On Spec: The Canadian Magazine Of The Fantastic vol 28 no. 2 # 105 (mag review).

‘On Spec’ endures, happily, and here’s another little issue. I missed the author interview this month but there’s plenty of other pleasing content. I’ll start with the obvious fantasy and move on to Science Fiction via super-heroes and steampunk as I’m not sure which category they belong in.

‘The Wisdom Of The Serpent’ by Mary Pletsch is about the bastard daughter of Georgius the Brave and her rotten hero of a father. The great sword Snakesdeath, a talking dog who’s a duke and a flying serpent queen are also involved. Although that all sounds a bit daft, this is a serious fantasy and well-written. Enjoyable and it’s a mercy to have such a story delivered in a few pages instead of a million words over ten volumes.

‘Sins Of The Father’ by Colleen Anderson is about a nurse whose father, an evil mass murderer, posed as a loving family man. In fact, he was a loving family man adored by both wife and daughter. People are complex. She discovers a talent for turning evil back on itself in rotten mortals but is defeated by a bigger monster roaming Vancouver. This morally complex tale is told in sophisticated prose but it lost me near the end.

The other pure fantasy is ‘Trinkets’ by Story Boyle, a good name for a writer. It’s a poetic little three-page piece about a witch who collects things you can’t even see.

Super-heroes used to belong in comicbooks but television and movie success has made them respectable enough for fantasy magazines and why not? ‘Missing In Action’ by Michael Johnstone concerns Hawk Owl, a former member of the League of Canadian Heroes. He retired after a traumatic event but gets drawn back to do-gooding by a helpless little girl in trouble. A touching tale and I think the League of Canadian Heroes deserve their own comic. Maybe even a film.

It’s nice to encounter sane, civilised fictional Muslims in our difficult time. ‘Words Of Wisdom’ by Andrew Knighton has a clockwork Baghdad that’s getting overcrowded. Rashiq is a young girl, so not greatly respected by those in power, but she helps the brilliant engineer Ibn Musa with the problem. This entertaining steampunk story is from an author who lives in Yorkshire, United Kingdom which has a large Muslim population.

On to true Science Fiction with ‘The Incident At Realm City’. When Jimi falls into the hands of slimy, ugly, pizza-eating Denebs, she confesses that she’s the missing Imperial Princess and they can hold her for ransom. Jimi went on the run because she was bored with palace life. I say true Science Fiction, it’s really it’s a comedy using SF tropes but that’s an old and well-respected sub-genre in the field. Just ask Slippery Jim diGriz or Arnold Rimmer.

The best story among a good bunch is ‘The Call Of Freezing Souls’ by Jean-Luis Trudel. It’s set on Titan in a far distant future when humanity has achieved virtual immortality by downloading memories into cloned body replacements. Immortals, it turns out, are even more fascinated by death than us lesser beings. This is a well thought out piece that combines hard Science Fiction with metaphysics. I’m guessing the hard science is right because the author holds degrees in physics and astronomy.

The non-fiction this issue is ‘Secret Worlds: Fifteen Dogs And The Canon Of Animal Fantasy’ by Laurie Penner. There’s a new bestseller called ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by André Alexis and Laurie writes an interesting essay on the appeal of animal fiction, including ‘Watership Down’ and ‘Mrs Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH’. Can’t comment because I haven’t read any of them, despite being an animal lover with two dogs and four ducks. I enjoyed Frank Herbert’s ‘Fluke’ but he was a man in a dog’s body whereas Penner is more concerned with animal societies in fiction. Good essay.

Good issue. ‘On Spec’ went through a spell of having too much fey fantasy a while back but happily it’s got better. Science Fiction stories are fewer but always excellent. I’m not sure if this indicates that they have very high standards for SF or that they just don’t get many submissions. To be fair, the weighting in favour of fantasy reflects the times and the book catalogues now groaning under the weight of sword and sorcery serials. At least the magazine is a venue for short fiction and those are precious. Live long and prosper, ‘On Spec’.

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)

check out website: www.onspec.ca


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