On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol. 29 no. 3-4 #110 (magazine review).

Oddly, the folks at ‘On Spec’ have decided to combine two issues into one, an experiment. Apart from the double length, it’s the usual mix of fantasy and Science Fiction with a few editorials, articles, flash fiction bits and poems thrown in. I’ll pick out my personal favourites.

Among the features is an extract from an interview with Spider Robinson in which he states that there are two kinds of people: those who find the future alarming and those who find it thrilling. A disciple of Heinlein, he finds it thrilling. Cunningly, the editors follow up this opinion with a couple of dystopian futures to the scare the pants off you.

In ‘On The List’ by Brad Preslar, Earth is in the grip of nuclear winter and the half-starved desperate people are waiting for tickets on the shuttle to a colony world. These are allocated via lottery but on an individual basis so a husband might be forced to go without his wife. That means there’s a black market in unused tickets. Marla, husband Shane and baby Nadine are as desperate as everyone else. Shane has saved some money earned selling home-made liquor and they hope to get tickets from fat Cyrus the king of the black market. The author found some humanity in this bleak setting.

Shortly after, there’s ‘Strings’ by Mike Rimar in which two daring young people snatch a musical instrument away from the Beaters, savages who live on an ancient garbage dump. The strings are a precious relic from the Before Time and Clara wants them for the tribe’s musician, Garcia. This solid adventure yarn was followed by an interesting interview with Mike Rimar, an honest man.

Between these dystopias was a first contact story by ‘Ice Singer’ by J.S. Veter, set on Jupiter’s moon Europa. It was too short to summarise but worth a read, reader. ‘On Spec’ often features excellent SF stories but not enough of them for my liking. This double issue has a generous dose and I’m glad.

Fantasy next with ‘Mnemosyne’ by Catherine MacLeod. The title is the name of the protagonist bestowed on her by a mythology-loving mother. Mnemosyne was one of the Titans, mother of the Muses. It means memory, hence mnemonic, I guess. Syne, as she is known, is a ghost courier. Having a ghost has become trendy for the rich, so she carries them in her head from the place where they die to the client’s house. The ability wears out but one can get rich while it lasts. Syne’s last case is to deliver her ex-lover’s ghost. The story developed nicely with clever use of flashbacks and I enjoyed it.

Zombies are ubiquitous now and never were a favourite of mine but I enjoyed ‘Free-Birding Through The Zombie Apocalypse’ by Jeff Stehman. Linda and Steve are on the run from zombies, like everyone else, and find a 1974 Chevrolet Nova Coupe with flat tyres, a flat battery and no fuel that really shouldn’t go. But it does! A zombie car! Their further adventures are enhanced by a litter of zombie kittens in the boot. It’s all good fun.

There’s more light-hearted storytelling from B. Morris Allen. Dave is a rough brute of a local near Wolverton Mountain. Clifton Clowers is the mysterious man who lives on the mountain and doesn’t like trespassers. Alicia is his beautiful daughter. The point of view in ‘I Don’t Care About Clifton Clowers’ shifts between these three as Dave keeps sneaking up the mountain to court Alicia. Clifton is a scientist trying to contact parallel worlds and Alicia is an android he made to assist him. Dave just thinks she’s a good-looking girl. This ticked along humorously and ended well.

The last story is ‘In Jove’s Eternal Embrace’ by Janet K. Nicolson. Earth is a mess and needs a power supply. Brin is a brainy scientist who’s also good with her hands and doesn’t mind getting down and dirty with the mechanical stuff. She gets a job on a ship that’s involved transmitting energy from Jupiter to Earth. So far, straight SF but there’s a nice cosmic twist that I won’t give away. By Jove, this was clever stuff.

‘On Spec’ continues to do a good job of keeping short speculative fiction alive in Canada.

Eamonn Murphy

June 2019

(pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. 186 page A5 magazine. Price: $11.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR)

check out websites: https://onspecmag.wordpress.com/ and https://onspecmag.wordpress.com/current-issue/

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