Issue 2 is live!

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Mothership Zeta issue 2, volume 1 - Escape Artists, IncIt’s time for the next quarterly issue of Mothership Zeta! Our cover is by Hugo-award-winner Elizabeth Leggett, and our stories are awesome!

Coming this week 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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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

Bargain, by Sarah Gailey

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People have been making bargains with demons for centuries (in fiction, and possibly also in real life). But this time Malachai, Devourer of Miscreants and Usurper of Souls, is going to get more than he, uh, bargained for. “Bargain” is Sarah Gailey’s first pro sale, and we’re confident it won’t be the last.

Bargain

by Sarah Gailey

Malachai loved his work. He loved wandering among the trappings of enormous wealth and influence, seeing the baubles that humans excreted to express their status. He especially loved watching those wealthy, influential mortals tremble before the might of his inescapable superiority.

Malachai worked exclusively with those humans who had found themselves at the limit of how much power they could possess. They called him to bend the rules of time and space around their whims, so that they might be even more feared and loved by the other mortals. Their desires were predictable—money, knowledge, talent, authority. These were the kinds of people who hunted down ancient parchments with the Words of Invocation inscribed upon them. These were the kinds of people who did not concern their consciences with the compensation Malachai required for his services.

They appreciated a bit of theatrical flair.

So when he received the summons from dispatch, he responded with appropriate formality. Curling smoke, crackling lightning, the wailing of damned souls—a standard business-casual entrance. He waited for his cue, which was usually the sound of a man discovering terror for the first time in his comfortable life. Once that terror had peaked, Malachai would announce himself. Any sooner, and the human would get swept up in proceedings before their fear really set the tone. Thus, on this and all assignments, Malachai waited to hear the panic and the wailing and the what-have-I-wrought’s. Continue reading…

Panic Twice, Spin, by Malon Edwards

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Earlier this year in Shimmer’s “The Half-Dark Promise,” Malon Edwards wrote about a snake girl fighting tentacled shadow creatures. Here he writes about another strange girl fighting fantastical creatures. You may never look at Dance Dance Revolution the same way again.

Panic Twice, Spin

by Malon Edwards

You first noticed the miniature black hole in the corner of the playroom halfway into book one of the Cyber Sakura Seven series.

Your little sister, Mahina, was playing Panic Twice, Spin. Nintendo’s warning about cosmic repercussions was in big, bold red letters on the back of the game case, but you had thought nothing of it when you bought it with your allowance for Mahina’s re-up day. It was a game about fighting zombie-ninjas, for goodness’ sake. Besides, you used to play it all the time before Mahina died.

You had just gotten to the part of your book where Sakura’s cyber-suit is fused to her skin when you heard an odd sound in the corner of the playroom, left of the holo-vision. “That sounds like God flushing His toilet,” you thought. “But far, far away.”

Mahina, of course, heard nothing. And for good reason. Continue reading…

Imma Gonna Finish You Off, by Marina J. Lostetter

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In a future where everyone’s immortal, murders are easy to solve after the victim wakes up. But when dead bodies stay dead, unending life gets complicated for Detective Harry Sordido. We here at Mothership Zeta very much enjoyed Marina J. Lostetter’s future reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide and hope you do too. “Imma Gonna Finish You Off” was first published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine, January 2014 and aired in Escape Pod episode 501, narrated by Alasdair Stuart, on July 28, 2015.

Imma Gonna Finish You Off

by Marina J. Lostetter

On the examining table lounged a body. It was an unremarkable body–rather wrinkly, with an inordinate amount of hair in all the wrong places and too few clothes for most people’s liking, but otherwise nothing to write your congressman about. The only thing special about the body was that it was dead–a problem that Detective Harry Sordido hoped would resolve itself quite soon.

“Will he just get on with the coming back to life already?” Harry huffed, checking the glowing numbers embedded in his left wrist. With his right hand, he patted his ample, middle-aged girth. “He’s not the only victim I’ve got to question today.”

“I’m not sure what’s the matter with him,” said the medical examiner, lifting the dead man’s wrist between two thin fingers. “He should have let out a nice scream-of-life by now.” He let the limb flop back to the sanitary paper.

“What do you think it was?” asked the detective, “Accidental? Experimental? Purposeful? What do you think he died of?”

“You’ll have to ask him to be sure. He was found out on the sidewalk. No indications of violence or a struggle, but he does look a tad flaccid.”

“Ah, disgruntled lover, then.”

“No, I mean on the whole. Like he’s been wrung out.”

They both stared at the body for a long while.

“You don’t think he’s really–?” began Detective Sordido.

“It is starting to seem a bit permanent.”

“That’s impossible! No one’s really died for damned near a millennium.”

The examiner shrugged. “There’s a first time for every eventuality.”

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The Story Doctor is (In): Sleeping With Spirits

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James Patrick Kelly holds a special place in our hearts here at Mothership Zeta. He’s not only a multiple-award winning author, but also a dedicated teacher who does not put on kid gloves in the workshop—he tells students exactly how and why a piece is (or isn’t) working. It’s that kind of professional laser-vision and “expert path” feedback that new writers can learn deeply from. We are proud to offer Jim’s knowledge here and in future issues of Mothership. Learn from Jim, write great work, and send it to us during our next open submissions cycle. In this article, Jim discusses the best ways to write sex into fiction. You can see more examples of this in practice in Jim’s latest publication in July’s Fantasy & Science Fiction— the three-flash “Oneness: A Triptych.”


When Editorial Goddess Mur Lafferty asked me to write a column for Mothership Zeta, I thought I’d like to try something that hadn’t been done before. I blurted out a half-baked idea about celebrating the craft of the stories in this fine publication. I teach a lot and have spent a considerable fraction of my career helping aspiring writers achieve their dreams—mostly by workshopping manuscripts. I’m of the story doctor persuasion when it comes to critiques.  When I see problems, I don’t just point them out, I suggest surgical remedies.  Of course, the stories here in Mothership Zeta are well published and thus no longer need revision. But by highlighting some of what these talented authors have done right, I hope to enhance your appreciation of what they’ve accomplished. Oh, and maybe going forward I can help those who are considering sending Mur stories to find solutions to some of fiction’s most vexing problems.

Which brings us to the story at hand, “Sleeping With Spirits” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.  Lots of writers attempt to write about sex, but few do it as adroitly as Bonnie has done here.  Of course, there are all kinds of sex stories. There’s porn, of course, and its literary cousin, erotica. Romance is obsessed with sex, even when it discreetly shuts the door to the bedroom. But the fantastic genres? Historically, not so much. In fact, back in the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction, writers in our genre weren’t allowed to show people making love. That changed—slowly—in the fifties and sixties; many credit Phillip Jose Farmer’s 1952 story “The Lovers” with breaking the taboo of onscreen sex and beginning the liberation of science fiction and fantasy. I remember getting editorial pushback as a new writer in the 80s about what I could show and what I couldn’t. But in some way the censors were doing us writers a favor, because writing about sex is hard and doing it badly is a sure way to throw a reader out of a story. So here are some dos and don’ts you can glean from this sexy story.

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Sleeping with Spirits, by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

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This story is not safe for work, children, or jealous lovers.

You could say Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s story has sex but is not erotic. You could say it’s not safe for work but it’s not naughty. You could say a lot of things about this tale of love, intimacy, and then hangups lovers have over each other’s pasts. But what we loved about this fantasy story is that it shows you sex and love as they happen in real life. Awkward. Emotional. Tender. Confused. It feels so real – except for the spirits, naturally.

Don’t miss our nonfiction Story Doctor article by James Patrick Kelly that analyzes this story!

Sleeping with Spirits

by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Nolan had just dozed off when the first spirit arrived. His girlfriend Wendi screamed. “The fuck is it?” he yelled, bolting upright. The covers fell from him. A blue-tinted body floated above the mattress. It was naked. “The fuck is that?”

The spirit looked like every jock in the movies. Broad shoulders, a strip of white across the nose, brown helmet hair. Beefy, not like the ghosts Nolan read about in cheap horror novels, although the spirit’s circumcised penis hung limp. And when this spirit spoke, there was no echo in his voice. All in all, they’d lucked out as far as spooks were concerned. It was difficult to be frightened by a naked man.

“Long time no see, huh, Wendi?” the spirit said.

Nolan looked over at his silent girlfriend. She’d scurried out of the blankets when she’d woken. Now she held her legs to her chest. Her modesty surprised him. He’d known Wendi to strip to her underwear and wade into pools at their friends’ parties.

“Who is this guy?” Nolan asked.

“I should ask the same question. Who’s this bean pole?” The spirit looked Nolan up and down.

“Fuck off,” Wendi said. “What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since freshman year of high school.”

“Was that a while ago?” The spirit scratched his head. Flakes of transparent blue dandruff fell into the bed. Nolan realized that the spirit hovered right above the wet spot. After making love Nolan had offered to sleep on it, but he’d rolled off and away from Wendi as the urge to sleep dry took over. Now the spirit’s ghostly body seemed to rise from it. Nolan felt a combination of pity and pride.

“Yeah, it was a while ago. Shit, dude, what’s this all about?” Wendi said.

“How long?” the spirit asked.

“Five years ago?”

“How do you guys know each other?” Nolan asked.

“We used to date,” the spirit said.

“Trace was my first. We only slept together twice.”

Right, Nolan thought, his stomach twisting. Now he remembered: Trace. Trace had been popular, a junior when Wendi was a freshman, and Wendi lost it to him in the back of some car. She had wanted, she told Nolan, to lose it fast, without much thought or consequence, and she thought Trace would do it and leave her alone. But he wanted to do it again and again, even when his friends wondered what he was doing with a crazy freshman art girl.

When Wendi told Nolan that story, he knew what Trace’s friends didn’t: that Wendi was something special, the bravest person Nolan had ever met. She made you feel at home around her, like you’d been friends since you were born. You could hear her confidence in her voice. Always lilting upward, as if on the verge of laughter. Except now, with the spirit of Trace between them.

“But you’re alive. I’ve seen you on Facebook.”

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The Customer Is Always Right, by Anna Salonen

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Customer service, amirite? One of the worst jobs in the world, because no one enjoys doing it, and no one enjoys making use of it. But when you find someone like our little-seen protagonist in Anna Salonen’s story, who knows what they are doing and can get the job done efficiently and pleasantly, they’re worth their weight in gold.

The Customer Is Always Right

by Anna Salonen

Performance review, employee #34677, Jobe Wallis.

Transcript of “The Incident.”

(Ringing.)

“Hello, you have contacted the AIs Incorporated customer service. How may I assist you?”

“This is Private Johnson calling from Arcadia, Bree’s World. I’m having trouble with the Annihilator5000 you sent me.” (Sound of explosions, screaming, gunfire in the background.)

“We are very sorry for any inconvenience you might have experienced pertaining to our product. Customer satisfaction is very important to us, and I will do everything I can to assist you. What is the problem, sir?”

“I’m in the middle of some heavy shit here, and it isn’t doing anything!”

“Did you try turning the android off and on again, sir?”

“Well, obviously! Do you think I’m an idiot, or something?”

“Of course not, sir. I apologize. Has it been connected to a power source for forty-eight hours, as recommended?”

“Yes, yes! The display says fully charged! Look, I’m kind of on the clock here. They’re coming, and I’m the only one left. I don’t get this thing working, I’m dead!”

“Let me check your order. Do you have your customer identification code?”

“No, I don’t have a goddam code! That piece of shit is paid for by the Coalition Marine Corps!”

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to calm down.”
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