On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 26 no. 2 # 97 (magazine review).

On Spec # 97 gets the fiction started with ‘Bugzapper’ by Mikey Hamm, this issue’s author interviewee. It’s a dense story about Josh, a teenage genius who is planning a date with a princess from another dimension in a park infested with dangerous insects. Josh accidentally caused the insect problem when trying to deal with multiple manifestations of a chap named Nathan. It’s very complex but surprisingly clear as you read it, which is a worthy feat by the writer. The teen-age hero and his clumsy assistant are likeable chaps and the yarn is entertaining. A good start to the issue.


‘The Glorious Aerybeth’ by Jason Fischer is one of those superb Science Fiction stories that you come across once in a blue moon. The Glorious Aerybeth, named after the Empress, is a gigantic organic starship fuelled by flesh and blood which it obtains by scouring the surface of planets and eating every living thing thereon. The race that crews it has a ruthless, hierarchical society. The Empress has an interest in archaeology and has sent our hero, Gannet, to halt the ship’s operations and investigate the planet it’s about to scour. Captain Orace resents this as he has a quota to fill and shareholders to keep satisfied. Combining an original premise, fascinating aliens with an intriguing culture and a few neat plot twists, this is an excellent piece of work. It’s the best hard Science Fiction short story I’ve read this year and should be up for awards.

Almost anything was bound to be disappointing after ’The Glorious Aerybeth’, so I shouldn’t be too hard on ‘Handcrafting’ by Anita Dolman. Sylvia and George, an elderly couple in a trailer park, are visited by a young pregnant lady and there are clues that her husband is a bit of a brute. The conversation between Sylvia and George slowly reveals that there is more to them than meets the eye. I was briefly confused when Sylvia became Sarah at the top of page two. A simple copy editing error, easily done. A low key tale and not especially gripping to me but some people like this quiet, slice of life kind of thing.

‘Snapshots Of American Scenes’ is almost a travelogue by Solrun, who has drifted into our world from Fairyland. Simon Haebegger’s tale follows him as he scavenges rubbish in a flooded New York, presumably post-global warming, takes a job as a deckhand on a ship monitoring the passing of the last blue whales and visits Durham, North Carolina to ponder the stupidity of the tobacco industry. Like its hero, the story drifts along without any particular crises or excitement but the reward is in the fine prose and the observations about our life on Earth. If someone described it to me, I wouldn’t want to read it yet I’m very glad I did.

Scavengers also feature in ‘Piece Of History’ by Karl Johanson, this time on the Moon, now inhabited by man. Dave has to drive out to an old Apollo landing craft and pick up a radioisotope thermo-electric generator as the plutonium in it will be useful. ‘History is bunk’ said John Ford (the car maker, not the film director) and Dave certainly agrees with him. Terry, his assistant, is hugely excited about visiting the site and gets on his nerves with constant chatter about how wonderful it all is. This is barely five pages long but packs in a lot of amusement and a little historical information too. The ending is terrific.

‘Traveller, Take Me’ by Kate Heartfield is a ghost story where the haunted folks are gold prospectors in the Flin Flon area of Canada. In a log cabin. they find a book with a note inside: ‘Traveller, take me and leave another.’ So they take the pulp novel ‘The Sunless City’ by J.E. Preston Muddock and follow the adventures of its hero Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin esq., known as Flin Flon to his mates. Then the ghost shows up. Like ‘Snapshots Of American Scenes’, this is not one you would read from a plot summary but it has a certain je ne sais quoi, as they say in Quebec. I enjoyed it hugely and it’s based on real life events. Except the ghost bit. She made that up, did Kate.

‘Empty Heat’ by Agnes Cadieux is about the empathy between a dragon carer and the female dragons she looks after, in this instance, on a ranch in Arizona. As the ranch hands eat dragon steak, I presume they’re bred for meat. A well told fantasy that evokes pity and, if not terror, a little fear. Dragons are quite dangerous.

Apart from the fiction, this issue of ‘On Spec’ has a couple of non-fiction pieces about role-playing games, a milieu with which I am unfamiliar. Cat McDonald chats about her work with it in her editorial and there’s an interview about RPG fiction with Amber E. Scott and Dave Gross. Like franchise fiction or even fan fiction, stories set in a game world are a perfectly valid form of literature as far as I’m concerned. As ever, it depends what you do with it. There’s also a feature showing the artwork of Dan O’Driscoll, who did the excellent cover of this issue.

‘On Spec’ usually achieves a pretty high standard but this is a particularly fine issue. The fantasy was boosted by a couple of doses of decent Science Fiction. More of the same would be welcome in future issues but the editors can only print what they get, I suppose. Generally, they do very well on their limited budget.

Eamonn Murphy

December 2014

(pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. 130 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR)

check out website: www.onspec.ca

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories for small press magazines. His eBooks are available at all good retailers or see his website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.