‘On Spec’ has editorials, interviews and best of all, fiction. The two opening stories, ‘Bells Of Aberdovey’ by Kate Reidel and ‘Fur Is Dead’ by Lynn Stansbury are both the type that read like an ordinary tale of everyday life until you get to the end when there’s a fantastic conclusion which was hinted at earlier. It’s not a bad formula though the effect is lessened by being in a magazine of speculative fiction. If they could sell the stories to another market – and they are both good enough to appear in any magazine – the ending would have a lot more kick.
‘Bells Of Aberdovey’ is about a Methodist preacher going home and ‘Fur Is Dead’ is about a grandmother falling out with her daughter-in-law over fur coats. I liked some of it a lot, especially the bit about self-righteous middle-class female moralists protected by their education and status from any encounter with serious reality who view having given birth as the answer to everything. ‘Of course, I’m a Mother,‘ they say on television as if this made them omniscient. Author Lynn Stansbury is a mother, too, according to the notes, but seems to have kept a sense of balance about it. Hooray! (Although I was assembled from dead bits in a laboratory and animated by lightning I have nothing against mothers. Honest.)
‘Pardon Me’ by William Vitka is a Kraken story – sorry, a cracking story – about a sea dweller who falls out with an oil rig. It’s very amusing and deserves a paragraph all to itself. There is vast scope for humour in fantasy and Science Fiction and it’s nice to see it exploited so adroitly now and then.
Eric Lis tells a tale of the World War One trenches in ‘They Shall Not Pass’, where a scared soldier gets a morale boost from a mysterious fellow who then reappears in later life in similar daunting circumstances. The title is this character’s motto. A nice reminder of an old issue that makes its point without being preachy.
Cut to World War Two for ‘Operation Hercules’ by Ron Collins. German scientists have recreated Triceratops (more than one) and are using them in the battle for Malta. Collins turns an action/adventure premise into something more subtle by the end of it while nicely conveying the comradeship in a band of brothers. He’s the author interviewee this issue. The dinosaur free battle for Malta can be seen in a classic film ‘Malta Story’ starring Alec Guinness.
More fun next. A Science Fiction writer is en route to a convention and mulling over his Hugo Award acceptance speech when his ship explodes. The interesting thing is that Harlan Smith is going to Earth for the Worlds Science Fiction Convention and his ship is the star liner Procyon. His life raft makes it to an inhospitable planet and various crises ensue. This was a humorous yarn and built nicely on the clever initial premise with much inventiveness in the flora and fauna poor Harlan encounters. ‘Poor Harlan’ incidentally, is not a phrase that occurs much in our genre.
There are very minor flaws in ‘A Season Begins’ by Liz McKeen, but I noticed them. The first sentence has a dangling participle. ‘Selby sprinted from tuft to tuft in the tall grass, yellow-brown and dry.’ Is it Selby or the grass that’s yellow-brown and dry? As this is a fantasy story it could be either. Later: ‘Vengi gathered round, smooth stones…’. Vengi is one individual but sounds like a Latin plural so when you read ‘Vengi gathered round’, your first impression is that they are meeting up and ‘smooth stones’ is a bit of a jolt. ‘Vengi gathered smooth, round stones’ would have been better. This nit-picking is unfair because the story was rather sweet and quite original. The little things are more a failure of editing than authorship. I hope Liz McKeen won’t take it to heart and that we’ll hear more from her in the future.
Brent Knowles story ‘A Terrible Loyalty’ starts with a nice quote from G.K. Chesterton: ‘We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.’ Very true. Gary Strom, our hero, is picked up by the feds because his mate Evan Gershom has ran off with a starship and left a note saying, ‘Ask Gary Strom. He knows.’ to explain why. Gary’s interrogation reveals more. I’m inclined to think that the starship thief was crazy because the other premise doesn’t make any sense.
‘On Spec’ branches out into graphic storytelling or comic strips with ‘The Last Division’ by Kyle Charles. His art is fairly pleasing and I don’t really mind comic strips in prose magazines but I’m not sure I really like it neither. I love comics and I love prose but I buy whichever I want as both are freely available. Soon, I imagine, it may be possible to make the pages little screens so you can press a button and watch a film. Is that a good idea? Dunno.
Lots of fine reading, as usual, in this little magazine supported by arts funding from the Canadian government. Jubal Harshaw, Robert Heinlein’s mouthpiece in ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ said that a government sponsored artist is an incompetent whore. I have not found it to be so with ‘On Spec’ or ‘Interzone’ for that matter. However, the funding is not given to the artists directly but to the editors who then separate the wheat from the chaff. It seems to work well.
(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)