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…

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…

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…

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 ( or watch her tweet (@katsudonburi) way too often.

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?


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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…