Magazine: On Spec #102

on spec 102On Spec #102

I don’t normally work for cartels, but my magazine quest is getting expensive, and this cartel doesn’t pay in worthless dollars — it pays in cold, hard maple syrup.  One of the cartel bosses lays out the problem he wants me to take care of, but I don’t speak French, so I just nod and act confident.  When he’s done speaking, he shakes my hand, claps me on the shoulder, and he and his bodyguards leave through the back door.

Another man waves from the front door and greets me in a thick French accent.  “I am Jacques, your driver.  May I take your case?”

“I’ll put it in the trunk myself.”

At the car, Jacques opens the trunk, and I put my case on top of the spare tire.  I flip the latches and open the case to double-check its contents:  a double-barreled .577 Nitro Express elephant rifle and a dozen cartridges, each as long as my hand.

Jacques whistles.  “She is the rifle you use to shoot Jumbo Tusker?”

“Yep, if it wasn’t for me and this rifle, Jumbo and his gang of sentient elephants would be running the entire continent of Africa right now.”  Me, this rifle, and a thousand Matabele warriors, but I don’t figure mentioning that will boost my pay.

We get in the car, and Jacques floors it down a dirt road that winds through the maple groves.  It’s spring, but there isn’t much green on the trees — half of them are completely dead, and the rest only have leaves on a few stray branches .

I figure this is my chance to get a briefing in English.  “So, Jacques … what’s the deal here?”

“Ah, the cartel, she good at raising price of the syrup.  She force the growers to no tap so many trees.  But if they no tap, they no in the groves.   The suceur deseves moves in.  The suceur deseves grows big.  The cartel, she no care.  Then, the suceur deseves drinks the cartel’s barrels.”

“Yeah, I saw the cover story on the news.”

“So, the cartel, she call you to shoot the suceur deseves.”

“That I can do.  So, where are we gonna find the … Suzy … Desiree?”

Jacques lets go of the steering wheel with his left hand and makes a sweeping motion out the window.  “Suceur deseves is here.”  He puts his left hand back on the wheel and sweeps with his right hand “Suceur deseves is there.”  He lets go of the wheel completely and sweeps with both hands.  “Suceur deseves is everywhere.”

Jacques drops me off, and I load two cartridges into my rifle as he speeds away.  Although daylight’s almost gone, the path is muddy, so I squint at the ground as I walk, hoping to pick up a trail.  Heck, maybe Suzy only comes out at night, anyway.

Ahead and to my left, a tree’s branches snap from high to low, followed by a thud as something heavy hits the ground.  So, Suzy can climb trees.  I hold still and point my rifle in her direction, listening for movement.

To my right, more branches snap and there’s another thud.  Jacques hadn’t said Suzy, he’d said Suzies.  It’s OK, my rifle has two barrels for a reason.  I just have to make both shots count.

Behind me, a third tree’s branches snap, and a third Suzy hits the ground.

Short Stories

Lord Fenway’s Man by Mike Rimar.  This story is set during the Napoleonic wars, and Admiral Nelson is a character.  The British and French fleets are composed of zeppelins, but they set down in the water for combat.  In an interview, the author states that he’s expanding this world into a novel, which will be set in the North American theater of the war.

Psipunk by Steve Stanton.  A human and an alien trade stocks on the Luna Exchange.  I think the twist ending was that aliens were using telepathy to bypass insider-trading rules.

A Shame That Binds Our Hearts Binds Our Fate by Matthew Moore.  A story about a master knot-tyer (knot tier? tie-er? how do you spell that?) in a fantasy city where knot-tying is an essential part of their religion.

The Returned Man by Carla Richards.  A war veteran tries to trade some technology plus some emotions to a water horse (a loch ness monster) in exchange for healing.  The water horse takes the tech and the emotions, and doesn’t heal the guy, but agrees to eat him.  Thanks, water horse!

How We Say Hello by Janet Nicolson.  Aliens bring memory-erasing technology to Earth, so there can be drama between two roommates.

So A Guy Walks Into My Bar by Kevin Harkness.  An ex-con, whose brain has been reprogrammed for non-violence, faces a dilemma.

Agnes Joaquim, Bioterrorist by Yi-Sheng Ng.  A steampunk story set in Singapore.

The Gannet Girl by Frances Rowat.  A woman, whose job is to periodically sacrifice some of her blood to a sea witch, is murdered by a villager.  The woman’s daughter agrees to take over her mother’s job if the village will execute the murderer.  They agree, but the girl leaves anyway.

My intro story features maple syrup because On Spec is a Canadian SFF magazine.  They accept some stories from non-Canadian authors, which is why they were included in my quest.  Magazines which exclude authors due to their nationality, gender, or race were excluded from my reading list.

Disclaimer:  I spent my first few school years in Canada, and had other Canadian influences during later school years.

I don’t normally cover non-fiction or interviews during my magazine quest, but I thought I’d mention this issue’s interview with Robert Sawyer, a big-name Canadian science-fiction author.  He whines about George Bush, in a time period when US citizens are saying, “George who?”  He seems to have a chip on his shoulder towards the USA in general, and while I can see this playing well in Canada, if he’s still trying to sell stories and books, he might want to think about where the vast majority of English-language book-buying money comes from.  Strangely, this is not the only instance of whining about George Bush (years after his presidency) I’ve run across in the non-fiction portions of a non-US SFF magazine.

Oh, did any of the aged among you catch the Underdog reference in my intro story?  Actually, the internet informs me it was a Klondike Kat (one of Underdog’s coworkers) reference.


  1. Missed the underdog reference, but that is one serious rifle. They cost about as much as a Lamborghini.

    1. Ouch! I knew they were pricey, but I didn’t know they were that high!

      1. It’s all the hand tuning to make both barrels hit the same point of aim.
        They try to make them cross at a point about 100 hards away, which renders them reasonably accurate to 300 yards.

    2. Oh, the reference was to a cartoon villain named Savoir Faire. His schtick was to say in a French accent “Savoir Faire is here. Savoir Faire is there. Savoir Faire is everywhere.”

      1. I remember him now. Just needed the slogan.

  2. I have fond memories of On Spec because I sold my first science fiction story there. Although I moved from Canada to the States 30 years ago, I have no idea if that helped me make the sale. I just finished Rob Sawyer’s latest, Quantum Night, and I agree that his nationalism seems to be growing more pronounced. Curious — his parents were from Chicago.

    1. I’m glad they picked up your story! This issue is probably a pretty good cross-section of what’s being printed out there in SF short stories today. I’ve still got a few more reviews to write, but then I’ll post the rankings, and we’ll see where On Spec falls.

      I read one of Sawyer’s stories in another magazine recently, and I’ve read other short stories by him in the past, but I’m not sure if I’ve tried any of his novels.

    1. Yes, the cover story is quite elaborate.

  3. I was enjoying the syrup cartel, elephant gun story!
    I know On Spec has been around a long time, never submitted because I’m not Canadian (yet…). But from your little descriptions… Not sure I’d pick this one up.
    But thanks for doing the magazine quest. Very interesting!

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