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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no.2 # 85

1/12/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no.2 # 85 in the USA - or Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no.2 # 85 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 editorials in ‘On Spec # 85’ focus on the issues of feminism and race. There is a tribute by Candas Jane Dorsey to Joanna Russ who has recently passed from this vale of tears. I have not read her works but I understand she wanted to beat up Philip K. Dick for his anti-abortion story ‘The Pre-Persons’, which upset her. I thought the story made a good point but I am not a feminist. Hiromi Goto has contributed a meandering academic style essay to say that racism is bad, too, for those who had not picked up on that from watching ‘Star Trek’. All very worthy but not very speculative since everybody thinks that now. How about an argument in favour of racism and war? When resources are limited and your tribe is competing with the other for the good land and the food don’t you naturally hate them? Cosy, well-fed middle-class academics make arguments that might fall apart when the going gets tough. We’ll see.

Anyway, minority issues aside, the fiction delivers the goods as usual. Given the editorial theme, I expected an all-girl issue but most of the stories are by brutish men. Zak, the man in ‘Hedge Of Protection’ by Steve Stanton is a bit of wimp though, dominated by the black female voodoo witch doctor he approaches in Haiti to get in touch with his late wife’s ghost. He is accompanied on the trip by Doctor Jackie Rose, a respected colleague. There is lots of local atmosphere and colour and a surprising resolution that is not flagged up in the tale. Some nice use of language adds substance to a slight plot.

Not that plot is everything. ‘Space Monkeys’ by Ryan M. Williams is virtually without it compared to a good old ripping yarn from ‘Planet Stories’ with square-jawed white Anglo-Saxon male heroes fighting aliens and rescuing helpless female bimbos. What happens is a father buys some little space aliens that fit in a fishbowl and takes them home to his autistic son, hoping to generate some enthusiasm. No action at all but it is very touching and I’m glad they printed it. Damn it, I nearly cried at the end, but I’m a man so I can’t.

Possibly, ‘The Whole Megillah’ by Allan Weiss is included to fit in with the race theme of the editorials because it is a strongly Jewish story. Eliezer ben-Avraham is a wizard condemned to wander the world doing good deeds with only food and board from those he helps as his reward. He is accompanied by a humorous horse called Melech with whom he has telepathic communication. The horse does not give him much respect. This was quite good fun but rather depends on a good knowledge of Jewish theology and particularly some familiarity with the story of Esther.

‘The Whole Megillah’ is meant to be amusing. ‘Artificial Stupidity’ is genuinely funny. Michael R. Fletcher tells the story from the point of view of a new life-form just as it achieves sentience in the laboratory. The scientists want it to perform tasks and be assessed but the AI has a stubborn and selfish streak. ‘On Spec’ is always worth buying but this story makes the price worthwhile all by itself.

‘The Fox Maiden’ by Priya Sharma gives away the fantasy nature of the protagonist in the title. ‘First Light’ by Priya Sharma has a less usual female super-power involving heat and ‘On The Many Uses Of Cedar’ by Geoffrey W. Cole is a variation on groundhog day with a sub-plot of the battered wife which gives it added emotional impact. All are rather ordinary fantasies but they’re well written and will give pleasure to some. This is not the best ‘On Spec’ I’ve read but it will do and the cover is nice.

Eamonn Murphy

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