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.

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NaNoWriMo: Pro or Con? by Mur Lafferty

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Our editor-in-chief reminds us why many of us write novels in November and some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.


NaNoWriMo: Pro or Con?

by Mur Lafferty


I have been an odd fan of NaNoWriMo for the past several years. I’m a fan because I’m fully in support of it. I’m odd because I’m utterly inept at winning it myself.

I have a variety of excuses. I still don’t know why it’s in November, which is a BIG travel month for Americans. Since I’m a pro writer already, it’s often that I’m already in a project’s phase (outline, editing, just finished and oh dear Gawd don’t make me look at the computer right now, etc) where 1,667 words a day isn’t what I need to be doing. I may have short work due – am I supposed to write 50k of a new novel AND write my 12k word novelette for Bookburners? 

Excuses, all. I know. 

But I like the energy NaNo gives to people. It energizes a lot of beginners, assuring them that quality doesn’t matter, what matters is getting it done. Since worrying about quality is possibly the biggest hurdle a beginning writer has to get over, allowing oneself to write excrement is a very freeing feeling. People learn that a large writing project is possible, and not something just famous authors with no day job, no kids, and unlimited funds can handle.

What a lot of people don’t know, however, is many pro authors either started their careers writing with NaNo, and many use it to launch new books. Authors I know of who do this include Mary Robinette Kowal (Ghost Talkers) and Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus). The Night Circus actually started off as a NaNoWriMo novel. 

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Mothership Zeta Hiatus After Issue 6

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Hello everyone,

We have good news and bad news.

Let’s do bad news first; Mothership Zeta is being placed on hiatus after issue 6. No work has been purchased for issue 7 yet, so we won’t be letting any authors down. Anyone with subscriptions that continue past issue 6 will be offered a refunded, or can choose to wait out the hiatus.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? MZ isn’t going away.

We believe in the magazine and, at WorldCon in particular we were given ample proof that our readers and writers do too. The team at MZ have done extraordinary work in bringing new writers to their first pro sale and helping bring diverse new voices to genre.

That’s going to continue. We just need to figure out how. Hence the hiatus. We’re taking a look at alternate funding models (yes, including Patreon, we hear you), whether the magazine will work better with a higher frequency of publication and what, if anything we need to add to the mix.

In short, we’re putting MZ in dry dock for a refit, not breaking it down for parts. We’ll have news for you once it’s ready to relaunch and believe us, we won’t be bashful.

Be Mighty,
Mur Lafferty, Editor in Chief
Karen Bovenmyer, Assistant Editor, Nonfiction

PS- Issue 5 is coming soon!

Staff Announcement

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Sunil Patel has resigned as Fiction Assistant Editor at Mothership Zeta, effective immediately. We thank him for all his hard work on the magazine’s first six issues.

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…

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

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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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.)

Issue 2 Cover Art Reveal!

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Yeah, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. We got the 2015 Hugo Award Winning Elizabeth Leggett to do our Issue 2 cover, and I wanted to show it off. If I tell you what this cover means to me, I will spoil the story it accompanies, so I won’t. But…damn.

Happy New Year, all, and we can’t wait to bring you Issue 2 next month!

by Elizabeth Leggett