New Book Reviews

Looking for new books to add to your collection? Nicole Luiken has posted her new reviews for your reading pleasure.  Check out our Book Reviews page.

Nicole reads and reviews books that pique her interest in the midst of her busy writing and family life. Worth a look.

Former OnSpec editor E.C. Bell launches great book!

We are so proud of our former editor E.C.(Eileen)Bell! Today is the launch of her sixth book in her Marie Jenner Mystery series. I am honoured to say I got an early peek and can enthusiastically recommend it! Here’s my review. And NO spoilers.

“Haunting the Haunted” is another pure WOW! A great read! E.C. Bell continues to enthral me, and has again upped the tension and the stakes for the ghost-seeing character Marie Jenner. All the players, whether they are living or dead, are rich and believable. Even Marie’s dog Millie has a unique part to play. The story, like all the others in the Marie Jenner mysteries, is once more told from two points of view–Marie’s and one of the many ghosts she encounters.

I stayed up well past my bed time two nights in a row to read the riveting tale of ghosts tracking down ghosts, poltergeists creating havoc, and a psychic debunker and a talk show host trying to expose Marie as a fraud. Marie just wants to find out who killed the little girl and help all the ghosts move on while ghost Ruby needs to protect everyone. And Ruby is not going anywhere.

Thanks for the Support!

We at On Spec are thrilled and honoured to announce the receipt of a generous gift from the Copper Cylinder Arts and Letters Association (organizers of World Fantasy Convention 2012). Their support of our own Copper Pig Writers’ Society’s ongoing efforts to “encourage and to promote Canadian Speculative fiction” means so much to us, and we will endeavour to continue this rewarding work in the future. 

Thanks and Merci Bien.

Another writer lost to us

We are deeply saddened to learn that Vonda N. McIntyre has lost her brief battle with cancer today. Her final days were peaceful and she was surrounded by those who were closest to her.

Vonda came to my attention, I think, when she won the Hugo award in 1979 for her novel, “Dreamsnake”. It’s out of print now, but if you can find an e-book, stumble across a copy in a used bookstore, or borrow someone’s dog-eared paperback, it’s well-worth reading. I’m told her book was the third ever winner in Hugo history to feature a woman as protagonist. Think about that for a minute. 40 years ago, this happened.  Vonda was a role model for me and for many women of my generation. We were fortunate to have her as an author Guest of Honour at an early NonCon in Edmonton.

I shared a banquet table with her several years ago at a Potlatch convention in Seattle, and I wish I’d had more opportunities to get better acquainted. Rest in Peace, Vonda. Your words will do the work now.


March update

Good day everyone! As Canada finally anticipates the arrival of Spring, we are making some changes here at On Spec. Our new front page illustration is by Alberta’s Corey Lansdell, who has provided illustrations for  covers for us in the past. We’d love to see your opinion on the work. It will be appearing on our other social media as time goes by. And do check out Corey’s page to see what else he’s done.

We are currently accepting submissions of short fiction for upcoming issues, and the deadline is March 31, 2019 to get your work to us. DO NOT EMAIL your stories. Use the Submit button on our site and follow the steps to upload your story.

If you are waiting for a new issue of On Spec to show up in your mailbox, please note that we are about to send a special double issue to press, Volume 29 No’s 3 and 4 will count for subscribers as two issues, as well as having a larger cover price for retail sales. It’s packed with all sorts of fiction, non-fiction and art, and features an excerpt from a transcript of an interview with Spider Robinson. Thanks for your patience as we put this all together.


New Call for Submissions

On Spec is pleased to announce that we are opening a limited window for submissions of new works of short fiction. You will be able to send your stories through our Submittable link between February 15, 2019 and March 31, 2019.

We have added an option for you to purchase a subscription OR a single sample copy of On Spec. Please be aware that this is not a fast-track to getting your work read or accepted. We are merely making it convenient for you to make an order if you want to see the kinds of stories we are likely to buy.

We are all volunteers, and so the slush reading often takes far longer than anticipated, depending on the volume of submissions received. We thank you for your patience as we read and evaluate all your submissions.

The Editors


On Spec’s Nominee for the Journey Prize

The Writers’ Trust/ McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize  recognizes the year’s best short story by an emerging writer first published in a Canadian literary journal or anthology.  The stories are submitted by the publishers for consideration in this prize category, and we are happy to announce that Geoff Cole’s wonderful “Two From the Field, Two From the Mill” is our selection this year.

In association with the prize, any story long-listed will be published in an annual anthology, so we will all wait in anticipation of the jury’s selections later this year.


Issue #109 Reviewed by SF Crowsnest

So our latest issue # 109, Vol 29 No 2 has just been reviewed by Eamonn Murphy, and we’re happy to share his comments with you. And if you haven’t spent any time on the SF Crowsnest site, you are missing something very entertaining.

We are always thrilled to get reviews from our friends from across the Pond. Especially when the review includes endorsements like:

A lovely story worthy of Peter S. Beagle and proof that fantasy doesn’t have to be all royal families, warring kingdoms and barbarians with big swords.


For some reason, this reminded me of Stephen King’s gangster stories which is no bad thing.

-and finally-

One day they may bring in laws against Un-Canadian activities, and surely not buying ‘On Spec’ will count as such a crime. It’s definitely worth a look, especially for locals.

Happy Reading!

And if you are living outside Canada, remember you can check out a single issue, or subscribe to the digital version of On Spec through Weightless Books.


Happy New Year from the Team at On Spec

As we end 2018 and look forward to a new year, there is time to contemplate the highs and lows of the past year.  For us, the lows have included the loss to our writing community of such great authors and editors as Dave Duncan, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Gardner Dozois, Stan Lee, Kate Wilhelm,  William Goldman, and others. We also mourned the passing of Stephen Hawking, whose contribution to the world is unparalleled.

There’s good news to report as well. On Spec continues to publish in print form, thanks to our funding from the Government of Alberta’s Media Fund, as well as our generous monthly donors who sustain us through Patreon. We’d love to see our digital reach increase through online distribution of On Spec by agents such as Weightless Books for subscribers, and EBSCO for libraries and institutions.

During the year, we do our best to engage with our readers by attending conventions and other events, and we love to talk with people who come by the booth to chat. While we don’t have many retail outlets, we’re thrilled to be included among the works carried by the Myth Hawker Travelling Book Store to conventions we cannot get to.

I am eternally amazed and grateful for the superb volunteer efforts of the editorial team that works with me to get On Spec into the hands of our readers. They read the slush pile; select and edit the stories; proof the issues; and above all, promote On Spec with their own social media at every opportunity.

If you subscribe to this blog, you are a reader, perhaps a subscriber, a friend, and definitely someone who wishes us well, and for this we thank you today and every day.

Have the best 2019 you can possibly have. We will continue to work to bring our writers and readers together. Thanks for being such a great community.


Diane Walton , Managing Editor


Everyone Deserves to be Conned

[Welcome to the return of something new! Once upon a time On Spec posted the editorials from its most recent issue on the website. This served as both a taste of what you might find in the current issue, as well as a chance to spread the editorial message a bit broader. As it happens, below is my editorial for the current issue, which I’m pleased to share with you. If you want to read more of Issue #109 and future issues, you can head over to our Subscription page to learn more. Or pick up individual digital issues through Weightless. Enjoy! – Brent]


Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”—Maya Angelou

As a child I found escape in science fiction and fantasy. That’s not news to anyone who knows me, and it certainly isn’t an uncommon story. I’m sure it’s one many of our readers share. As I got older, and childhood escape turned into teen and then young adult passion for SF, I began to seek out conventions as a place to share my growing passion. And it wasn’t hard; Edmonton already had a going concern when I first arrived, and there were cons I could attend in Calgary and Winnipeg. I was (am) a tabletop gamer as well, which just opened up more opportunities for weekend escapes.

I’m also a white, cis, hetero male. As uncomfortable as it is sometimes to acknowledge, the con scene and gaming and SF landscapes pretty much catered to me.

Flash forward to now. In addition to helping out as an editor for On Spec, I’m also the founder and current Festival Chair for The Pure Speculation Festival ( We started back in 2005 with the best of intentions: create a space for local fans to share their passion for SF and nerd culture. And if you had asked me how we were doing in any of the years from then until 2015, I’d have told you we were doing a great job. While our attendance was never record-shattering, people came back every year and enjoyed themselves. Pure Speculation was a perfectly fine science fiction event. But if you looked around, again, most of the attendees were very much like me.

That wouldn’t change until after the 2015 festival. We had decided to move from Fall to Spring, and chose to take a year off rather than rush a festival together for 2016. This was a great decision for many reasons, not least because it gave me the opportunity to really dig deep on issues surrounding inclusivity and accessibility. After a bunch of uncomfortable reading, and talking with (more listening than talking, actually) folks most impacted by these issues, I had to accept that while I’d had good intentions in the past, my track record for inclusivity was frankly a turd. Not an easy thing to accept, and I didn’t at first. I struggled with the idea that I was somehow to blame in an SF culture that could somehow accept elves and aliens, but passively and actively make itself unsafe for women, people of colour, LGBTQ2S, our Indigenous population—basically, anyone who wasn’t me.

Faced with that, I really had only two choices. Go on as I had, now conscious of the fact that I was part of the problem. Or change and work to be better. (A third option, just shut the festival down and walk away, never occurred to me. I can be stubborn sometimes.)

I chose the second option. Which makes it sound easy, but it was anything but. Turns out it is a lot of work to un-train decades of unconscious bias, especially when I was unaware of most of them (unconscious, after all). Slowly but surely, though, I began to envision a festival that could actually be inclusive, that would welcome all sci-fi nerds regardless of, well, anything.

Vision was one thing. Of course, putting that vision into action was quite another. We made a truckload of changes to how and where we ran things. We moved from a hotel space to a community league hall, which had the twin benefits of cutting costs and giving us a much more intimate space over which we had better control. Plus, almost all the space in the hall is accessible to folks with limited mobility, as well as being wheelchair-accessible. The hall was in an evolving Edmonton neighbourhood we could work with and grow into. We made the festival free to attend, a huge shift for us, but it removed any financial barrier to taking part.

Those are all big changes, but we made small changes as well. We made pronoun stickers available at the registration table for folks to put on their badges so people could know their pronouns without having to ask. We also made conscious choices about moving to more gender-neutral language on our website and in any communication around the festival. We began to program more consciously, making sure we were trying to include marginalized voices on our panels, and not just to talk about their marginalized group. While it hasn’t been ratified yet, going forward there will be a policy that 50% of our panelists need to be from a normally marginalized group.

And we’re not finished there. I’m currently looking into the viability of having ASL interpreters at our panels; a few to start, and eventually all. And if we can’t make that work right away, then we’ll look at setting up speech-to-text displays during panels for those hard of hearing. I’m exploring the possibility of panels in other languages besides English. I’m actively searching out and recruiting potential organizers and board members from the LGBTQ2Sand Indigenous communities, as well as persons of colour, because I want their voices at the table when we’re putting this festival together. Hell, eventually I want one of them to replace me!

That all sounds like a huge amount of work, right? Well here’s the secret that a lot of cons, who like to talk about how hard it is to be inclusive, or claim they can’t find people from marginalized groups to be on their panels and boards, don’t want you to know: once you get over yourself and make the choice to do it, organizing an inclusive event is no harder than organizing one that isn’t. You may be conscious of the work in a way you weren’t before, so it seems more difficult at first. But the work remains the same, whether you’re focused on inclusivity or not.

Let’s look at the most recent WorldCon as an example. I won’t go into all the details, you can find those on the internet with the skilled use of a search engine. But when WorldCon initially announced its lineup of panels and presenters, it was decidedly lacking in… well, people who didn’t look like me. Which the internet, Twitter in particular, was quick to point out. In response, WorldCon organizers tried to claim that they tried to make a more diverse lineup, but they just couldn’t find any diverse panelists. This despite an entire Hugo nominee list packed with diversity, any of which they could have contacted. Twitter was quick to point this out as well, and suggest dozens of alternative presenters besides. To their credit, WorldCon did then revamp their panel schedule, adding many of the folks suggested on Twitter, including previously uninvited Hugo nominees.

(I say to their credit, but I don’t want to go too far with that. If Twitter could supply them with literally dozens of suggestions for diverse programming in a matter of hours, they had no excuse to not have done that work themselves.)

So it remains that the only reason to not be inclusive, to not make your con or your festival or your group or whatever nerdy thing you organize welcoming and safe to as many folks as possible… is because you choose not to. You choose not to examine, acknowledge, and work to set aside the biases which make your convention, event, or group an uncomfortable space for the marginalized.

And if that’s your choice I really don’t know what to say to change your mind.

I know those aren’t the types of events I want to attend anymore. I want different viewpoints, from people who don’t look at the world through my lens. I want to be challenged by sci-fi and fantasy, I want to read and talk about work that pushes me to think and be better. I want to hear the voices forced to be quiet, I want to hear them big and bold and brassy.

And I know that isn’t the kind of event I want to run. Because if I had kept running Pure Speculation the same way as before there is so much I would have missed. I wouldn’t have seen the repeated looks of delight when, to the folks to whom it mattered, they discovered we had pronoun stickers. I wouldn’t have overheard a young girl whisper to her dad, “I want to be a writer like her!” about one of our Guests of Honour (I won’t say which one, as they are all worthy of emulation so it could have been any or all). For that matter, I might not have had a father bring his daughter to the festival in the first place. I wouldn’t have been thanked, repeatedly, for including panels on mental health issues (for which I can take no credit, as both of those came from the community). I would never have seen all the new faces at Pure Spec this year, people who had never come out before but came this year because there was finally a voice like theirs talking about SF, where before there wasn’t.

Usually at the end of a Pure Speculation weekend I am completely drained, physically and emotionally. But because of all the experiences I just mentioned and a bunch more I just don’t have room to talk about, while I was certainly worn down in body my spirit was light. I actually felt really good, and for maybe the second time since I started Pure Speculation, instead of feeling drained I was immediately excited about next year. I felt like we had finally made something close to the vision I had in my head when I started the festival back in 2005, and it felt damn good.

So if you’re around Edmonton next June I hope you’ll join us. You’ll all be welcome.

The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic

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