On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol. 28 no. 4 #107 (magazine review).

April 29, 2018 | By | Reply More

On Spec # 107 contains seven short stories, a poetic tribute to Ursula Le Guin, another poem, two interviews, an editorial and a report on Can-Con 2017. As usual, I’ll focus on the fiction.

Parson has an odd power in ‘When Winter Comes’ by Hayden Trenholm. People want to please him. Ever since he was a teenager, they have bought him gifts, catered to his every need, kept him company and handed over free beer. They can’t help themselves but their actions somehow result in headaches for him. He now lives in isolated Fort Simpson where fewer people can bother him but no man is an island, nor even a peninsula and life gets to us all. This was an interesting story. I guess the real-life setting with one fantasy element makes it magic realism, a genre I’m slowly getting to like.

Chelsea Vowel is the writer interviewed this month in Roberta Laurie’s regular feature. The interview is seven pages long and her story, ‘Dirty Wings’ is only four which seems odd. She’s descended from the indigenous people of Canada and her mission is to promote their interests, art and point of view. Worthy work but I couldn’t make much of the story.

The end is nigh in ‘The Fat Man’ by Susan Forest. Miche works at Better World Research with viruses and her daughter, Julie, works at International Deliveries Canada, the last remaining multi-national courier service. The United States is having a civil war and refugees from the south are resented. Most of the police have been recruited into the military, so crime is rampant. Resource wars are happening all over the planet. What is a girl to do? Something pretty drastic, it turns out. The title is from the Trolly Problem where you can stop a runaway trolley and save five lives by pushing a fat man onto the track to dislodge the switch, killing him. Logically, you push him but humans don’t work that way. Excellent story which addresses the real problem we face, the root of all others, namely over-population. It was slightly marred for me by being written in the present tense but at least it was first person, not second which is really annoying.

‘Death And Natalie, Natalie And Death’ by Jordan Taylor is a moving story about a teenage friendship between two girls where one dies, Natalie. Her friend, Mags, is also the local Death for Manhattan and tasked with pointing ghosts to the next world. Natalie, unfortunately, hangs around as a ghost and won’t leave. It was well done but the premise of Death having a dual role as a schoolgirl was odd. Mags had parents and otherwise lived a normal life. When was she born? When did she become Death? The basic idea seemed flawed which didn’t ruin the story but left me slightly discombobulated.

More death with ‘Ashwright’ by Robert Luke Wilkins. In a fantasy setting, raiders have attacked a small town on the plains and left many dead. The Ashwright turns up to perform necessary rituals with the bones of the deceased. This was inventive, based on a solid fantasy premise with much detailed description of Ashwright’s work and how he felt about it all. I guess sex and death are the big themes of literature and you get a good dose of the latter in this issue of ‘On Spec’.

In a nice editorial balancing act, the darkness of the three preceding stories was lightened by Sally McBride’s witchy tale ‘Thank Yew Very Much’. When Mervin Cobb goes to call on old friend Gladys, she finds her half-eaten by her familiar, a dangerous cat called Orlando. The cauldron is cold and the cat is repelling all intruders. Gladys, being a witch, is still alive. This reminded me of a CSI episode where an old lady is eaten by her cats but was much more cheerful, though gory in spots. McBride cleverly blends her magicians into the modern world so mobile phone masts interfere with spells and Mervin googles the properties of yew. Great fun.

Dystopian anthologies are in fashion lately, loudly trumpeted, but C.J. Lavigne portrays a more subtle version of Hell in ‘Side Effects May Include’ which shows us a day in the life of Martina. Woken by an implant, she has to leap from the hotel bed quickly, lest she be charged extra. Her daily ablutions are brought to her by Particlor, a division of COEFFEX. Her clothing is sponsored and she’s not allowed to cover the logo on her chest. Work is a hit and miss scrabble of short contracts, often less than a day, on minimum wage. No benefits. Her sponsorship deal includes a hologram called Adam to keep her informed of job opportunities and her low credit balance. I guess new technology will enable either the state, the corporations or a combination of both to rule us all in future.

Like many small press publications, ‘On Spec’ seems to have trouble getting distribution. The web page for the current issue doesn’t give much information on how to buy, except directly from them and you have to click on the subscribe link to find out more so I’ve helpfully provided it in the headline. Support the Copper Pig Writer’s Society!

Eamonn Murphy

April 2018

(pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR)

check out websites: www.onspec.ca, https://onspecmag.wordpress.com/current-issue/ and https://onspecmag.wordpress.com/subscribe/

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Category: Fantasy, Magazines, Scifi

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Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction and fantasy writer and reviewer who lives in the south west of England. If you want to know more visit his website: https://eamonnmurphyblog.com/

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