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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 21 no. 3 Fall 2009

1/01/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 21 no. 3 # 78 Fall 2009 in the USA - or Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 21 no. 3 # 78 Fall 2009 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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The non-fiction in this issue consists of a guest editorial by Robert J. Sawyer celebrating the 20th anniversary of 'On Spec', a tribute to author Phyllis Gottlieb and an appreciation of Charles N. Brown, co-founder of successful fanzine 'Locus'.

There is also an interview with Brent Knowles who wrote the first story, 'From The Sea', about a fisherman father and son who think they may have caught a mermaid in their net. She turns out to be an escaped nun or Iron Wife as they are called here. She has legs and not a fishy tail but mermaids do exist. This story is not very heavy on fantasy but it's perceptive about humans. The bleak setting and the hard life of a fishing village were well conveyed and the story was quite moving.

'Every Witch Way' by Joanna M. Weston is like a soap opera except that the characters are witches, a family of them. The brutish ex-husband comes back to torment wise old Ma because he's down on his luck and conflict with the son ensues. Oddly, this unpromising plot is made enjoyable by the skill of the writing and the charm of some of the characters.

'Favourite' by Dave Cherniak is another family drama with a horror twist this time and the story's secret is quite cleverly concealed at the start. 'Aconite And Rue' by Amanda Downum is about two close sisters. Elle knows a bit of witchcraft and looks after Rowan until some sort of Faerie Winter Queen lures her sister away. Another touching tale.

'Julia' is about a mother and her daughters, set in a future when couples are allowed only one child. Any further offspring are meant to be used as organ donors for the firstborn. Author Erin Thomas takes a near future theme and shows what the human consequences of politically necessary policies might be.

After the above bunch of moving, touching, warm family dramas, my heart might have broken with the strain of one more. With tissues and a crying towel to hand, I started on 'Wrenning Day' by Andrew Bryant. The title comes from the stoning to death of a small, harmless songbird every year to commemorate the stoning to death of St. Stephen the Martyr. This jolly celebration is remembered by a crow as he flaps about the countryside deliberately spreading fleas and plague. He is a sentient crow, who can read, philosophise and think. He is also without doubt the most evil crow I have ever read about. Actually, he's the only crow I ever read about and he would have Jonathan Livingstone Seagull's guts for garters if he could catch him. 'Wrenning Day' is highly original and should certainly be considered for any 'Year's Best' collections. I didn't need the tissues.

The Summer 2009 issue of 'On Spec' was disappointing. Happily, this issue shows a bit of a return to form. I still lament the lack of hard SF and the preponderance of rather fey, sweet stuff. Our learned editor pointed out that editors can only publish what they get but I can't believe they don't get any SF. They certainly used to. I liked a lot of the stories here and there is always one damned good story even in the worst issue but the magazine does lean heavily towards the soft, the touching and the feminine. Mind you, it takes a whole heap of tear-jerkers to balance out that crow.

Eamonn Murphy

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