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On Spec 81

01/11/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 22 no. 2 # 81 Summer 2010 in the USA - or Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 22 no. 2 # 81 Summer 2010 in the UK

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magazine: On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 22 no. 2 # 81 Summer 2010. 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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I review ‘On Spec’ regularly and usually critique the stories in order of appearance. This time I decided to put them in order of merit for a change but of the seven stories, six would be equal first, so it wouldn't work. Therefore, I'll do them in the usual way.

First was 'Still' by Greg Wilson. In a world of animated puppets, Still is a young female wooden puppet who plays the violin. She is traumatised by Mister Leaf, her music teacher, and runs away from home in distress. Downtown, she busks for candy with a pretend violin, keeping her real one hidden, and befriends a gargoyle on an old building. It sounds potty but Greg Wilson makes it work. A truly fantastical fantasy.

In 'The Spectacular Death Of Billy Nichols' by Joel Fishbane, dreams have replaced television as the mass medium of choice for the great unwashed. They can be recorded and broadcast. People with colourful, exciting dreams get lucrative contracts with big companies while the old-fashioned writers are becoming bitter and militant. Billy Nichols becomes the latest star and sought after talent when he has a spectacular death dream. This is another clever story with a nice twist at the end. Author Joel Fishbane is also this issue’s interviewee.

Rob Engen moves into Marissa Lingen's territory with 'Thanks For The Game', a yarn about ice hockey. Lingen's excellent Carter Hall stories are a semi-regular feature of the magazine but while they are fantasy, Engen has given us Science Fiction. A small spaceship lands in Manitoba and insectoid aliens disembark. Their sharp angular legs make them awkward on ordinary terrain but very manoeuvrable on ice. They cannot communicate with humans and are left to wander about at will, followed by a large army contingent for safety. When a professional hockey player is out practicing with his old man, they join in. This turned into an oddly touching story as two species emphasised through sport.

Shirley Barr has the misfortune to get her perfectly good tale about cloned pharaohs trying to escape from a theme park set in the midst of some very stiff competition. 'Pharaonic Park' is clever, original and well-written but cannot shine amongst so many stars. It is the least best story in the issue and it's still pretty good.

I'm not sure if 'The Last Wendy' by Marie Brennan breaches any copyright issues by featuring Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. If so, it was done in a good cause. Times have changed and Wendy's descendant is not a sweet adolescent like her great-grandmother. She's a modern adolescent: surly, bitter, wary and not about to fall for any fairy stories. Another original work of imagination carried off with panache.

Those of a scientific bent will probably enjoy 'The Right Chemistry' even more than I did. Author Susan Forest tells how Ox and Jen, a bonded pair, go to a party. There are other couples, nitrogen mostly, and a solitary argon who won't mix with anyone. Brilliant stuff.

The last story, ‘The Asheville Road’, this issue is set in a low-tech alternate history where plague has killed much of the population and a few towns in North Carolina are linked by hand-powered trains. Devin gets promoted from hauler to railman and given the job of taking a young lady he knows up to the mountains to visit her dying mother. I thought it odd that this Kipling-esque tale of male comradeship on an engineering job should be written by a woman. Then I looked at the author notes and saw that Corey Brown is male and an engineer. We British are not accustomed to American names. The story was up to the usual high standards of this issue.

Even the poetry is good! 'The Five Missionaries' and 'Invention No. 2', both by Matt Schumaker, are witty and intelligent. This is the best issue of 'On Spec' I have ever read. I always recommend it but this time I recommend it with bells and whistles and garlands of flowers. The financial rewards for writing short fiction are pretty measly and yet the competition is fierce, resulting in this high quality product. We should be grateful.

Eamonn Murphy

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