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On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no. 4 # 87

01/06/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no. 4 # 87 in the USA - or Buy On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 23 no. 4 # 87 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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Here are some short stories. Read ‘ em and weep, as the card players say. Or cheer or be sunk, briefly, into a mood of modest melancholy. All life is here and a few dead people, too.

‘ At The End Of The World’ by David K. Yeh is a tale of Inuit tribesmen and demons. Kevin Frobisher’s grandfather is shaman for the tribe and his father was killed during some interaction with the mystical world. Kevin was determined to live a normal, modern life so he went to live in New Orleans with a nice wife and daughter. They were killed by a witch and he swore revenge. At the beginning of the story, he captures a demon to help him get the witch. At the end, he is in for a surprise. This was written in the short, punchy sentences of hard-boiled detective fiction with some nice imagery worked into the prose as well. A good beginning to ’On Spec’s latest issue.

‘ Suckers’ by Kirsty Logan was an enjoyable tale about a vampire running a comic shop assisted by a Count in a cape. Comic shop guy spends most of his time sorting out his collection and is somewhat dumbfounded when a real live girl comes in and asks for a job. All comic fans are obviously overwhelmed by real live girls. This was enjoyable but had one of those obscure endings of which I am not fond.

‘ Drinking Problem’ by Hilary C. Smith opens with a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. The drinkers are realistically rendered but the first person protagonist has an unusual thirst. Two vampires stories in quick succession! This one was quite witty and had a nice twist ending. The author actually makes you feel more sorry for the tormented vampire than the nice victim.

‘ John-A-Dreams’ by Steve McGarrity ties a Science Fiction theme to Shakespeare, ‘ Hamlet’ in this instance. The genre has a history of linking in with the fine arts, from James Blish reviving dead composers to Captain Kirk chasing actors who used to be mass murderers in ‘ The Conscience Of The King‘ . Here a thespian volunteers to use drugs and hypnotherapy to plunge himself more completely into the reality of the Danish prince. The critics rave about his performance and he is the toast of arty London. To be in the 21st century or not to be in the 21st century, that is the question. It’s a good idea very well handled. Steve McGarrity is this issue’s author interviewee and it appears he is fifty years old, works in the NHS in England and likes the old classics such as Asimov and Heinlein. It’s like we are twins, separated at birth! Except he’s smarter than me.

‘ Touch The Dead’ by Brent Knowles is another story about a man with a shaman for a grandfather. I would describe Brian as a half-breed Red Indian but I am a fan of old westerns. More correctly I guess he‘ s a Native American of mixed race. Anyway, he opens the tale by crashing his motorbike and killing his girl-friend. After this, he can see the dead, including her for a short, grisly while. He spends some time in prison and encounters more ghosts when released. The theme and the resolution of this crisis are very similar to ‘ At The End Of The World’ but the style and plot are entirely different. John W. Campbell, editor of the classic ‘ Astounding Science-Fiction’ magazine used to give a couple of writers the same idea then publish the very different stories they came up with. I wonder if the editors at ‘ On Spec’ are doing the same thing?

Who wears short shorts? I don’t know but ‘ On Spec’ still publishes them occasionally, it seems. The fiction concludes with a pair. ‘ Henry’ by Erin O’Neill is about a little boy who can see souls as part of the fabric of a human body. He, too, has a wise old grandfather. This was a comforting kind of tale. ‘ Block Party’ by Andrew S. Fuller is about dancing houses. Honest. I loved it. This would make a great short animated film but the author is plainly mad.

The cover artist is Ellen Jewett who is also interviewed. The cover has a picture of one of her sculptures, an elephant with a miniature city on its back standing on top of a dodo. It looks better than it sounds. The poetry in this magazine seldom does much for me as I am a primitive rhyming person in this regard, more excited by rhythmic doggerel than soul-stirring lines.

However, ‘ Buddhist Jet Lag’ by Christian McPherson was a nice play on the idea of living in the present moment. Buddhism is a peaceful religion and I think they can take gentle mocking without launching a fatwa. ‘ Reality Check’ is a verse about brain swapping mad scientists by the same author but it didn’t float my boat to the same degree.

The Copper Pig Writers’ Society of Edmonton, Canada continues to deliver a mixed bag of interesting stuff. May they live long and prosper.

Eamonn Murphy

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