On Spec

Tagged: Publication

Canadian Semiprozine, Digest-size, perfect bound (from Fall 1991), around 96pp, published by The Copper Pig Collective, Edmonton, which arose out of a writers' group at the University of Alberta. The original General Editor was Marianne O Nielson, but she retired after the Spring 1992 issue and thereafter it has been edited by a collective, which has included over time Catherine Girczyc, Barry Hammond, Susan MacGregor, Hazel Sangster, Jena Snyder and Diane L Walton, and which operates through an independent Editorial Board consisting of J Brian Clarke, Monica Hughes, Candas Jane Dorsey and Gerry Truscott. The story of the magazine's origins is told in "ON SPEC History" (Fall 1994) by Barry Hammond. There has been an inevitable change of staff members over the years but a core remains. Published quarterly since Spring 1989, with some gaps until 1993.

The magazine arose because, according to its website, "English-speaking Canadian SF writers were frustrated with having to "Americanize" their stories for the paying markets. We knew there was an audience hungry for thoughtful, intelligent (often unconventional) SF and Fantasy with a uniquely Canadian perspective." Since the start On Spec has displayed a literary perspective, publishing not just traditional science fiction, but fantasy, Magic Realism, supernatural and even fairy tales. Most issues contain some Poetry. Contributors are primarily English-Canadian, but the editors have sometimes looked beyond. The second issue, for example, published a translation of a story by Norway's Tor Åge Bringsværd, and the magazine has occasionally traded stories with the French-Canadian magazine Solaris. The magazine also encouraged new writers. The Winter 1990 number was a "special Youth issue" from which emerged one of On Spec's most famous sons, Cory Doctorow with "2,000 Year Check-Up", in which a young man needs help to acclimatize to the new Technology. Peter Watts (who later became one of the editorial collective) and Hayden Trenholm are others whose early work On Spec published.

On Spec ran several theme issues and demonstrated its diverse range with two in particular. The theme for the Spring 1993 issue was "Over the Edge" featuring stories that were deliberately controversial and "unsafe", such as "Kissing Hitler" by Erik Jon Spigel and "Penis Envy" by Lyle Weis. By contrast the Spring 1994 issue focused on Hard SF – although according to the editor obtaining such stories had proved difficult, raising the question as to whether Canadian sf (see Canada) concerned itself more with social than technological problems. Just to emphasize its diversity, from Fall 1997 it introduced a new strapline: "more than just science fiction."

Despite its Semiprozine status, On Spec is in every other way a professional venture, capably compiled and illustrated, often with striking cover art. Besides new writers, it has also published such well-known authors as Charles de Lint, Candas Jane Dorsey, Dave Duncan, Monica Hughes, Eileen Kernaghan, who won an Aurora award for her story "Carpe Diem" (Fall 1989), W P Kinsella, L E Modesitt Jr, Spider Robinson and Robert J Sawyer, who won an Aurora award for his story "Just Like Old Times" (Summer 1993). The magazine has won four Aurora Awards in the category "other work, English" and a fifth in the "organizational fan achievement" category. Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk also won two Aurora awards for her cover art. Without abandoning its Canadian roots in recent years, On Spec has attracted more fiction from US and UK writers. The magazine has been supported by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and Canada Council for the Arts and other sponsors.

Since Spring 2009 there has also been a digital edition. An anthology of representative fiction from the early years is On Spec: The First Five Years (anth 1995) edited by the Editorial Collective. [MA/PN]

further reading

  • The Editorial Collective, editors. On Spec: The First Five Years (Edmonton, Alberta: Tesseract Books, 1995) [anth: hb/Steve Fahnestalk and Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk]

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