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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no. 3 # 86

01/02/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no. 3 # 86 in the USA - or Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no. 3 # 86 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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This issue of ‘On Spec’ features some fantasy, some Science Fiction and some historical stuff. A mixed bag.

The distinctly fantastical is well represented as usual. ‘The Silent Machete’ by A.A. Hernandez begins with a daughter fleeing Puerto Rico when her father kills her mother with a machete. There is blood on the floor. Carmen Fernandez Santiago flees to New York to live with an aunt, meets a nice boy, marries and gives birth to a daughter who seems to be mute. There’s a lot of dark material in the subtext of this very South American tale and a different culture is illuminated.

In ‘The Rook And The Web’ by Carolyn Watson a crow and some spiders take over an old couple’s house. It was readable.

Another housebound tale is ‘Hexenhaus’ by Megan Fennell. It’s a continuation of the story of ‘Hansel And Gretel’, still living in that gingerbread house which is being eaten by hungry woodland creatures now that the witch is gone and her magic no longer preserves it. This is an entertaining notion, well handled by Fennell who is this issues author interviewee. She is, unsurprisingly, a qualified lawyer who does not practice law, except as a court clerk. Half the writers nowadays seems to be qualified lawyers. What if all qualified lawyers stopped practicing law? Now that really is an entertaining notion!

‘When Ayanna Kapoor Waits’ by Anthony J. Rapino has the eponymous protagonist helping her best friend Peggy Dresden who has been diagnosed with cancer. Ayanna has a third arm growing out of her stomach and three nipples on each small breast. She has other talents, too, and the story is quirkily enjoyable.

‘The Halberdier, By Moonlight’ by Scott H. Andrews takes place after a dreadful battle where a vassal city has rebelled against its overlord and lost. Most of the cast are dead, wandering the world and trying to get in touch with the living. The Halberdier wants to apologise to his father who told him that going to war would be a waste of time and was right. Dad makes ice wine, a drink produced from grapes after the first frost of the season. This is not an idea that will catch on in France.

A welcome return of genuine Science Fiction to the pages of ‘On Spec’ with two stories. Comet Veale approaches the Earth only once every three hundred years so a mission is launched to have a closer look at it. ‘You Source Of Tears’ by Andrew Barton starts with a mystery, perhaps a hallucination, and ends with a touching farewell. Very good. I had high hopes for ‘The Observation Deck’ by Kristin Janz but frankly it didn’t amount to much. A shy man meets a pretty woman on the deck and er…that’s it.

Then there is some historical stuff. ‘The Virgin’s Tears’ by Priya Sharma is set in 18th century Paris at the time of Madame de Pompadour. The female protagonist wafts around the salons and makes friends with the Comte de St. Germain, an amusing German alchemist. Our heroine is in possession of the Virgin’s tears, those shed by Christ’s mother when he died which are meant to grant immortality to whosoever drinks them. No one does, so it is not clear if this is a fantasy.

Similarly, ‘Oh Most Cursed Addition Engine’ by H.S. Donnelly is a historical tale about a chap trying to build a calculating machine who is visited by Charles Babbage of the Royal Society. I could discern no element of fantasy. Both of these stories were quite enjoyable but are perhaps misplaced in a magazine of speculative fiction.

Eclectic, according to the Cambridge on-line dictionary, means combining the best or most useful things from many different systems rather than following a single system. ‘On Spec’ is definitely eclectic. All the stories are well written and most are entertaining on some level. I’m not quite sure how the historical ones made it onto speculative pages but they were a good read so I‘m not really complaining and any Science Fiction in these pages is most welcome.

Eamonn Murphy

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