On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 26 no. 3 # 98 (magazine review).

After the contents page and the subscription information, On Spec # 98 opens with an editorial: ‘The Future Of On Spec And The Challenges We Face’ by Diane L. Walton, Managing Editor. Small arts magazines cannot get by on the revenues from advertisers and subscribers alone but need extra funding. Their government grant has been withdrawn and they are in trouble but will try to keep going. I hope they can. It occurred to me that they might get a sponsor, a successful Canadian SF or Fantasy author or two. Their other option might be to publish more translations of good speculative fiction in French – which they used to do often and get some funding from Quebec. Seriously.


Next is another editorial by Diane: ‘Harlan Ellison Is Alive And Well And Living In California’, a sort of tribute to that worthy who has had a stroke, alas, but it looks like he will make a good recovery. It ends with a quote from Harlan which says ‘The only thing worth writing about is people.’ After an interview with cover artist Jeff Ward, we get to the first fiction, ‘Chance Encounter’, a story about a dog. Sorry Harlan.

Chance is a very intelligent border collie owned by George D. Hankshaw, a cattle farmer in the Swift Current area of Saskatchewan. One night, Chance smells something odd but, as the dogs are locked in the barn, he can’t get out to investigate. Next morning, a mutilated cow is found dead. Janet K. Nicholson does a nice job of conveying what might be the sensory world and language ability by scent of man’s best friend. The ending might have been more dramatic but I enjoyed it overall and so did our dog, Molly, when I read it to her. Nicolson’s interview comes after the story and she said she wants to keep doing fiction but also stick with her day job as a technical writer for a communications firm. This is sensible. Dreaming of the big bucks earned by a tiny percentage of scribblers is usually futile and ultimately frustrating.

Brent Knowles is a regular in ‘On Spec’ and, other short fiction outlets, who generally produces interesting stuff. This time he gives us ‘A Primer On The Ins And Outs Of Building Bliss’. Levi is an atheist in a Catholic university of the far future, judging by the floating cities, where they are constructing virtual realities. His subject and creation, Carol, is a difficult little girl who grows into a troubled teenager. Levi is experimenting to find out if faith is enough to build a well-rounded personality or if the certainty of an afterlife would be better. The story alternates Levi’s point of view with Carol’s and is an interesting meditation on a philosophical and religious issue.

‘Walk The Dinosaur’ by Jayme Allen is an odd yarn about a velociraptor’s troubles with keeping a job in a human world. He is engaged to a nice lady who finds his reds and blues cute. Then he gets work in a fast food joint working the French fry cutter but has trouble with his boss. This is kind of fun.

Stories of multi-generation colony ships are as old as ‘Universe’ by Robert Heinlein and there are many variations on the theme. In ‘Sunchild Blues’, the people are hoping to evolve into a new, better type of human before settling down. Unfortunately, six generations seem to have produced ‘no telepathy, no mind over matter, no immortality in a machine’ and the Ascendant is falling into disrepair while its sister ships are already lost, though only one talented lady knows it. Should they pursue the dream of transcendence or settle for brutish unimproved humanity physically colonising the nearest suitable star system? Author Al Onia combines empathy with far out speculation in this highly original story.

‘Downtime’ by Melanie Marttila stars Opus, a cybernetic organism or AI-borg. It has a computer for a brain in a female human body form. The story opens with it being presented to the scientific community by Eric Johansen and Natalie Upshaw, its creators. Complications ensue when a jealous colleagues tries to steal their work. An excellent tale, well told and a warning, perhaps, against making something smarter than ourselves even though Opus is no villain.

Flann O‘Brien wrote that only a Dubliner of his own time could really comprehend ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce. Only a Jewish person or someone well versed in that faith could really get ‘A Little Leavening’ by Alan Weiss. The wizard Eliezer is stuck in a village and cannot get to the city to celebrate Passover properly, so has to make do with the locals. People of my age have a smattering of knowledge about the Old Testament – we did it in school – but I fear this story will be a mystery to most modern youth, not least because much of it is written in a foreign language. On the other hand, I live in the English countryside and big city dwellers in Canada and the USA may well be more familiar with these practices. I liked what I could understand, especially the horse.

‘Cajun Style’ a poem by Lynne M. MacLean about a gator in a jar of pickled cucumbers and it’s the best poem about a gator in a jar of pickled cucumbers I’ve ever read. Poems seldom rhyme nowadays but this had a good use of language, alliteration and, best of all, wit. I liked it.

‘Sunchild Blues’ and ‘Downtime’ are the highlights of this issue but every story was entertaining and original. ‘On Spec’ deserves to keep going. Let’s hope it does.

Eamonn Murphy

March 2015

(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)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories for small press magazines. His works are available on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited.

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