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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 24 no. 1 # 88

01/08/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 24 no. 1 # 88 in the USA - or Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 24 no. 1 # 88 in the UK

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pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. 130 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR).

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'On Spec #88' opens with an editorial by Cat McDonald entitled 'Capitalism, Writers And The Tangled Web' which looks at the impact of new ways of publishing on the world, 'E' being the big letter involved. Cat rightly points out that good writers can bypass short-sighted publishers and take their works straight to the market. Unfortunately, bad writers can do the same thing and the market is now awash with produce. Editors, for a variety of reasons, do turn away good stuff but at least if a story or book has passed through a publishing house of some kind, not necessarily a big one - for small is by no means bad - it must have some sort of quality. Stories dumped on the market directly by the author can be good but most of them are not. A little objectivity is usually required when judging creative work. To prove the point of editing, there is a selection of stories which have been chosen by the objective editors of 'On Spec'.

'A Little Space Music' has giant blue slugs who love musical theatre. Jerry Smith is a con man and former stage actor on the run from the police and is allowed aboard the spaceship XX Mendel on condition that he directs a musical with the passengers and giant blue slugs as the cast. The notion that musicals will be the only Earth cultural artefact deemed of any worth by aliens is original and the tale woven from it by Edward Willett was amusing.

'Long Leap' has a psychopathic killer as the only hope for an interstellar multi-generation colony ship which has been diverted by the gravitational pull of a black hole and may now never reach its destination. Robert is the only astronomer on board and must save the mission and his soul, perhaps. Author Derek Künsken has a masters degree in molecular biology and this story features some hard science as well as an unusual hero. A nice dose of Science Fiction as a break from the usual stuff.

Hockey player Carter Hall and his cronies make a welcome return to the pages of 'On Spec' in 'Carter Hall And The Motley Lions' by Marissa Lingen. I always enjoy the mixture of small town atmosphere and otherworld magic in these stories. As with Judith Marillier's work, the faerie folk are not wholly benign or evil but have their own purposes into which human beings may fit or not. A heart-warming yarn with just enough bite.

Blueberries are currently recognized as a super-food, I believe, but they are not generally as super as the ones in 'A Taste Of Time' by Scott Overton. Gabby runs a little general store but most of the townsfolk go to the supermarket now. One summer, Marjorie Simm, who lives on the farm next door, has her granddaughter Amanda to stay and she just loves all the blueberries. She eats them and there are strange side effects. A quirky notion is turned into a slightly wistful tale by this issue's author interviewee.

'Thought And Memory' had an old man called Woiden near death staying in a nursing home while two ravens kept attacking bearded old men out in the street, plucking the hairs from their heads and taking them upward to three old ladies who were weaving destiny and running out of material. Meanwhile, the world was getting colder and colder. Catherine Knutsson delivers an interesting, slightly sad narrative based on Norse mythology.

The rest of the stories this issue tended towards a darker view of life. 'The Hill Where Thorvald Slew Ten Skraelings' by Regan Wolfrom has a colony of Vikings dying slowly of starvation in Greenland. Magic doesn't help them much. 'Hoodoo Boy' by Kim Despins is a grisly yarn about voodoo sacrifice in which the line 'Sometimes being the Hoodoo woman's son means...' is repeated in italics with different endings as a kind of mantra. This kind of stylistic flourish can help bind a short story together but I thought it was slightly overdone here. 'There's Nothing To Fear' by Dave Cherniak was about a child and a dark spirit.

Reviewers have moods (we're only human) and I fear I was not in the frame of mind for evil on the day I read 'On Spec' but that doesn't mean these were bad stories. Au contraire, as they say in Quebec. They were up to the usual high standards of this fine Canadian magazine.

The Copper Pig Writers' Society still delivers the goods.

Eamonn Murphy

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