01/12/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
magazine: Copper Pig Writers Society. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR.
check out website: www.onspec.ca
Although this issue is the summer one, I was reading it in early November which was apt for the first story by Sandra Glaze. 'The Resident Guest' is Mr. Leslie, a Barnardo boy born in Yorkshire who was despatched to Canada where his accent persisted 'like a dry stone wall'. He became a World War One veteran and is now staying in a Toronto hotel. Mr Leslie's tale is narrated by the desk clerk, a young lady with a wonderful line in similes. This was a well-crafted and touching story. At the going down of the sun, I will remember Mr Leslie and all the real people he represents.
Next up, 'The Far-springer' by E. Catherine Tobler. The second story is narrated by Euryale, a gorgon with serpents for hair and a petrifying gaze. When Perseus showed how easy it was, gorgon hunting became a bit of a sport with the Greeks, much to the chagrin of the remaining gorgons, Euryale and her sister, Stheno. Euryale is taken back to the mainland by a hunter for his own good reasons. Who are the real monsters? You decide.
'The Drowning Ones' is a poem by Colleen Anderson that sings a sea song in lush language. 'Surveillance' by Jonathan Cresswell-Jones is just two pages long and cleverly uses near future teen rebellion to make you think about two of today's big issues. 'Case 143' by Robert Piotrowski is about a private eye recruiting an alien secretary. Very odd.
'Emily's Shadow' by Al Onia combines motorcycles and mysticism with a touching love story in a way that might work for many and should have worked for me as it was nicely done. Unfortunately, I dislike bad science about 'energy' in health practice almost as much as I hate astrology. There are too many real life charlatans making money from the placebo effect. Those, without my prejudices, might enjoy this tale.
After 'The Exchange' by Karen Keeley, a two page vampire anecdote (I think), another of my prejudices was fired up by Benjamin Gleisser's 'Angel In The Corner'. It's not a bad ghost story but the author interview which follows reveals that Benjamin is married to a spiritualist, so presumably he believes in ghosts, too. Otherwise they wouldn't get along.
This raises the issue of defining fantasy and 'make-believe' among the dictionary definitions seems to me the closest. But if you do believe it's not make-believe, things which are taken as reality by some sections of society, such as 'healing energy' and ghosts are fantasy to the rest of us. Fantasy means you don't believe in it. If you believe in it, you are writing a realistic story and it shouldn't be in a fantasy magazine. In fact, you might be insulted to have it in a fantasy magazine because that is making a mockery of your reality. This is a tricky question. James Blish wrote a couple of excellent novels 'Black Easter' and 'A Case Of Conscience' which treated Catholic mythology as fact, but he was an atheist. Tolkien was a devout Christian and wrote fantasy about elves and dwarves, which he certainly didn't believe in. His pal, CS Lewis, was also a devout Christian but wrote allegory in his Narnia books and put 'Angels' - more or less - in his stories about Mars and Venus. For this, Phillip Pullman has heaped scorn on him. I am rather fond of Lewis but Pullman may have a point.
My main problem with Benjamin Gleisser's tale is its use of simile. He writes of 'an empty chair facing him like a guilty thought on Christmas morning'. I fail completely to see how an empty chair resembles any sort of thought, let alone a guilty one at Christmas. Writing of somebody making a speech awkwardly, he says he was 'as flustered as a stuttering Mark Anthony'. But Mark Anthony was a brilliant speaker, so it doesn't work. It's like saying 'he boxed like a weedy Mike Tyson' instead of 'he boxed like Woody Allen'. He spoke awkwardly like an awkward Abraham Lincoln.
'The Gospel Truth' by Rhonda Collis is a verbose piece about a woman being saved from a bus by a big Maori female who turns out to be a ghost. That makes three ghost stories this issue and only the first one was any good. There is more to fantasy than ghosts. 'To be fair, the closing story 'Left Hand Turn' by Cherie Burger is an apocalyptic tale but it's still fantasy. 'On Spec' used to publish at least one good Science Fiction story per issue but this season is mostly wistful sob stories, nearly always set in the present day. I fear the magazine is sliding slowly downhill and it's a shame.
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