On Spec Magazine #127 Vol. 34 No. 1 (magazine review).

A dedicated team in Canada produces ‘On Spec’, a long-running speculative fiction magazine, on a tight budget. I tend to focus on the short stories.

‘Cleaning House’ by Jeb Gaudet is an odd tale about Peter, who isn’t well but must keep cleaning the house because ‘the dirt is growling and restless, and the dust bunnies have sharp, pointy teeth’. He uses a cloth of cotton, picked under the full moon, and vinegar mixed with blessed water as his tools. Angel feathers adorn his duster. His grandmother, Baba, insisted on maintaining the cleanliness. This is an intriguing piece that effectively conveys a core message about chores.

‘Better Luck Next Time’ by Andrew Rucker Jones is a love story about Parvis and Latika. Parvis dies as a snake, comes back as a frog, and progresses backwards down the food chain with each reincarnation. Latika has promised to stay with him. Both are fully aware that death means nothing, as they will return. Endless reincarnation may be fun!

‘The Other Half’ by Cale Plett is a story about a group of trans outcasts in a small town who encounter a monster in a burnt-out church. Plett does an author interview with Roberta Laurie and talks about the story and other issues.

War stories are appropriate for these times, so here’s ‘In Exchange’ by Shih-li Kow. Scientists do what they must in wartime, in this case, body transplants, transferring the mind of a damaged veteran into the body of a new recruit because ‘one seasoned soldier given a new body was more useful than five reluctant conscripts’. The story unfolds post-war, as a scientist on one side corresponds with his counterpart on the other. This is grim and sad.

KT Wagner’s ‘Frozen Charlotte’ has all the trappings of gothic horror. Junko Hall, an old manor, houses a cook, a hunched male servant of greyish pallor, a strange father who never calls his daughter by name, and an odd pair of sisters. It all becomes clear in the end.

In ‘Salvation of the Innocents’ by Karl El-Kours, the 22nd century finds most of humanity infertile, leading them to travel back in time and abduct doomed babies, snatching them away at the point of death. Dolan is at the sharp end of this, doing things he hates for the cause. A clever idea, well executed. The title refers to a ‘historical’ event in which King Herod ordered the massacre of every child under two years old in Bethlehem. There is no real evidence that this happened. Even the most docile population won’t let you kill their babies.

‘John Barleycorn Must Die, and Your Little Dog Toto, Too’ by Jon Lasser ponders if it’s worth having a baby on a lost colony ship that’s been in space for twenty years.

I liked ‘Ogres in the Mist’ by Brian M. Milton. The king sends Clover, a tired old gnome, into the forest to catch an ogre for his household. The king is an elf, and they are cruel, capricious masters who might kill a gnome on a whim. Clover is sure he’s been sent out to die, as he’s nearing retirement age and the king doesn’t want to keep him. Granesbill, who has a young gnome with him, is not so cynical. This was a quiet, easy read with a low-key but satisfying conclusion.

In Heather Fraser’s ‘Routine Resupply’, the unnamed narrator survives completely alone for five years on a distant planet and sends data back to Earth. It seems that observers are sent to outpost worlds to do such work and are not expected to survive very long. The heroine was capable and clever, but I couldn’t see why any government would send out such missions, so the story didn’t make sense to me.

This issue also has poetry by Swati Chavda with ‘The Cosmic Cartographer’, Colleen Anderson with ‘Dying of the Light’, Shilpa Kamat with ‘The Move’, and Kim Whysall-Hammond with ‘Home’. However, my soul is a mundane, pedestrian entity devoid of beauty, making me unqualified to review poetry. There’s also an interview with the cover artist, Robert Pasternak. I liked his enthusiasm for his work, and he admired Kirby and Steranko when he was younger, so he has good taste.

On Spec # 127 is a mixed bag, as ever, but it’s all professional, well-crafted, and worth your time. To reach as many customers as possible, many magazines now go exclusive with that big retailer named after a South American river. However, ‘On Spec’ continues to maintain a more limited distribution, possibly due to ethical considerations, an unfavorable deal, or the retailer’s relative lack of dominance in Canada. I don’t know. Dependency can pose a risk, as many magazines suffered greatly when the Big One stopped offering subscriptions. Small publishing was never easy. Good luck to them.

Eamonn Murphy

April 2024

(pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. emag: $ 4.99 (CAN). Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR)

check out website: www.onspec.ca

check out websites: https://onspec.ca/ and https://weightlessbooks.com/on-spec-magazine-127-vol-34-no-1/

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

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