On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol. 27 no. 4 #103 (mag review).

As Paulo de Costa is this issue of ‘On Spec’s interviewed author, I might as well start with him. ‘Once Dad, Always Here’ shows a future in which privacy and copyright have been abolished and the controllers can track most rebels. There are interactive graveyards where you can visit with a hologram version of the dear departed, software programmed with everything known about them. Ziella is visiting her father, who was a rebel always on the run and so largely absent when alive. It’s an interesting concept and well handled. The multi-lingual author was born in Angola, raised in Portugal and now lives in Canada. This varied cultural heritage is ideal for the flexible mindset useful to a Science Fiction writer.


Karin Mephistopholes is the ‘Marvellous, Magnificent, Murderous’ female in the story thus titled by Ron Collins and narrated in the first person by her sidekick Ulysses J. Hawthorne. It’s set in a far flung future and starts in a giant bazaar near the black hole at the centre of the galaxy. Everything is for sale here. Our villains have nicked a precious data crystal but have to make a fast getaway so steal a spaceship, too. So far so space-opera but there’s a neat twist in the middle and a clever ending. I liked it best because it goes against the crazy ‘Star Trek’ idea that all alien races can be persuaded to take up the warm, fluffy liberal values of American intellectuals. Love ‘Star Trek’ but it ain’t gonna happen that way if we ever meet extra-terrestrials. Never mind aliens, most Americans haven’t taken up liberal values, as can be seen right now every day on the news.

Most of the great jobs for misanthropes are gone. There are no more vacancies for lighthouse keepers. In the future, however, we may be able to find employment in the control towers of solar farms. This is where Bobbie hides away from the world but her peace is disrupted when a female trainee is sent to accompany her. A dramatic breakdown of the facility makes for a bit of adventure but this was a story about someone reconnecting with the rest of humanity. I thought ‘The Guard Tower’ by Hal J. Friesen was going to get all Sapphic, which I don’t mind, but it was about friendship, much underrated in a society where everybody is looking for ‘The One.’

This is a good time to mention that this month’s editorial by Diane L. Walton is a homage to that very thing, especially in the SFF community and to one friend in particular who has passed on, Mary-Karen Reid. (I hope Geoff does an editorial about how sweet and lovely I was after I become one with the universe.)

‘The Little Car Dreams Of Gasoline’ by Fiona Moore is yet another SF tale. A rich serving of Science Fiction this issue. Jason, our narrator, is an autologist, a new profession that came about when artificial intelligences were fitted to self-drive cars. His pal, Ruth, designs software. One of their cars has gone Herbie. It has become independent and is driving around the country doing its own thing. Head office wants it stopped. My favourite story this issue by a mile. It should be up for prizes.

On to the fantasy. Feryn is ‘The Skysinger’s Daughter’ in Janet K. Nicolson’s tale and her duty is to play the flute to the spirits in the sky. No one has done it since her mother was murdered and the world has gone wrong. Death has stopped happening and a permanent winter is creeping over the land. The story opens with the crisis and alternating scenes follow Feryn in the present and fill us in on the back story until the end where the past catches up. It struck me that this is a common device now in yarn spinning. Too common, perhaps, as some sages think that flashbacks are best avoided but it works well here.

David Jón Fuller’s story ‘Not Fit To Print’ is proof that a good yarn can still be spun from classic ingredients. Wolfish Marion Greyeyes investigates the death of Tracy, a young Cree woman who was killed and has two holes in her neck. Reporter Barry Eyjolfson was first on the scene and saw a man drinking her blood but the police don’t believe him. This is set in Winnipeg, in 1965, when native Americans were second class citizens so the law isn‘t too concerned. I deduce from reading their guidelines that some editors believe vampires and werewolves are best avoided as there’s nothing more to say. Given the limited tropes that mainstream fiction is still successfully mining, I reckon this is silly.

Last but not least is a fairy tale: ‘When Phacack Came To Steal Papa, A Ti-Jean Story’ by Ace Jordyn. Ti-Jean is a brave little chap who lives in northern Canada with his mama and papa and two older brothers. Papa goes fur trapping every year but this time doesn’t come back. Everyone else assumes he’s just late but Ti-Jean is worried and sets off to find him. He braves various perils but is helped by the gifts he got en route from Old Grandmother, Older Grandmother and Oldest Grandmother. This was an enchanting little tale and one you can read to the kids at bedtime. I strongly suggest that Ace Jordyn finds a good illustrator and puts it out in book form.

Like so many little magazines ‘On Spec’ punches well above its pay rates and continues to deliver excellent fiction. Recommended.

Eamonn Murphy

October 2016

(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 websites: http://www.onspec.ca/ and to buy the digital version:

http://weightlessbooks.com/format/on-spec-magazine-1-year-subscription-4-issues/ and https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/emagazine/onspec-24

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/

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