fantasy and science fiction book reviewsBull Spec is a print and electronic science fiction and fantasy glossy magazine named for its home of Durham, North Carolina. The word “Bull” seems to have become associated with Durham because of a tobacco factory in the city, which itself took the name from the picture of a bull that appeared on the label of a mustard that the tobacco factory owner believed was manufactured in Durham, England; it’s all very complicated, but at least we know that the magazine’s name is based on where it is published. The publisher, Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, seems a bit surprised that the name of the magazine is mysterious to many outside of North Carolina, but he likes it. As well he should, because Bull Spec is a fine addition to the ranks of science fiction, fantasy and horror magazines.

“Mortal Passage” by Roger Williams is the best story in Issue #5 of this quarterly journal. It is about humanity’s attempts to create an artificial intelligence that is sane. In this world AI’s aren’t that difficult to come up with, but keeping them from turning homicidal is. The solution is ultimately to use a human brain itself as the foundation, uploading a human consciousness when the human body is on the point of death. Just as with most computer software, the creators of this software are able to tinker with it, making each version better, so that the program still remains somehow human but also more and more machine. As time passes – as millenia pass – and the story progresses, the work for the computer/human hybrid becomes more complex. It’s a fascinating story of one possible future for humanity.

Rebecca Gomez Farrell’s “Bother,” the cover story, is more about fear than dragons, and more about love than fear. It’s a fine tale about whether we will allow our minds or our emotions to order our days.

Tim Pratt’s “Hell’s Lottery” is a wicked tale about a new torture Lucifer has just thought up. Lucifer is a lot more subtle than the demons who report to him, who don’t understand how running a lottery for two days back on Earth can possibly be painful to a damned soul. It’s pretty immediately apparently to the reader, though, and Pratt plays out all the consequences – with a special zinger at the end.

“The Coffeemaker’s Passion” is a delightful romp by Cat Rambo. Most of us don’t think too hard about the fact that there’s a computer in almost every appliance we use these days, but Rambo did, and this story is the result. If you find your refrigerator looking at you funny after you read this story, you might not be as crazy as that sounds.

“Cael’s Continuum” by Preston Grassmann is a thought more than a story, a meditation on a boy who misses his twin brother. M. David Blake’s “Absinthe Fish” is an example of weird fiction based on hallucination based on Schrodinger’s Cat, making for a potent drink. “The Messengers,” by Benjamin Paul, is a teen writing contest winner on the theme of teen siblings attempting to stop a war, and is some fine writing for a seventh grader. “The Long Lives of Heroes,” written by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by Jason Strutz, is the beginning of a graphic novel that will be published over several issues. So far it’s not entirely coherent, but further installments should solve that problem.

A good half of the magazine is given over to nonfiction, with interviews of Jason Morningstar, the writer-designer responsible for the Bully Pulpit Games 2009 ENnies Judge’s Spotlight Award-winning Fiasco, a role-playing game; Hannu Rajaniemi, the Finnish-born author of first novel The Quantum Thief; Jonathan Strahan, a well-respected anthologist of speculative fiction (this interview is especially fine); David Halperin, the author of first novel Journal of a UFO Investigator; and Gail Martin, author of the series The Chronicles of the Necromancer. There are many well-written book reviews by Joseph Giddings, Fred Chappell, Paul Kincaid (who reviews a work of criticism, something rarely found in science fiction and fantasy periodicals), Richard Dansky, Patrick Ward, Nick Mamatas, Brian Howe, John Bowker and Daniel M. Kimmel. The books reviewed are as varied as the reviewers, ranging from hard science fiction to epic fantasy to film criticism. These portions of the magazine are invaluable to anyone who wants to beef up her library, or learn more about the writers and anthologists who put together the books he reads.

Bull Spec #5 also offers six poems. “Kyrielle for a Cloned Baby” by Lisa M. Bradley is the best of these offerings. Science and emotion both are packed into these rhyming lines about a bereaved mother and her new child. “The Dirty Vampire, A Recipe,” by Alexandra Seidel, is amusing to anyone who knows anything about the Twilight novels (and who could be in touch with popular culture and have missed at least some reference to these books?). “Snake Eyes,” by Nathaniel Lee, is a story poem about the fickle nature of luck, well told in poetry form.

I was impressed with this magazine, and I’ll be reading future issues.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.