Monday, May 16, 2011

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 3: Electric Spec

For the first two days of this project, I looked at two sources of online fiction with which I was already familiar and read regularly, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  For Day 3, I turned my attention to a site I haven't read before, Electric SpecThis is a quarterly publication which publishes "schockingly good short works of science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre."  That's a pretty big statement.  So just how well does the magazine live up to its own billing, at least as far as the fantasy is concerned?

We'll look at two stories and see.

The first story in question is "A Touch of Poison" by Jaelithe Ingold.  It's fairly short, but powerful.  In fact, while the author could have made it longer, I think that would have only weakened the story.

 This is the story of Arys,  who nine years previously was betrayed and imprisoned because she has a special ability.  After the man she loved, an ambitious creep named Callum, had her take the test to see if she had the ability, all those who did were killed or imprisoned by the Queen.  Callum went on to marry the Queen.  Arys found herself locked in a cell.

Callum and Arys grew up together in the same village.  He is the one who convinced her to come with him to the Queen's court.  He is the one who convinced Arys to take the test.  Arys thinks the Queen was the one who outlawed the Catevari, the women who share Arys's gift.  I suspect Callum may have been behind it.  Up until this point Arys had acted from love of Callum.  And while she still has feelings for him, she knows now not to trust him.

Now Callum needs her ability and comes to her promising she'll be given her freedom if she'll just do one little favor for him.  And the Queen.

Spoiler Alert - Skip this paragraph if you don't want to know part of the ending.  The ability the Catevari have is to take the sickness from one person and give it to another.  The Queen, who is pregnant with Callum's child, is near death.  Arys's task is to take the sickness and transfer it to a criminal volunteer whose family will have all their needs taken care of.  The criminal, of course, will die.  Arys reluctanlty does as she is asked.  But she does a little more than she's asked and transfers her ability to the unborn child.  What we are never told is whether Callum honors his promise to Arys or not.  I may be reading more into the story than was there, but I don't think he will.  None of his actions are honorable up until this point.  To me this lack of resolution made the story more powerful by ending on a note of uncertainty, leaving the reader with a sense of dread that Arys will simply be killed now that her usefulness appears to be over.  Whether Callum honors his word or not, Arys will have the last laugh.  That, and the fact that Callum is totally oblivious to what is to come, I found very satisfying.

The second fantasy story was "Birth of a New Day" by Fredrick Obermeyer.  There's also three science fiction stories, but since I'm focusing on fantasy, I'll not be discussing them here.  This was an odd little story about a world in which men give birth to day and women to night through slits in their sides.  The background is sketchy, but the story was well told about a man, an outcast in his village, who is having some trouble birthing the new day.  There was more action in this one than I expected, and while I had mixed feelings about the premise, the author did a good enough job in the telling that I would read more of his work.

Electric Spec has a page with information about and links to the blogs and websites of its editors and contributors.  There's no information given for Jaelithe Ingold.  That's unfortunate because I would be interested in reading more of her work.  (I'm assuming Jaelithe is a feminine name; it's not one I've encountered before.)  An email address was provided for Fredrick Obermeyer along with a brief bio, although I'm not sure of the correct spelling.  His name was also spelled "Frederick."  Most of the contributors I didn't recognize, but one stood out.  Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

At this point in previous posts, I've said whether or not I would read more of the particular online venue I was reviewing if I were not already familiar with it.  In this case there's no "if"; I hadn't read Electric Spec before.  But I will again.  And soon, since it's a quarterly publication, and the next issue is due in a couple of weeks.  The two fantasies I read were well written, and I while I enjoyed one more than the other, both were worth reading.  Electric Spec lives up to its own billing.  I'd say these two stories were shockingly good, especially since the authors seem to be pretty early in their careers.  

Total quality count (high, low), Day 3:  4-1.


  1. Thanks for the great review, Keith!

  2. You're welcome, David. Thanks for publishing good fiction. I'll be one of your regular readers from now on.