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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

On Spec #80 -- Spring 2010

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“A Thousand” by Leah Bobet
“Zebedee the Giant Man” by Tina Connolly
“Weeds in the Garden” by Meghan Dunn
“Walk the Wheat” by John Mantooth
“Vanishing Woman” by Marcelle Dube
“Katie Dreams” by Eric J. Hull
“Cygnet’s Shadow” by Tony Pi
“To Sleep in Peace” by Kate Riedel

Reviewed by Robert E. Waters

Eight stories round out this issue of On Spec. Leah Bobet starts us off with “A Thousand.” Kaito is making a thousand origami cranes because, as the legend goes, make a thousand and you get a wish. His wish is to find out why his mother disappeared, and unfortunately, his aged father is being tight-lipped about it.  I liked the author’s rather smooth and stylistic prose, but the story never really resolves. We kind of get an explanation for Mama’s disappearance, but it made little sense to me.

Next up is “Zebedee the Giant Man” by Tina Connolly. This vignette is about a giant who shows up at a savings & loan and falls in love with the banker’s willful daughter… and then they run away together. That’s all. Exactly where this story takes place is in question: on another planet, or on some kind of alternate earth where giants really live? There’s an economy that has grown up around the harvesting of these so-called tortua tortoise shells, which implies “alien,” but who knows?

“Weeds in the Garden” by Meghan Dunn is set in some kind of post-apocalyptic rural community. A census-taker comes along to begin the process of collecting data to aid the new government in its reconstitution. But the family he’s interviewing has a dark secret: there’s something wrong with Daddy. He’s some kind of mutant beast thing that runs and hides whenever company comes along. This might have been a pretty good story had the author taken more time to flesh out the situation. Where exactly is this story set? What really happened to the country? What exactly is wrong with their father? These questions and more, unfortunately, detract from the reader’s enjoyment.

John Mantooth’s “Walk the Wheat” shows us a very dysfunctional environment where a boy and his brother are terrorized by their mother’s new boyfriend. But something is weird about one of the boys: If he is killed, he can be buried in a wheat field and resurrected. Why this happens, however, is never explained. I give points to the author’s ability to create a tense environment (I can fully imagine the kind of domestic violence portrayed in the story), but with the main plot element left confused, it cripples the premise. Plus, the author does something that’s one of my pet peeves: he does not use quote marks to denote dialogue. Literary masters like Charles Frazier and E.L. Doctorow might be able to get away with it, but it definitely doesn’t work here, especially when chunks of conversation begin in the middle of paragraphs.

“Vanishing Woman” by Marcelle Dube is a pleasant little ghost story. Lily is a house-keeper in a local hotel. One day, she sees an old miner gazing at a portrait on the wall. Three women are in the picture, but only two are named. So Lily spends the rest of the tale figuring out who the woman is and why the old miner stares at her. There’s nothing terribly wrong with this story; as stated, it’s pleasant. The ending resolves a little too easily, in my opinion, but otherwise, it works.

Eric J. Hull’s “Katie Dreams” has a three-year-old afflicted with a terrifying problem. Her core temperature grows colder and colder, until she can’t even eat or drink anything because it immediately freezes in her hand. But like many stories in this issue, why this is happening is never explained. Perhaps it has something to do with the cold of space. Perhaps it has something to do with a little boy on the other side of the galaxy. Who knows? And ultimately, who cares? Being a parent myself, I can appreciate the mother’s desperation and sense of helplessness at what is happening to her daughter, but in the end, that’s not enough to sustain me.

“Cygnet’s Shadow” by Tony Pi is a high fantasy about willful Princess Jovansya and her “Shadow” Heb. Heb has sworn an oath to protect the girl from all manner of harm, but the princess keeps putting herself in dangerous situations. Later on, they have a duel to decide whether the princess will be given independence to do what she wants, or if Heb will be allowed to do her duty. There are some interesting points here and there, and the writing is okay, but the motivations and reasons for the characters’ actions don’t seem to merit a full story.

Kate Riedel’s “To Sleep in Peace” is the last story of the issue, and thankfully, the best. Neya is a young, aspiring actress who takes care of a famous Greek thespian at the end of his days. When he dies, he leaves very specific instructions with her on what to do with his house and his body… lest something bad happens. His blood relatives, however, are not so keen on these decisions, and they fight back. What that bad thing is is what we discover in time. Although one may argue that the ending is a bit predictable, compared to the other stories, the characters are interesting, the setting believable, and the supernatural elements poignant for today’s urban fantasy craze. There’s a little genuine history here too dealing with the Greek resistance during WWII, and Riedel throws in some Shakespeare for good measure. So, a good story to end-cap an otherwise mediocre issue.

On Spec can be found here.