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The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic

Volume 1, Number 3 (February 1996)
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On Spec -- The Canadian Magazine of Speculative Writing

by Darlene Netcoh
Copyright © 1996, Darlene Netcoh

ON SPEC--The Canadian Magazine of Speculative Writing. Vol. 7, Issue 2 (#21), Summer 1995. Ed. Jena Snyder. P.O. Box 4727, Edmonton, AB, Canada, TOE 5G6. 95 pages, $4.95 per issue.

Q: So when will hell freeze over?
A: A complex examination of all meteorological data in recorded history predicts, with greater than 95% probability, that hell will freeze over on January 28, 2004, with a margin of error of two days either way. A vast number of promises must be fulfilled on that day.

The question comes from Mr. MM of Vancouver, BC; the response is courtesy of Mr. Science, on the "Ask Mr. Science" page of the Summer 1995 issue of ON SPEC Magazine. Incorporating works of fiction, poetry, art, and non-fiction, this issue of ON SPEC is a thought-provoking and entertaining collection of speculative texts. Additionally, many of the works are infused with a sense of whimsical humor similar to that which is displayed in the "Ask Mr. Science" column. One such thoughtful yet amusing piece is "The End of Things," by Jason Kapalka. In this story, two parents want to ensure that their child appreciates the horror of the world he is entering and to prepare him for the impending holocaust. The juxtaposition of the obsession of new parents to do everything just right with images of doom creates both the humor and the kind of commentary on society that speculative fiction does best:

"Peter's father projected charts indicating the probability of nuclear Armageddon onto his mother's belly, reversed so they would be legible to the child inside her womb. And as she rocked slowly back and forth in her easy chair, his mother reId to the growing bulge in her midriff rates of species extinction, global warming, and disease spread, concluding with the gentle cooing lullaby which Peter, for the rest of his life, would always associate with her. "Doom, doom," she sang, "doom."

Peter's parents are two Chicken Littles that are so busy with death that they forget to live. They fill his crib with plastic skeletons, "the better to familiarize him with death," and

"when he swallowed a little skull, turning red and green before it was ejected, they thought they heard an acknowledgment of mortality in his pathetic bawling."

However, when the holocaust finally does arrive, Peter's parents are shocked and horrified to find that their teachings have not achieved their desired results. As the story progresses through nuclear bombings, vaporizations, and mutations in increasingly unusual, outrageous, and darkly humorous ways, the "simple violent joy of living" triumphs over the voices of doom.

Another story with humorous overtones is "Cereal Prizes I have Known and Enjoyed," by Jan Lars Jensen. Some of these prizes are "Monkey Palms 2000" from a box of O so Nutty O's; "Flightless Birds of Yore Series; The 1750 Moa," which instead of being packaged in cellophane is encased "within a nugget of the cereal itself"; and "Talk Like Casey the Clown! Throat Insert," which is not recommended for small children and which gives the narrator a "difficult time overcoming the gag reflex one first experiences upon inserting the diaphragm in one's throat." Throughout the narrator's reminiscences of his joy at finding prizes in his cereal are also nicely subtle instances depicting the disintegration of his marriage. For example, when he puts his "Command'r Crunch's Stealth Submarine" in his wife's bathtub for a "harmless surprise," all he hears is "the flush of the toilet, " but it consoles him to think that his "sub now braves unexplored depths somewhere far beneath the city." The amusing style of the story and the satiric nature of the narrator's involvement with cereal prizes at the exclusion of everything else, especially human interaction with his wife, as well as the "state of the art" prizes themselves, help make the story both meaningful and entertaining.

Although not all of the stories are as amusing as these two, most of them are well-written and thought-provoking, and they cover a range of speculative fiction "types." "Dung Beetle," by Heather Spears, concerns a centuries-long project to clean Venus for human habitation. The toxic atmosphere is sucked from the planet and deposited in a man-made moon known in slang terms as the "Shitball." Manning the orbiting spacecrafts which accomplish this feat are artists, such as dancers, musicians, and calligraphers. The protagonist, Ka Eth, is a line artist with a sharpened and implanted index finger, which she uses to draw directly on the window of her craft. Combining the science of altering a planet's chemistry with the artistry of individual humans involved in such a task, the story ruminates on both the technological and human possibilities of the future. Other stories involve cloning ("The New Father," by Brent Hayward); medieval-like setting with shapeshifting and telepathy ("Memory's Child," by Mary Soon Lee); dragons ("Jhorzia and the Dragon," by Bruce Barber); and the sciences of mathematics, anthropology, and computers ("The Burden of Proof," by Erik John Spigel).

The poetry and non-fiction are also worth your time. "On Writing: Constructing Characters," by Robert J. Sawyer, begins, "Psst! Wanna hear a secret? The people in most stories are not really humans--they're robots." The first few and the last few pages of this issue are filled with advertisements and tend to be a bit "busy," but overall the magazine is organized well--the artwork in one section, the "business" at the beginning and end, the poetry, fiction, and nonfiction dispersed throughout. Finally, there's the humor of Mr. Science, who "can answer any question involving life or the true nature of the universe."


The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.

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