On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of The Fantastic: vol 24 – #89 (magazine review).

‘On Spec’ sometimes has good non-fiction. This issue features an interesting article on Steampunk entitled ‘Through a Glass, Brightly; The Goggled Gaze Of Steampunk’ by Mike Perschon who is doing a thesis on the subject. Defining a genre is tricky, especially a fantasy genre, but Mike says that we should not say an item is or is not steampunk but ask where it fits on the steampunk spectrum. This is a good idea which could be usefully applied elsewhere. An interesting overview by a man clearly well-versed in his subject. So knowledgeable, actually, that it must have been very difficult for him to write a short piece. Stephen Hunt, the noble sponsor of SFCrowsnest gets a brief mention for ‘Court Of The Air’.

The other non-fiction consists of the author and artist interviews, which are pretty standard, and an editorial by Diane L. Walton entitled ‘To Boldly Go…’ in which she tells us what fun it is peddling ‘On Spec’ at various conventions and other public events. I’m sure it is fun and, as its regular reviewer, I am supportive of the enterprise. (Is that a pun?) ‘On Spec’ is a great little magazine and deserves a wide readership.

And so to the fiction. ‘7:54’ by Susan Forest tackles the big question: fatalism. Winnie works with streamsight, a method of checking the data stream to predict the future. How this functions exactly is carefully vague but that’s okay in Science Fiction. The story point is that she sees a road accident in the near future in which her colleague Henri gets killed. She likes Henri and sets out to prevent this happening. Telling it in the first person, from Winnie’s point of view, allows the author to give us lots of her speculations about what will happen next, which sometimes go on a bit long, frankly. However, the issue is a key one for humans and for science. Is the future fixed and immutable or do we change it as we go along?

Perversely, I read the author interview with Shen Braun before reading his story. For some reason, that left me with low expectations of ‘Village Of Good Fortune’, so I was pleasantly surprised when it was very good. Rokiya, an outcast warrior magician, is wandering about and finds an isolated village. The village has no lord and they all live in peace but lately, the newborns have been dying. Somehow, the prose suited the Japanese setting and it all worked very well.

‘The Only Innocent Soul In Hell’ by Peter Darbyshire is an amusing spoof about Hell’s admission clerk and his processing of a difficult new entrant. The idea of John Lennon being hauled out at Easter to sing ‘Imagine’ and add to the general suffering made me laugh and I’m a big fan of the guy. (He might have laughed, too.) One other incident was a bit disturbing as comedy for my taste, even black comedy. But, hell, humour is tricky and, overall, it was an entertaining piece.

Greece is in an unfortunate condition at the moment but its people might be cheered up by Paul Kenneback‘s story, ‘In Which Demetri Returns The Elgin Marbles’. The story is set in the near future and there is a New Government, not just in Greece but worldwide, it seems. The Disneyfication of culture has reached astonishing levels and the Government has more or less taken control of on-line encyclopaedias, from which all information comes, so no one is sure what’s true anymore. Demetri is a tourist guide on the Acropolis and has a dream. This droll, touching story – laugh out loud funny – was the nicest thing I have read for a long time and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Tim lives in a small Welsh community that is dominated by his father-in-law, Griff. When Tim finds the body of a raped and murdered woman his soft, city-boy values come into conflict with those of his neighbours and even his wife. In ‘Canine Court’, Tyler Keevil exports the kind of small town story that usually occurs in an American setting to rural Britain and very effectively, too. This might have been written by the young Stephen King. The fact that the author is a Canadian currently living in Wales no doubt adds to its veracity but I do hope it’s not autobiographical. I really do.

There‘s another small town setting in ‘Bespoke’ by Kevin Shaw. Charles Wright & Son are a bespoke tailoring outfit currently run by Charles, the son. Of course, there is not much demand for bespoke tailoring in the modern day, except for a few weddings now and then. However, Charles admits an unusual customer late one night who ushers in a whole new branch of trade. To say more would be to give away the point of this quirky tale.

Poetry was represented in this issue with ‘Penultimate’ by F.J. Bergmann. I am often dismissive of the poetry in SF magazines because I am old-fashioned and like things that scan and even rhyme. I don’t need ABAB or anything simple but it’s nice if the odd word at the end of a line rhymes with another at the end of another line and sometimes the poetry is a bit, well…thin. It does not look as if a huge effort was made. ‘Penultimate’ is at least substantial, five stanzas of seven lines each. There is alliteration in ‘sputters of silence’ and ‘lovers had left’. It’s the sad story of a person whose genes make ‘rebodying and rebooting’ unavailable to him. Everybody else gets immortality, except him (or her). It’s a good piece of work that has clearly been worked on and resonates after reading, as poetry should. I liked it. I liked it even more after a few more readings. Well done, F.J.!

Well done, everyone, actually. This issue of ‘On Spec’ is even better than usual. Partly, that’s because of the excellent Elgin Marbles yarn, which I absolutely loved. However, all the stories are better than average, not a clunker in the bunch. As she tours the conventions, editor Walton carries the best tool a salesperson can have: a great product to flog.

Eamonn Murphy

(pub: Copper Pig Writers Society. 130 page A5 magazine. Price: $ 6.95 (CAN). ISSN: 0843-476X. Distributed in Canada by CMPA and the UK by BAR)

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