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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 21 no. 1 # 76 Spring 2009

01/07/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic in the USA - or Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic in the UK

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pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. 114 small magazine. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X.

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This is my first look at Canadian magazine 'On Spec', a long-running, quarterly, digest-sized magazine that boasts a matte colour and several internal B&W illustrations. Most of these accompany an artist interview plus there's another interview with veteran author J. Brian Clarke. There's an enjoyable selection of stories, touching on SFnal themes but leaning more towards the fantastic, completing a good solid publication.

The opener is 'Einstein's Theory', an alternate history from Jack Skillingstead. Albert Einstein finds himself still working at the patent office, imagining a different life and keeping secret journals that he doesn't dare to show anybody else. It's an affecting story that makes you ask that 'what if' question of yourself. Are there really alternative realities where Gareth D Jones is already a best-selling novelist? Perhaps we'll never know.

'Come-From-Aways' is an enjoyable yarn by Tony Pi in which a Viking long-boat washes up in Newfoundland and a forensic linguist tries to identify the origins of the only survivor on board. The insight into linguistics and the glimpses of local history and culture are fascinating. Is the mariner a prankster or has he really travelled through time? As the story develops and with it the possibilities that the voyager's arrival suggests, the story takes on a marvellous spirit of adventure culminating in an endearing and satisfying conclusion.

When a rich misanthrope dies he discovers that 'Hell Aint What He Used To Be' in J. Brian Clarke's satirical tale of comeuppance. The opening scenes in the offices of Hell are well depicted before the unfortunate deceased is sent to live out his punishment. From here, the story descends to farce as much as satire, with out-of-place references liberally thrown in to add confusion. It's a bizarre yet fun piece.

In 'The Lost Girls', Khria Deefholts blends the spirit world with the physical as a group of native tribesmen find their lives affected by 'Oropean' settlers. There's some nice descriptive work of the life of drudgery and drunkenness led by the tribesmen and a touching back story to tie it all together. Despite the suggestions of hardship, it's a gentle and peaceful story

The 'Last Man' is executed in Matthew Jordan Schmidt's opening scene, bringing an end to male domination and oppression. The story is told through the eyes of a young boy who is not allowed even to look at women but watches events unfold through the dim reflections of the windows he is obliged to clean. It cleverly mixes feminism and extremism with irony, making you ponder over the oft-repeated maxim 'something we can do without'. A dark and disturbing story that made me wonder what female readers would think.

I really enjoyed the final story, E.E. Moxam's 'An Elephant In The Room'. After leaving an abusive relationship a young woman finds a new apartment that's overlooked by an ugly gargoyle. The worryingly pleasant landlady, the profusion of birds and the unnerving stone presence slowly wind up the tension of this seemingly mundane story. It left me smiling in satisfaction by the end.

In summary, I would say that 'On-Spec' would appeal more to the fantasy reader than the strictly SF fan. There's no space opera or other stories towards that end of the spectrum, but definitely a slant towards the whimsical. The presentation is clean with no typos that I spotted, but the impression of a long-established and respected journal.

Gareth D. Jones

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