‘On Spec’, the Canadian magazine of the fantastic is one of those small enterprises struggling to keep the flame of short fiction alive. It’s mostly short stories like these.
‘Skywalkers’ by Marcelle Dubé is set in a Victorian Age Montreal. where the original settlers from England bought Fey folk over with them. Now Fey are being murdered and our heroine, Gisèle, daughter of a wealthy businessman, seems to be the only one who cares, probably because The Fey are second class citizens. A bit of a scanty plot but superior descriptive prose gives a strong sense of place and the back story is probably good for more tales.
‘Banewort’ by Meghan Casey is a reworking of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ which is quite enjoyable.
‘Second Born’ by Ashley Mullins is a reworking of ‘Pet Semetary’ which isn’t enjoyable but probably isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to give you the creeps and does that most effectively. Ellie and Pete are so desperate for a baby that when a local one dies, they revive him from the grave with some best forgotten magic and keep him. This takes broody to a new level. Ashley Mullins features in this month’s author interview and gives a good account of herself. I should note that ‘Pet Sematary’ is my favourite Stephen King book but I think it works so well because the father wants his own son back. Wanting just any old child doesn’t have quite the same oomph. Also, this is a short story, not a 100,000 word novel so can’t do as much. It does enough.
‘Liminar’ by Christine S.R. Jackson is about a zoo full of fantasy creatures where Amelia has always worked and always will. She’s a lifer, like the rest of the inmates. Along with the title creature, which assumes different forms, the zoo has jackalopes and cross-eyed unicorns. It’s an out-of-the-way place but scrapes a living. This shorter short had a point which it made effectively.
Brent Nichols is an ‘On Spec’ regular and regularly entertaining. Here he gives us a heroic fantasy with a humorous twist. Ernest, an ordinary lad, has decided to cross the Chasm of Death on a ropy bridge which is protected by Montague the Troll, a fearsome creature indeed. Across the chasm is the crystal skull of N’Gauth, which will hopefully impress some village girl. Ernest is not strong, brave or smart but he is stubborn and sometimes that sees him through. He’s also lonely. A very enjoyable yarn.
William Squirrell writes the sort of cascading prose that I envy, full of invention, detail, information, similes, metaphors and wild characters. Lord Lemon, never entirely sane, has gone completely mad following the death of his wife and hires an engineer named Trevithick to build a machine that will take him to heaven and demand her life back. Carclew House exists in Cornwall, as did the famous engineer Trevithick but the author has livened things up with war and chaos. A joyous steampunk extravaganza that grips you by the throat from the opening line and won’t let go.
Possibly ‘In The Shadow Of A Broken Man’ by Suzanne Church is meant to console anyone with a mildly dysfunctional family by showing a very dysfunctional one. Most of them are dead but their ghosts, especially dear old Dad, are giving our hero Bruce a hard time. The language is modern and earthy. I suspect the author’s theme is what fools men are, especially ‘hard’ men. I don’t disagree but, at a certain level of society, a male has to at least pretend to be hard to survive.
Last but by no means least is the short, sweet and very topical ‘A Clockwork Barista’ by Kevin Cockle. Featuring indispensable mobile phones, widespread information and connectivity, self-drive cars and paranoid fear of terrorists, this is almost tomorrow fiction. Colin loses his job because the coffee shop has closed but the whole world knows before he does. Within minutes, his profile has been updated to unemployed, his twitter followers are leaving in droves and his girlfriend has changed her on-line status to single. Nobody likes a loser because they are potential terrorists, too. This is fast paced, puts the background over neatly and has crises escalating so quickly you can hardly catch your breath. Nor can Colin. I have often contemplated working as a Barista. Pronounced carefully, this job title can lead people to believe that you’re a very important person in the legal profession.
The editorial by Barb Galler-Smith is an autobiographical piece about loving stories. The cover artist and art interviewee is one Joel Hustak, who does a good line in Lovecraftian monsters. They’re on the inside though. At first, I thought the cover was a raging fire but it’s actually a tame red tree, with doors.
All in all, another very good issue of ‘On Spec’. Canada is too far away from some other places to make hard copies easy to get but this fine magazine is available on the interweb at https://weightlessbooks.com and even https://variantedmonton.com and it’s excellent value for money.
(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 website: http://www.onspec.ca/