I’ve always been drawn to On Spec, maybe because it strikes a good mix between style and spec. The stories never feel heavy or cumbersome, but they usually have depth and flavour that I sometimes don’t find in other mags. It can feel like there’s an overabundance of some styles of short spec fic, but I think there isn’t enough of the “On Spec” kind.
Hedge of Protection by Steve Stanton
Zak scrambled after the headless chicken as it hopped and flapped from ban board to fencepost, blind, mute and panic-stricken. He grabbed the wing and wrestled the bloody creature down.
I enjoyed this story. The author spoke with authenticity on Haitian culture, and I’ve always liked being immersed in new places, particularly when those places are real. The dialogue and characters felt real to me, and I admired how the author crafted the blend of magic and medicine. The story went where I thought it would go, but that didn’t spoil the journey for me.
Space Monkeys by Ryan M. Williams
Watching Danny play is amazing. He is so quick and responsive in the game. When he pulls of a difficult move, you can almost see a smile on his lips.
A short story that resonated with me as a parent. Set in the very near future, near enough that I may find myself living something like it. Touching without being overly emotional, and filled with prose that was the right style for the message, with just the right amount of description. One of my favourites of the issue.
The Whole Megillah by Allan Weiss
“Your reputation is well known, great wizard,” the woman said, “and it is fortuitous that you have come, for we have evil in our midst.”
This story also immersed me into a lesser-discussed culture, that of the post-captivity Judeans (from what I could tell) and the occupation of the Jewish wizard. Weiss uses a light tone, which works for the plot but actually made me thirst for something a little more sombre. The stakes weren’t high at all for the main character, which left little suspense, but it was an interesting read nonetheless.
Artificial Stupidity by Michael R. Fletcher
They gathered around me. Three engineers, six scientists, a singular psychologist, and two lowly lab assistants, all smiling and hugging each other.
I liked this story about artificial intelligence, not just because it had the right pace and good lines, but because it felt fresh even thought the topic is well-tread. Nice and light.
The Fox Maiden by Priya Sharma
“The tenant, Victor Mallory, is deranged. A circus performer or something equally vulgar. He refuses to let us hunt there. He’s let loose all kinds of dangerous animals on the land.”
This story was the most difficult for me to follow, but I think that’s probably because I’m a bit of a neophyte when it comes to fantasy. It was well-written, but I felt like the ending didn’t have enough punch for me since I knew not just how it would end but how the ending would be written.
First Light by Chadwick Ginther
The knife rested upon her palm, fading first to orange, then a dull red. There was no hiss as the metal touched her skin, no heady scent of burnt flesh. No pain, just a sensation of the metal’s heat trickling into her — feeding her.
A well-written fantasy story with all the standard requirements met, but I didn’t feel like it was bringing anything new. It might be my lack of awareness, but I felt like the sexuality of the main character was less of a character trait and more of a plot device. But I still think most readers will enjoy this short and well-paced romp.
On the Many Uses of Cedar by Geoffrey W. Cole
The flume looks like a V from head-on. She thinks the flume looks like a snake from the side. It crawls up the mountain on cedar stilts to its source, a mountain stream.
At first I was unsure of its unconventional structure and tense, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, even if I’m still not sure if the “hasn’t happened yet” aspect is necessary for the amount of distraction it gave me. The author is very adept at storytelling, particularly since he was able to describe recurring events in a way that still felt fresh. The characters felt real to me, as did the setting, and this was one of my favourites of the issue.
I really like On Spec, and the only sad thing is that I feel like not enough people know about it. I’m hoping that’ll change, particularly before my story comes out.
On Spec print subscription rates are available at a reasonable price worldwide. For those of you who want an electronic subscription or just the latest issue, you can purchase it here from Zinio. (Zinio apparently runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iPads and the Kindle Fire. iPhone support coming soon.)
Note: this mailing list may also be used as an early warning system in the case of either alien attack or the impending cancellation of the hit TV series Community.