On Spec # 93 has an interview with ‘the most decorated writer in the Science Fiction and fantasy genre’. She has won eleven Hugo awards, Seven Nebula awards, four Locus awards and the John W. Campbell Memorial award. Her name is Connie Willis and I’ve never heard of her before! It’s a big field now. Must keep up! At any rate, she’s a very nice lady and mad for the British sci-fi series ‘Primeval’, featuring dinosaurs. She likes the plot twists because she can’t tell where it’s going next. My impression was that the writers didn’t know where they were going next and it lost its way but who knows? There’s also an interview with the cover artist as usual, Robert Pasternak in this case, and the author of a story, Leslie Brown in this case.
Leslie Brown’s story is ‘The Ash Queen’, which is an updating of the Cinderella fairy tale. Many years later, one of the ugly sisters is mysteriously summoned by the Queen. I won’t give away the plot but it takes a surprising turn and I was impressed by the idea of updating fairy tales or seeing them from a different character’s point of view. It opens up huge possibilities and I rate this the third best story in the issue.
The best fiction this issue is another fantasy, ’Wizard’s Sacrifice’ by Shen Braun. When Lord Trant comes back from the war, shortly to go off for yet another one, he is weary and in need of refreshment. Magic takes energy and that has to come from some source. This almost scientific view of wizardry, taking into account physical laws, reminded me of the magical systems in the fiction of L.E. Modesitt Jr. It’s a sound approach and here underpins an excellent and moving story.
Second best fiction prize I would give to J.P. Boyd for ‘Aghostic’. The word has been coined by the protagonist, cosmologist Wolfram Krone, who feels that ‘agnostic’ is too woolly and a rational man may be wrong but is not afraid to take a stand. ‘Aghostic’ means ‘free of ghosts, superstitions and an exaggerated reverence for the tribal myths of the Middle East.’ Actually, someone who wants to take a stand can say ‘atheist’, but never mind. It’s a nice title and a clever concept. Anyway, when Wolfram encounters little alien chaps who want to be baptised into the Catholic Church, he is somewhat taken aback. The story is mostly played for laughs but there is some meditation on the big issues as well, to lend it depth and, all in all, it’s very enjoyable.
The rest of the fiction was not as satisfying, alas. ‘A Pilgrim At The Edge Of The World’ has a fellow called Kaainka who has to go on a journey and come back in order to be recognised as a man. Kaainka has a beak and feathers but, that aside, this might have been a yarn about an aboriginal or native American rite of passage. James Blish said that a tale about bunny rabbits is not Science Fiction just because you put them on Mars and call them Smeerps. He was an acidic, waspish little man and I’m much nicer so I’ll just say it was okay. It had a plot and it sort of made sense.
‘Feathers For Tray’ seemed like an interesting Science Fiction piece about people with deformities being sent to live in separate communities in some cruel near future time. Then right at the end, unless I misread it, the thing turned into a fantasy. I found this annoying.
‘Unknown And Unseen’ by Albert Choi had a clear message. It is hard work in a factory and not very nice. There didn’t seem to be any story attached to the idea (with which I am in absolute sympathy in our present, real world) and it was only Science Fiction on the ‘smeerp’ theory mentioned above.
‘Repair Parts’ by Camille Alexa was an incident, not a story, though the fantastical concept had a certain charm. ‘Meet’ by L.D. Wilton kept you guessing until the end with vague hints about what it really meant and when you found out it was a bit disappointing. All of these had fair to middling ideas stretched over more pages than they deserved. If you write pretty and they all do, you can get away with this candy floss in small doses but it starts to pall quite soon.
Generally, ‘On Spec’ is a splendid little magazine and I’ve often had occasion to praise it to the skies but I found this issue disappointing. However, it’s fair to say that my tastes incline to solid stories rather than the more fey and whimsical stuff of fantasy so this might well suit some other people. Moreover, the three good stories mentioned above are worth the price of the magazine. So there.
(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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