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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 20 no.2 # 73 Summer 2008

01/01/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

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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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'Hand Of God' by Liz Shannon Miller starts the fiction rolling in this latest issue of 'On Spec' and is the tale of Jess, who was born at the same moment in June 1986 when Maradona's unfair goal put England out of the world cup. Her father, David, was an English physicist and her mother, Abby, was a scholar of popular cinema in California. You can get degrees in anything in California but I shall not use this space to bemoan the decline of education. See Robert Heinlein's essay in 'Expanded Universe' for that. Bob was a grumpy old sod but he might have enjoyed this story in which a grown-up Jess follows her father into the field of temporal mechanics and with his aid travels back to the moment of her birth to try and change history. The result is a surprise at first but on reflection, very true, if not very flattering to the illusions of English football fans.

At first I considered 'Three Pillows' by Saint James Harris Wood a waste of paper and ink. However the notes on authors at the back reveals that he is a heroin addict doing time in a California coastal penal colony and writing fiction to re-invent himself. Here is a moral issue, perhaps. Should the circumstances of the author deflect criticism of the story? Probably not. But Saint Wood may produce better stuff in future and I wouldn't want to discourage him in his rehabilitation, so let's just say it wasn't to my taste.

Neither was 'Love In Its Season' by Hayden Trenholm. Four very short love stories, vaguely fantastical, each themed to a season. At this point I feared that 'On Spec' was in decline under its new fiction editor. Happily the next four stories were great so clearly she was saving the best until last, like the host of the wedding at 'Cana. (John 2: 6-10)'.

'Beach Head' by Daniel Le Moal started with three drug runners buried up to their necks in sand with their hands tied so they can't dig themselves out. A twelve year-old boy comes along and things get worse. Much worse. The ending gives this story a fantasy context but the start reminded me of Stephen King's drug-runner on a beach story where he has loads of heroin but no food and eats himself slowly, anaesthetised by smack. Stephen probably needs a good psychiatrist and perhaps Le Moal does too but this particular form of deviancy can put a lot of money in the bank. He should keep it up.

'Those Among Us' by Lisa Carreiro was a fantasy ghost story set on another world - two moons - in a sort of 18th century technological milieu with lamps, candles and damp stone cellars. A gravedigger's daughter can speak to the dead and she is hired to garner some information from a ghost. A delicate story, understated but nicely written. This 'slice of life' tale, dull in contemporary fiction but interesting when the sliced life is in a strange other world, was followed by a twist-ending tale. 'The Devil's In The Details' by Kevin Cockle is a sort of horror story for poor Stanley has an apparition that looks like his late wife in the bedroom and has called an occultist in to help. It unfolds nicely and the final twist is clever and original.

I didn't like 'a cop holding a nervous revolver' in Brent Knowles 'A Ragman's Vow' because a revolver cannot be nervous but that is a small flaw in an otherwise good piece of work. Dan writes and draws a comic about Ragman who must save his partner from the evil Ghoul. In real life, Dan must save his wife from a pimp and drug dealer. She left him when their son died. The stories of the artist Dan and his character Ragman are told in neat parallel with an ending that may be fantasy and may be luck. You decide. Ragman and the Ghoul were not totally unlike a dark knight of popular fiction and his grinning, evil enemy, deliberately, I think.

This issue has an interview with Daniel Le Moal, author of 'Beach Head' and another with the cover artist James Birkbeck, who has some gender issues. The quirky stuff, including the non-rhyming poetry, is not to my taste but all in all this is another good collection from the Canadians.

Eamonn Murphy

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