On Spec, Summer 2005

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Image“Rat Patrol” by Kevin Cockle
“The Land” by Patrick Lestewka
“Woman Born Fully Formed” by Marlene Wurfel
“The Promised Land” by Antonio Ruffini
“Boys’ Night Out” by Rob Hunter
“Surrealist World” by Cliff Burns
“Search” by Ceri Young
“Like Monsters of the Deep” by Hayden Trenholm
“A Moment Before C” by Tanya Allan-Johnson  
“Testing Edon” by Robert J. Santa
It is clear from the beginning of Kevin Cockle’s “Rat Patrol” that the rats Arthur Low is looking for are not the traditional furry rodents with the long tails.  What exactly they are, and what has happened to the Canadian plains is something Cockle plays close to the vest.  However, while it is of interest, it is not the primary focus of the story.  Instead, Cockle focuses his attention on Low’s relationship with the troubled teenager, Jake, with whom he was saddled.  By looking at Jake and Arthur, Cockle presents a story rather than just a setting.

“The Land” is Patrick Lestewka’s examination of the obligations that go along with hopes and dreams.  In this case, Caleb, a farmer on the barren plains, makes a deal with the devil to ensure that his land will produce what he needs to make a living.  Over the years, Lewstewka revisits the deal, showing the ongoing cost of the deal for Caleb.  In the end, payment for the land and the deal is not as expected by either Caleb, his son, Matthew, or the reader, making what could have been a typical deal with the devil story into something more thought-provoking.

Marlene Wurfel presents a surreal time travel story with “Woman Born Fully Formed,” which, alas, doesn’t work particularly well since the characters in the story remain distant, not only from each other, but also the reader.  More a fantasy than any sort of science fiction, Wurfel doesn’t attempt to imbue reason or mechanics into the tale, nor, unfortunately, a reason to care.

“The Promised Land” in Antonio Ruffini’s story refers to immortality.  Ruffini’s protagonist, an aged composer named Pauson, has already been turned down for rejuvenation treatments several times, but stumbles on someone who might be able to help him, although using bribery and blackmail.  In the end, Ruffini examines, as Lewstewka did in “The Land,” the question of how much a goal is worth to an individual.

Rob Hunter takes an interesting look at the life of werewolves in “Boys Night Out,” about a walled enclave of werewolves and their wives near New York.  Switching back and forth between conversations between two women and two men, Hunter has the veteran residents explaining the way the community and the world of lycanthropy work to the newcomers.  While most authors seem content to study the natural history of vampires, Hunter’s take on werewolves is interesting and unique, especially as he tries to tie in the classical play Lysistrata and human needs and emotions to the story.

While Wurfel’s story is surreal in its treatment of time travel, Cliff Burns looks at a surreal art movement in “Surrealist World.”  Burns’s movement is a mixture of artistic and political, but it also stems from the likes and whims of a single artist who forms the school of art’s critical and political direction.  The story presents an interesting look at the tie between politics and art, and although it may not be convincing, it is worth considering.

Ceri Young relates a reasonably obvious fantasy in “Search.”  Her couple is clearly having domestic problems related to their move to a new community, and it is equally obvious that the young wife who has been uprooted from her family in the move has some close affinity to the coast they left. 

Hayden Trenholm presents a traditional ghost spaceship story in “Like Monsters of the Deep.”  An outbound crew arrives at a space station in distant orbit around the sun, the first stop on an interstellar voyage, to discover it is bereft of life.  The tension heightens during the investigation of the station as the crew splits up, reminiscent, in many ways, of the film Alien, although Trenholm does present a twist to the ending as the last two crewmen prepare their escape.

The conceit of Tanya Allan-Johnson’s “A Moment Before C,” a lost interval in piano keyboards which can transport listeners to another realm, is based on the inherent magic of music.  Allan-Johnson’s handling of her material is quite well-done as the interval is found and it successfully transports one of her characters to a world which is the same in almost all aspects as his home world except for one particular.

“Testing Edon” looks at the last days of the magical apprenticeship of Edon when he feels his master, Garrett, is taking advantage of him.  Robert J. Santa captures the sense of disillusionment and despair which is so often felt by students on the verge of making a breakthrough.