it is for others.

Imagine it’s your first day at a new school. Imagine you’re excited for everything the coming year holds for you, from track meets and student council to cultural festivals and summer jobs.

Now imagine everyone but you is a bird. A literal bird. A fantail pigeon. A rock dove. A chukar partridge. A button quail.

Which bird will steal your heart? Library bird? Sports bird? Best friend bird? Can you, a human girl, find true romance with a bird?

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You may think I am describing the stupidest thing ever, but Hatoful Boyfriend is the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long time. It’s not a game in the traditional sense but a visual novel you navigate with your choices, which determine which of the multiple endings you get. And because each iteration of the game takes only half an hour, you’ll want to play over and over, making different choices as you pursue a different romantic interest.

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2015 Awards Eligibility Post

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Awards season is upon us, and we hope you consider Mothership Zeta! While the magazine itself is not yet eligible for Best Semiprozine, all the original stories we published in 2015 are eligible to be nominated under the category of Best Short Story for the Hugos and such. Below are those eligible stories and their authors, whose individual awards eligibility posts we have linked.

Issue 0 (Free!)

“The Belly of the Beast,” by Andrea G. Stewart

Issue 1

“The Customer Is Always Right,” by Anna Salonen
“Q&A: An AI Love Story,” by Fade Manley
“Panic Twice, Spin,” by Malon Edwards
Sleeping with Spirits,” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Bargain,” by Sarah Gailey
“Places,” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
“Tales of a Fourth Grade Shoggoth,” by Kevin Wetmore
“The Insect Forest,” by Paul DesCombaz

Go forth and nominate! (And don’t forget your fearless editors, Mur Lafferty, Sunil Patel, and Karen Bovenmyer.)