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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 20 no. 3 # 75 Winter 2008/09

01/06/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy On Spec in the USA - or Buy On Spec in the UK

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

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For this review of the persistently excellent Canadian SF short story magazine 'On Spec', I will list the fiction in descending favourite order. This is obviously a biased and personal view but all reviews are that and since none of the stories are bad, none are severely slighted thereby.

My favourite was 'Graveyard Orbit' by Jon Martin Watts. A spaceship salvage man on his last mission is sent to decommission an old satellite hotel called Heaven and move it into a graveyard orbit way out in space That's fairly straightforward but deactivating an attractive blonde anthropoid robot called Sue gets more complicated. This probably clicked with me because of nostalgia for those early Heinlein stories about men at work in space, which were in turn, I think, inspired by Kipling's tales about men at work. Anyway, I loved it.

'Coolies' by Suzanne Church is about a young girl who joins the coolies, a tough outfit in a merciless war between Canada and the USA. The coolies drop onto the battlefield and rip the organs out of corpses as spares for the living wounded. The tough sergeant of the outfit is her dad but she doesn't know it. He does and the conflict of interest between military duty and fatherly duty forms the first half of the story. The second half is even better. One of the things Science Fiction can do is illustrate the ethical dilemmas raised by new technology.

'Every Single Round A Last Call' by Ryan Laliberte is a story that 'All You Zombies' out there might enjoy because it starts with a time traveller sat in a bar. Lewis is the barman who sometimes feels his life is going nowhere and it turns out he is absolutely right. He doesn't pick himself up 'By His Bootstraps' but gets some help. This was a new twist on an old theme and neatly done.

Were I listing in order of best rather than favourite 'Hesitant Ripples' by Alexander Curnow might well come top. A soldier gets hit by a sniper's bullet and his awareness speeds up as the bullet penetrates his cranium and his consciousness expands. The story is a first person narration of his death and what happens. It's not an easy read but worth persevering with to the end. Actually, it may be brilliant. I'm not sure.

'Glamour' by B.C. Holmes has a young lady seeing a therapist and describing her 'fantasy' life among the Fay, who enter and leave our world through portals at will. She was born Faerie but left, cuckoo-like, with humans who raised her as their own. Grown up now she has a comfortable lifestyle, for the Fay are rich, but some confusion as well, hence the therapist. An odd slice of life sort of story but original and well told.

In 'The Corrections' by Jared Young an older gentleman finally gives in to modernity and gets a mobile phone. When he puts the sim card in, it rings almost straight away with an unknown caller and a voice he doesn't quite recognise gives him cryptic instructions. When he follows them, there are good outcomes. This keeps happening over the years. I guessed the ending but not until very near the end. Jared Young is the interviewed writer in this issue and that reminds me that having a featured writer interviewed is a jolly good idea. These struggling artists need publicity and often shed interesting light on their featured story, too.

'Taming The Beast' by Hannah Strom-Martin is about an arranged marriage between a prince and a lady in some Arabic-style desert setting with demons and priests, etc. Not my cup of tea really though it may suit some. The story had a faint whiff of Clark Ashton Smith about it but the prose did not reach his exalted level. No discredit there. Who could?

The main non-fiction this issue was 'Children Of The Ackermonster: Tribute To Forrest J. Ackerman' by Barry Hammond. Ackerman was heavily involved with early Science Fiction fandom of the written ilk but Hammond remembers and adores him chiefly as the founder of 'Famous Monsters Of Filmland', a magazine about the chaps in its title. It's interesting to note and rather heart-warming, too, that a successful and enjoyable life can be led writing about the stuff you love, even if you lack the talent to make great original creations yourself. Well, my heart's warmed; but I'm a book reviewer.

Eamonn Murphy

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