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Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic
edited by Karen A. Romanko
Raven Electrick Ink, 153 pages

Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic
Karen A. Romanko
Karen A. Romanko's poetry and short stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, Would That It Were, The Pedestal Magazine, Dreams and Nightmares, Full Unit Hookup, and Lone Star Stories, among others. Her first poetry collection, Raven's Runes: Equations in Time, was released by Sam's Dot Publishing in 2004.

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A review by Greg L. Johnson

In professional sports there are major leagues and minor leagues. The majors are where the best professionals play their games. The minors are the home of players, some on their way up, some on their way down, and others who know they'll never play at a higher level, but happy to be able to play at all. The world of publishing has a similar structure. The big magazines and book publishers are home to writers who have established themselves after years of hard work, and a lucky few who have the talent to jump right to the top. There are also the equivalent of minor leagues, the semi-professional magazines and small presses, many now online, that furnish an opportunity for writers to hone their craft and hope to make it into the professional outlets. They are also the home to many writers who are in it simply because they love to write and tell stories. For many of them, the chance to have their work appear in publications like Apex Digest, Shadow Box, and Tales of the Unanticipated is about as good as it gets. And if you can get a story or poem into an actual small press anthology like Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic, so much the better.

As the name suggests, Sporty Spec is a collection of sports related science fiction and fantasy poetry and "flash" fiction, flash fiction being the latest description of what used to be called short-shorts, stories of no more than a few pages in length. The subjects range from horse racing to baseball, from chess to surfing. The short length of the stories and poems has one big advantage, a large number of them can be fitted into a collection of slightly over one hundred and fifty pages.

The best of the stories manage to overcome the difficulty of their short length and tell a complete story. In "the Court Photographer," by Lawrence Schimel, a young photographer chronicles a basketball game whose timing coincides with an important date in the world of faerie. "Organic Geometry" by Andrew C. Ferguson manages to relate the sport of cricket to the wider fate of the world in the space of a few pages, and in Brenta Blevins' "Running for Life" a young woman learns that understanding why you run a race can have a dramatic impact on how well you run.

The problem with many flash fictions is, of course, that they are simply too short to convey a story, theme, and sense of character all at the same time. Perhaps that is why that overall, the poetry comes off as slightly better than the stories, economy of word choice is, after all, a key element of poetry right from the start. For that reason, a poem like James S. Dorr's "Leaves" can convey the experience of running without having to dwell on just who the runner is. In like manner, "Stealing for the Record" by Robert Frazier condenses the game of baseball into the thoughts of a ballplayer readying himself to steal a base. And Roger Dutcher's "1967 NFC Championship Game Remembered After Awakening From Cryogenic Sleep" reminds us that sports aren't only about athletes and participants, fans are important, too.

Sporty Spec is not a collection of literary masterpieces. Instead, it's full of stories and poems by writers whose names may not ever appear in the big time of the professional magazines. But it is full of the enthusiasm and sense of creativity that you will find in many of the small press magazines and websites. If you're unfamiliar with those publications, and have a taste for stories that mix the worlds of sports, science fiction, and fantasy, it's well worth checking out.

Copyright © 2008 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson is always happy when baseball is back in season, even in years when the chance of his favorite team winning the pennant seems closer to fantasy than reality. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.

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