Friday, 29 January 2016

Review: Mothership Zeta, Issue 1

Mothership Zeta, Issue 1 Mothership Zeta, Issue 1 by Mothership Zeta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm professionally interested in SFF markets that pay pro rates, so I picked this up to see what this new market is selecting for publication. I enjoyed most of the stories, which is not by any means guaranteed for me in a pro magazine, so well done to the editors for that.

"Q&A: An AI Love Story" by Fade Manley takes the unusual form of the answers to a journalist's interview questions (we don't get to see the questions, so we can only infer them from the answers). It's an interesting narrative format, and the author makes it work well.

"Panic Twice, Spin" by Malon Edwards also deals with a kind of AI, in this case the android replica of a young girl who has died. It uses second person for the protagonist (though there is also a first-person character), again an unusual narrative choice, but again one that works for this story.

"Imma gonna finish you off" by Marina J. Lostetter is a post-immortality AI vampire detective story, and I'm beginning to see a theme developing. I felt the ending was a touch weak, but the journey was enjoyable.

"Sleeping with Spirits" by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (apparently an unusual name helps in selling to Mothership Zeta) is the first fantasy story in the volume, though it's more magical realist than your standard contemporary urban fantasy. It deals, in frank but non-erotic terms, with sex and relationships through the bizarre premise of ghostlike memory-shadows of previous partners rising out of the "wet spot" after a couple has sex. (The couple's lack of surprise at this phenomenon is what leads me to call it magical realist.) Like the other stories, it attempts something extremely difficult and achieves it well.

"Bargain" by Sarah Gailey takes the hoary old trope of a deal with a demon and manages to find something new to do with it, again achieving the unlikely.

"Places" by Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a well-written allegory-like story about limitations placed on women because they're women. It works as a story as well, which is key to such a project.

"Tales of a Fourth Grade Shoggoth" by Kevin Wetmore is H.P. Lovecraft as middle-grade fiction, something else that shouldn't work, but does, thanks to the author's excellent craftsmanship.

"The Insect Forest" by Paul DesCombaz is in a genre that I describe as "setting infodump delivered to camera," and it's one that is almost impossible to do well enough for me to enjoy it much. Unlike the other stories in this collection, this one didn't succeed in pulling off the almost impossible. The very minor implied story was obvious, and the setting itself not wonderful enough to make up for the limitations of the form.

I have to say that the nonfiction features didn't grab me nearly as much as the fiction, either, and I could happily have done without them and read more stories instead. They weren't bad, but they also weren't all that interesting to me, mostly being reviews of media properties that didn't sound like they would be to my taste.

Very much to my taste, though, were most of the stories, not least because each of them set out to do something completely new or unlikely and succeeded. The authors showed excellent craft, and apart from half a dozen minor slips the copy editing was also up to a good standard.

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