On Spec #120, Summer 2022

On Spec #120, Summer 2022

“Gypsy Biker’s Coming Home” by Douglas Smith

“The Once Beating Heart of the Future” by Kristene Perron

“Broken Vow: The Adventures of Flick Gibson, Intergalactic Videographer” by Peter G. Reynolds

“Regarding the Influx of Skeletons Coming Out From the Soil in Our Community Garden” by Patrick Barb

“Where You Go” by Somto Ihezue Onyedikachi

“Shortest Route” by Aaron Humphrey

“Five Questions for Monthly Routine Check of FTL Drive Chief Operators” by Renan Bernardo

“Water From a Duck’s Back” by Geoff Hart

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Writers from three continents provide an octet of original stories in the latest issue of this Canadian magazine of imaginative fiction.

“Gypsy Biker’s Coming Home” by Douglas Smith takes place in a grim future world ruled by an all-powerful corporation. The corporation drafts people to be used as human drones in warfare, controlled by so-called pilots far from the battlefield. The widows of a group of drones killed in battle plot to take gruesome revenge on those who sent their husbands to their deaths.

The author creates a vivid dystopia, where the rulers casually sacrifice the lives of their underlings. The corporate lackeys may seem like one-dimensional villains to some readers. The climax changes the story from science fiction to supernatural horror. The sudden switch in genre is jarring.

In “The Once Beating Heart of the Future” by Kristene Perron, pregnancy is contracted from businesses, and prospective parents receive simulated images of their unborn children via social media. When a young woman’s situation changes, she must decide what to do about the potential baby.

I have probably explained the premise of this story badly, as it is not entirely clear. I was never sure whether the babies were entirely imaginary, at least until the parent decides to complete the pregnancy, or if they were real from the start. The narrative is written in a slangy, kinetic style, appropriate for a future society even more obsessed with on-line communication than our own.

In “Broken Vow: The Adventures of Flick Gibson, Intergalactic Videographer” by Peter G. Reynolds, the title character accepts an assignment to record a marriage in which bride and groom come from warring planets. Complications lead to the threat of interplanetary war as the protagonist struggles to unite the star-crossed lovers and save his own skin. I found the humor in this space opera farce to be sophomoric, but it may amuse others.

The title of “Regarding the Influx of Skeletons Coming Out From the Soil in Our Community Garden” by Patrick Barb describes its premise precisely. The story takes the form of a message from management to the underlings who use the garden, warning them not to shelter the emerging skeletons, in order to prevent unpleasant consequences.

The author’s intent appears to be a satiric contrast between the wealthy do-gooders who provide the garden and the lower-class individuals who use it. Other than that, this is a one-idea story.

“Where You Go” by Nigerian writer Somto Ihezue Onyedikachi is a difficult story to describe. In brief, a woman living at a future time when the city of Lagos has disappeared under the sea confronts the ancient being who caused this to happen. The woman has supernatural powers of her own. The conflict between the two involves the woman’s blind adopted daughter.

Once again, I must admit that this synopsis is a poor one. Much more than I have indicated happens in the story, which occurs over more than twenty years. Perhaps it is difficult for a Western reader to fully appreciate the work. Although opaque, this mysterious tale creates an intriguing, evocative mood.

In “Shortest Route” by Aaron Humphrey, a man buys a car that is guaranteed to always find the quickest way to get anywhere. It miraculously avoids accidents and other delays. When aliens invade Earth, the remarkable automobile proves to be of even greater importance than suspected.

The matter-of-fact narrative tone gives this story the feeling of a tall tale. Personally, I found the car itself more interesting than its involvement with the extraterrestrials.

“Five Questions for Monthly Routine Check of FTL Drive Chief Operators” by Brazilian writer Renan Bernardo consists of multiple-choice questions about the workings of a starship. The potential answers reveal that a man is trapped far from Earth on a malfunctioning vessel, with only one dangerous possibility of returning home to his daughter, as he promised.

The format is clever, although the supposed answers are not anything at all like those that would appear on a real test. Despite the emotional appeal of the protagonist’s situation, this very brief work is mostly to be admired for its unusual structure.

In “Water From a Duck’s Back” by Geoff Hart, a mentally slow man loses his job and his apartment. Forced into homelessness, he grows in strength and size, and develops very tough skin. When he saves someone from supernatural beings, he begins a new life.

This urban fantasy has the feeling of magic realism, with its fantastic content serving as background to a story about social class, loneliness, and companionship. The author accomplishes the very difficult task of depicting a character of limited intelligence with empathy and compassion. (In this aspect, the story is reminiscent of Daniel Keyes’ classic “Flowers for Algernon,” although otherwise the works are completely different.) The plot avoids sentimentality, but is sure to touch the reader’s heart.

Victoria Silverwolf thinks this issue has a lot of long titles.