Last November at SFContario 5, I wandered into the dealers’ room and met Hugh Spencer, who was manning the On Spec table. Hugh persuaded me to pick up their 25th Anniversary Retrospective – Casserole Diplomacy and Other Stories (Thanks, Hugh – it’s a fantastic read).
I had also just subscribed to the magazine. I had some vague idea of a) supporting the oldest running Canadian speculative print magazine and b) discovering new (to me) Canadian writers. What I did not expect was to devour each issue in a single sitting. I’ve received two issues so far and you can be sure I’m going to renew my subscription.
For those who’ve never read the magazine, I highly recommend – Casserole Diplomacy and Other Stories. It’s a great introduction to On Spec, with a wide selection of stories that have been featured in the magazine over the years. The stories range from funny to weird to plain scary. A few of the highlights:
Casserole Diplomacy by Fiona Heath was one of my favorites. It’s based in Newfoundland, a place I love. What do you do when aliens come knocking at your back door? Why, you offer them your best hospitality, of course.
My other most favorite was Closing Time by Matthew Johnson. Father has just died, and Nep Gao his youngest son has inherited the restaurant. Except that Father’s ghost refuses to leave the restaurant. There he sits, regaling mourners with stories, while Nep Gao must feed them all.
Happy Eating on Ugrath 3 by Jason Kapalka is a delightful story that put me in mind of McDonalds – as it is no doubt intended to. An inter-galactic ‘fast-food’ franchise opens on a new planet – but refuses to stick to the same old menu.
Pizza Night by Laurie Channer is one of those stories that you unfortunately cannot forget, no matter how hard you try. It also might put you off pizza forever. One Friday evening, two middle-aged women watch Lawrence of Arabia in their corner of the loft, while in the other corner, their roommate does unspeakable things to his girlfriend. It didn’t feel very ‘speculative’ to me, but I suppose you can call it horror.
No Such Thing as an Ex-Con by Holly Phillips left a bitter-sweet taste in the end. A psychic woman who was wrongly imprisoned for being an accessory to murder proves to the officer who had gone after her that she is innocent, and truly has the power to ‘see’ things. But there is no escaping the ghosts of the murdered who haunt her.
Where Magic Lives by S.A. Bolich is a gentle tale of childhood heroes come to life. A funeral director receives the body of an elderly woman, and recognizes the author of the book he loved most as a boy. Magic ensues.
I must mention Mourning Sickness by Robert Weston in which grief at the loss of a loved one manifests itself as an elephant. Yep, an actual elephant. The greater the grief, the bigger the elephant. I can safely say this was the weirdest story in the book, and that’s saying something.
And of course, there is Sticky Wonder Tales by Hugh Spencer himself, also pretty weird – you can evidently go too far with ‘Evolutionary Transformation’.
And those are just a few of the delights on offer in this collection. Well worth the buy and time spent reading.