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

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 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…

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

arré (1845): Used to express a range of emotions and commands, especially annoyance, surprise, or interest, or to attract someone’s attention (from Hindi)

Askapart (1330): a legendary giant defeated by the eponymous protagonist in the story of Sir Bevis of Southampton; a person likened to this giant

autoschediastic (1641): something done on the spur of the moment or without preparation; an extemporized piece of work

bahala na (1921): Expressing an attitude of optimistic acceptance or fatalistic resignation, especially in acknowledging that the outcome of an uncertain or difficult situation is beyond one’s control or is preordained (from Tagalog)

bioastronautics (1957): the branch of science concerned with the physiological and psychological effects of spaceflight on living organisms, especially human beings

cryptarchy (1798): secret government; an example of this

draco volans (1554): a large meteor which burns or glows brightly on entering the earth’s atmosphere; a fireball (see also FIREDRAKE now historical)

dream-hole (1559): a slit or opening in an external wall of a building

Drake equation (1961): an equation devised to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations that may potentially be detected in our galaxy

feckful (1568): powerful, effective, efficient, vigorous

footle (1891): to act or talk foolishly; to occupy oneself in an aimless or trivial way

kilig (1998): of a person: exhilarated by an exciting or romantic experience; thrilled, elated, gratified (from Tagalog)

latebricole (1889): of an animal, especially a spider: living concealed in a hole

lockchester (1400): a woodlouse

long-tongued (1553): talkative, loquacious, especially excessively so; prone to speaking out of turn or revealing secrets

marlock (1763): a prank, a practical joke; a frolic; a playful gesture; a flirtatious glance

melanite (636): an imaginary stone supposed to exude a honey-like substance

metopomancy (1656): divination by the lines on the forehead or face

mixty-maxty (1786): oddly mixed or jumbled together; motley; muddled, confused

morris dance (1458): a lively traditional English dance performed in formation by a group of dancers in a distinctive costume (usually wearing bells and ribbons and carrying handkerchiefs or sticks, to emphasize the rhythm and movement), often accompanied by a character who generally represents a symbolic or legendary figure (as the Fool, Hobby Horse, Maid Marian, etc.); any of a repertoire of such dances. Hence: any mumming performance of which such dancing is an important feature

nagual (1822): among certain indigenous peoples of Mexico and surrounding countries: a guardian spirit in animal form, believed to accompany and guide an individual through life; an animal form believed to be assumed by a human through magical or supernatural means

Nachlass (1841): writings remaining unpublished at an author’s death

Omega point (1955): a hypothesized end to evolutionary development in which all sentient life will converge into a supreme consciousness

puggle (1863): to push or poke a stick or wire down a hole or aperture and work it about in order to clear an obstruction, drive out an animal, etc.

quatsch (1907): nonsense, rubbish. Frequently used as an exclamation to express dismissal of a statement

rhyparographer (1656): a person who paints or writes about distasteful or sordid subjects

rodomontade (1587): a vainglorious brag or boast; an extravagantly boastful, arrogant, or bombastic speech or piece of writing; an arrogant act

rudesby (1566): a rude, ill-mannered, or badly behaved person

scienced (1636): knowledgeable, learned; skilled or trained in a specified profession or pursuit; (in later use also) adopting a scientific approach

synthespian (1989): a computer-generated character in a film

supernaculum (1592): To the last drop, to the bottom; frequently used: in to drink supernaculum. Also: over one’s thumbnail. Now rare. With reference to the practice of turning up an emptied cup or glass on one’s left thumbnail to show that all the drink has been consumed

waywiser (1651): an instrument for measuring and indicating distance travelled, especially by road


Karen Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and loves serving as the Nonfiction Assistant Editor of Escape Artists’ Mothership Zeta Magazine. She is the 2016 recipient of the Horror Writers Association Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship and is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry and Horror Writers Associations. Her short stories and poems appear in more than 20 publications and her first novel, Swift for the Sun, will be available Spring 2017.

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.

Interview: Jackson Lanzing and Company Take Us All on a Joyride by Adam Gallardo

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Image of the cover of Joyride 1

Nice guy and industry insider Adam Gallardo secured this interview with one of Joyride’s creators and we couldn’t be more thrilled about this new graphic title! Have some fun IN SPAAAACE…

Interview: Jackson Lanzing and Company Take Us All on a Joyride

by Adam Gallardo

Joyride, volume 1 (BOOM! Studios / Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Marcus To, and Irma Kniivila / September 2016)

Joyride is that most elusive of creatures: a fun, engaging science-fiction comic book that is also whip-smart. In this age of grim and gritty stories, calling a comic “fun” might seem like an insult, but rest assured, it’s not. Co-writers Lanzing and Kelly, whose previous work together includes the well-received Hacktivist and Grayson, have crafted a story that moves along at a fantastic clip and is full of raucous action and likeable characters. Lurking beneath the shiny surface are some serious questions about family, friendship, and relationships, but it’s all kept light and none of it causes the story to drag—a balancing act that is nothing short of magic.

Lanzing and Kelly are aided in all of this by artist Marcus To and colorist Irma Kniivila. Their artwork recalls a brilliant retro-future while still feeling fresh and bold. To handles the emotional and tonal shifts with ease because the characters he draws are amazingly expressive.

The best part of all of this, from the reader’s standpoint, is that this is only the first volume of an ongoing series. Here’s hoping many more will follow.

Co-writer Jackson Lanzing was nice enough to answer some questions for us about Joyride, the process of creating the comic, and what might come next.

Mothership Zeta: The thing that struck me right away about Joyride was that, despite a backdrop of totalitarian oppression and high stakes for your heroes, you keep the tone light. Did you decide on that sort of tightrope walk from the outset, or was it dictated by the choice of Uma as a main character?

Jackson Lanzing: Marcus, Collin and I set out on this project with one overriding goal: bring a fun, teenage road trip into the relatively bleak science fiction landscape of comics. As kids who grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Farscape, and The Fifth Element, we had a real desire to go back to that technicolor craziness that once existed in our collective imagination when it came to what waited for us beyond the sky. In essence, we wanted to make space an adventure again.

From the very outset, we knew our characters would begin the story by essentially hotwiring a spaceship and heading into the stars. That came along with having a good reason for them to leave – not just something frivolous, but something true. And who among us hasn’t been a teenager who felt that the world was holding them down, blotting out the stars, keeping the world gray and flat and lame? None, say I. When I left my hometown, I found that the wider world was weirder – and more normal – than I ever could’ve imagined. So we translated those hopes and immaturity onto Uma, who immediately grabbed hold of the book and pretty much dictated tone to us.

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. 

Continue reading…

Inside the Matrix by Pamela L Gay

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We are pleased Dr. Gay consented to speculate in this article about the science behind creating a permanent singularity like the possible future presented in “For the Children” by Jamie Wahls. Well, science and space pirates.


Inside the Matrix

by Dr. Pamela L. Gay


Since the beginning of the computer era, people have been speculating that our reality might exist within a computer simulation. This idea was first popularized in 1956, by Isaac Asimov in The Last Question, and famously re-articulated in 1999’s Oscar-winning The Matrix.  Today, prominent thinkers, ranging from Neil Tyson to Elon Musk, are publicly stating that there are good odds that what we call reality is just a simulation. If you are like me, the idea that we are simulated souls living our lives according to complex software is not entirely comforting. Making things even more confusing is the idea that we have the potential to someday download ourselves into future computers. This seems to imply that we could become simulated people simulated in a simulated universe, which I think makes it simulations all the way down. Continue reading…

The Story Doctor Is (In) by James Patrick Kelly

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James Patrick Kelly is back with another Story Doctor article, this time about Jamie Wahls’s “For the Children.” This is a special treat because JPK has edited an anthology on the Singularity and readily shares some of his expert knowledge on the subject.

The Story Doctor Is (In)

by James Patrick Kelly

In a 1993 essay provocatively called “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era,” Vernor Vinge asked the world in general – and science fiction writers in particular – to contemplate a dire future. “Within thirty years,” the abstract of his paper warns, “we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” Forget what that might mean for the New York Stock Exchange and Major League Baseball, think about what it would mean for hardworking writers like Jamie Wahls and me! “More and more, these writers felt an opaque wall across the future. Once, they could put such fantasies millions of years in the future. Now they saw that their most diligent extrapolations resulted in the unknowable … soon.” Now it is true that Vinge didn’t develop the concepts behind the Singularity all by himself, and that current thinking about the Post-Human Era, by Vinge and others, has evolved. For one thing, Vinge’s timetable seems a bit optimistic these days. But nonetheless, the Singularity has become a touchstone controversy in our genre. Those who believe in the Singularity have created a thriving subgenre of fiction exploring its implications while many of those who doubt feel compelled to account for why it isn’t part of their futures.

If you’re going to write about the Singularity, you need to figure out how to tell stories on the far side of Vinge’s “opaque wall.” Brilliant writers like Charles Stross and Hannu Rajaniemi have risen to the challenge with stories that approach the informational density of neutron stars, stories which some readers find … well … daunting. In “For the Children,” Jamie finds a more accessible narrative strategy, one that provides handholds for the reader and locates the essential humanity of these characters in their sense of humor.

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…