"Reintroducing the Species" by Jan Lars Jensen
"Keffie and Scragman" by Keith Scott
"Shika" by Robert Boyczuk
"Face of God" by Barbara Galler-Smith
"Queen's Move" by Leslie Lupien
"Walking Into Spring" by Wayne Harrison
"Bottle of Skin" by Wes Smiderle
"Three Last Chances" by Robert Ford
"The Pandora Consequence" by Gary George
Overall, the Winter 98 On Spec holds some very worthwhile stories, though a quick polish wouldn't have hurt any of them.
For instance, Wayne Harrison's "Walking Into Spring" is a well-told story, but not well-crafted. The point of view jumps around at the convenience of the writer. Unfortunately, Jena Snyder points out in her editorial that Mr. Harrison died shortly after submitting this story. Sad. I think he had talent, and would have loved to have seen what he'd have produced when he learned the craft more.
Editor Snyder also mentions in her editorial that she selected certain stories in this issue for their "echoes." For instance, both the cautionary "The Pandora Consequence" and the light-hearted "Three Last Chances" involve time travel, a second wife, a Volvo, and an accident. Both Gary George and Robert Ford handle the stories in uncluttered prose, and make the point effectively that small events in our lives can often carry a lot of weight.
Editor Snyder also points out the similarities between the title character of Robert Boyczuk's "Shika" and Mariko, the protagonist of Wes Smiderle's "Bottle of Skin." I would add "Queen's Move," *Leslie Lupien's interstellar war story to that list. The main characters of all three of these stories have the same lesson to learn, accepting themselves. All three of them also could have used one more rewrite to underscore the motives of some of the characters. In Lupien's and Boyczuk's stories, some introductory exposition would have improved the pacing and made the reader feel less like he was lost in a maze with shifting walls. Smiderle simply needed to reexamine the antagonist's reasoning, which doesn't add up. However, all three stories have some good writing, and I look forward to reading more from each of these authors.
Jan Lars Jensen's "Reintroducing the Species" throws around some interesting images, as does "Keffie and Scragman," Keith Scott's child's-eye-view of a dystopic future slum. Unfortunately, the pieces don't quite come together in either. Scott brings up more questions than he answers. Jensen seems to have intended to answer the questions of his story, but the dots don't fully connect. A little trimming wouldn't have hurt either of these stories.
Finally, Barbara Galler-Smith brings us "Face of God." This isn't a bad story, it's just bland. There is no surprise to the denouement; it's exactly what's expected from page two.
Overall, I'd recommend this issue of On Spec as a magazine with interesting stories. It's not perfect, it could use some polish, but it gets the job done, which is to entertain.
Robert L. Fleck was the managing editor of Midnight Zoo magazine for a number of years, meaning that he had a hand in every aspect of the magazine from opening the mail to physically printing each issue. After leaving MZ, he went to work as Janet Berliner's personal assistant, where he's had the opportunity to work with many of his idols, including Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oates, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton and David Copperfield.