The editorials in this issue of Mothership Zeta swirl around the idea of fun. And the stories of the issue do a fine job of illustrating the many ways that fun can work. A fun that is funny and a fun that is fast and action-packed and a fun that is clever and witty and a fun that is earnest and uplifting. The stories move well, from light to darker to transcendent, each piece well selected and placed in the larger flow of the issue. And all told each story made me smile at something, a clever line or a funny situation or a breath of hope, and if fun was the goal, then I'd say the issue is a success. To the reviews!
|Art by Elizabeth Leggett
"Nobody Puts Baby in a Chamber" by Alexis A. Hunter (502 words)
This is a very short but quite compelling story of an old-school robot vacuum cleaner who gets in a bit over their head when they suck up a human baby. I like how the story takes one of the tropes of early science fiction with its endless near-sentient robots specialized for one specific task. Robot dishwasher. Robot refrigerator. Robot vacuum cleaner. It gives the story an interesting aesthetic, one that blends its raw emotions, the slow but growing panic of the narrator, with the sort of "innocent futurism" of the past's idea of science fiction. Like if you were sitting down to watch an episode of the Jetsons and then midway through shit. gets. real. [SPOILERS!] Like imminent death of a baby real. Which is rather dark for the story to get but it's the contrast of elements that gives the story its charm and (yes I read the editorials) its fun. Because it's an endearing story, one about an appliance finding something in itself that cares, that is more than machine. And it's about that panic and that fear and that relief at the end that is pulled off effortlessly, the simplicity of the story and the beauty of it. The publication has a tendency to kick things off with a short piece, and this one fits the bill nicely, whetting the appetite and making me smile and getting me ready for whatever's next. A nice read!
"A Man Most Imperiled" by Dan Malakin (3858 words)
This story keeps the more "classic" feel of the previous one going with a story that looks at mad science and sappy love. It's the story of Zircon, mad scientist from a long line of mad scientists, fighting against a faceless corporation trying to take his land for…reasons. Development probably. The story works largely because it leans on the tropes of mad science and the retro feel of everything. The story walks a rather thin line between being cliché and challenging the cliché, between calling out the past and its excesses, its simplicity, and its misogyny, and just sort of using those things as a punchline. Ultimately I feel that the story does enough that to make Zircon ridiculous, to make him rather repulsive, that I liked what the story was doing. Because it's easy enough to recognize. This would have been a cartoon that me and my dad might have watched, laughing at the simplicity of it, the "truth" of it. It's an interesting piece for me because it does make the reader confront the ways in which the story is not really about Zircon's triumph, it's about how absurd that it, how dark that is, how disturbing it is to see it divorced from the "innocent futurism" that spawned it. It's an interesting story and pairs very nicely with the previous piece, the two setting their sights on complicating and examining the stories of the past. Another interesting read!
"The Smoke Job" by Aaron Canton (4693 words)
Where the last two stories have reveled in complicating the past's vision of the future, this story keeps things firmly in the present and amps up the fun with a story about dragons and gems and greed. Part of what makes urban fantasy fun as a genre is the way that it draws fantasy and gives it a more modern sensibility. The main character is a dragon, yes, but she's hardly what you'd expect from an medieval story. Instead the story is topical, grounded in the now with a wink and a nudge and a meta awareness of its own fantasy tropes. And I love the interaction between the main character, Charisma, and the other characters. The way that Char understands greed not just as a vice, not just as something wrong, but as a motivator. That Char can twist greed, can use it, is interestingly and cleverly used throughout the piece, and there's enough action and humor and heart that most people should walk away from this one feeling pumped. I know I did. There's this irresistible energy to it, the chemistry between Abby and Char, the situation that Char finds quickly getting out of hand before she shows why dragons are not to be trifled with. It's entertaining and solidly built with a great sense of magic and sense of humor and it all works. Definitely a story to check out.
"Straight Lines" by Naru Dames Sundar (2846 words)
And now is the part of the issue when things get a bit more serious. A little heavier. And after the first three stories I'm ready for it, or more ready than otherwise to deal with the hurt of this story, the way it draws the reader in and makes something a innocuous as a sealed jar an instrument that makes my pulse spike, so that I'm there with Em, seeing through their sensors. The way that it draws out the mentality of the ship, the way that the story portrays Em dealing with their obsessive compulsive tendencies. The anxiety, the fear, the drive to do something. In a human such a thing can be frightening enough but its drawn to a different scale by making the protagonist a ship, in charge of so much and designed specifically for a task, a task that is at odds with how they feel, with how their mind actually works. It's a story of trauma and therapy and working through the ways a person's mind can seem against them. Without erasing how those things shape Em's personality, their being. How those things, person and disorder, aren't really able to be separated, how a line of compassion (for another and for one's self) has to be walked in order to find something that works. It's a compelling story and one rich in emotion and feeling, one that gripped me and didn't let go, that had me gasping a bit at times with how it portrays the characters and the situation. An amazing story!
"Some Things I Probably Should Have Mentioned Earlier" by Laura Pearlman (1756 words)
Things dip back more into the classic parodies with this story, which takes the trope of an alien masquerading as a human in an interesting direction and takes the form of a breakup letter. Which is a clever choice because it allows the situation to grow because the target of the letter already knows what's happening but the reader of the story doesn't, so there's a number of twists and turns that kept me intrigued and guessing as to the ultimate direction the story was going to take. And the story does a great job with voice, conveying the main character's feelings, their fear and their irresponsibility in the face of all that has happened. This is also a rather dark piece that aims solidly at humor while using tropes and plot elements that that…require some care. [SPOILERS] I'm not often a fan of stories that contain surprise pregnancies, but I can definitely see why it was used here, and I do think that the story is careful in its depiction and is seeking to subvert a lot of tropes that…are not good (*cough*cough*Species*cough*). And it manages to mix horror and humor, manages to capture a voice that is funny and charming and give it this edge, this creeping danger. It's a story that nicely builds itself, that uses the form of the letter to great effect, and you should check it out and see what you think.
"A Non-Hero's Guide to The Road of Monsters" by A.T. Greenblatt (5696 words)
This is the longest story of the issue but really doesn't feel it, and is a snappy and charming romp that keeps with the parody feel of the issue as a whole but pulls things away from the horror of previous story and to directions more hopeful and bright. I love the way the story handles the idea of heroism, treating the label of hero as synonymous with slaying monsters and always fighting and playing that against Devon, the main character, who is strictly non-hero. But the story does such a great job of showing Devon being, well, heroic in his quest to be a non-hero, being compassionate and brave and clever and active. He identifies as a quester, certainly, and in drawing that line between hero and quester the story demands that we as readers change how we think of heroism. How heroes become defined not for the results of their actions, not for saving a village or rescuing a maiden or gaining some prize, nor for their intentions to be noble and good, but rather by their actions. They are not forgiven the violence that they see as necessary. It's a compelling subversion of tropes and the character work is great, the monsters all rendered with care and with an emphasis on fun. There's a bit of an echo to "Smoke Job" here as well with dragons and plans and deceptions and drawing the line between monsters and monsters, heroes and heroes. It just works, hits its emotional beats and throwing in a nice amount of action and humor and a whole lot of heart. An excellent experience!
"Every Instance of You" by Cassandra Khaw (929 words)
I feel like the issue in some ways was aimed at this moment, at this story, like it was crystallizing this idea of fun and humor and waiting, smiling while behind its back the entire time this story was both nail and hammer. Because yeah, wow, it's a powerful piece, short but shattering, showing a woman crossing dimensions out of longing, her every leap an act of forgiveness and atonement and…love. Every pretense is dropped in this story, and while the voice sings with a quiet confidence there is no parody or pastiche or twist on an old classic. At least none that I see. Instead the story is startlingly earnest, open, and original. [SPOILERS] The woman jumping through time meets the iterations of her partner, the iterations of the man she loves, and meddles in the best of ways, wanting him to be happy in each universe, even if that means not being with her there. This is a story about the uniqueness of a person, about love and fantasy, taking the urge to want to be with some other version of a partner and sublimating that desire into some proactive and wonderful. The story is uplifting and beautiful and tinged with just that touch of sadness, that knowledge that for all this the two people share something that is magnificent but fragile, that they live for those small moments of togetherness which makes their time apart almost tragic. Except that the story is, ultimately, about the redemptive nature of love and compassion. It's an amazing story and a great way to close out a fine issue!