Book Review: Spin, Nina Allan

Nina Allan’s Spin is the second in a series of novellas published by the Third Alternative Press, home of leading UK genre magazines Interzone and Black Static. I should mention that the book was sent to me by the author because she liked my Amazing Stories review of her collection, Microcosmos. She also sent me a copy of her other new book, Stardust, which I review here. So I am predisposed to like Spin.

Set in an alternate Greece, Spin is a reworking of the myth of Arachne. Layla is a weaver, a young woman leaving home for the first time. When we meet her she is taking the bus from her coastal town via Corinth to Atoll City. This is a world where ‘Most of Corinth had been destroyed in the war with Carthage a century earlier…’ in which there are iPhones and holographic projectors capable of surrounding houses with virtual landscapes indistinguishable from reality. It is also a world in which clairvoyance is a crime. Layla starts to make her way in the city, designing print templates at the Minerva factory, finding an apartment, taking her first lover, receiving artistic commissions. Then she is offered an enormous sum of money to use her gifts to heal a very sick young man. Yet Layla does not believe in her own abilities, and given her family history has good reason for denial. Then there are the spiders.

Beautifully written, in spare, evocative prose, Spin is a straight-forwardly mysterious tale about a young woman being forced through circumstance to face both the reality of her world and of her own identity. Twin broken families haunt the novella. Layla’s own family, with the cruel fate of her mother and her distant relationship with her father. And the household of Nashe Crawe, with its suggestions of madness, murder and technologically mediated reality.

In Spin Nina Allan weaves together a coming of age story set in a slightly science-fictional Greece with a fantastical reimagining of one of the cornerstones of Greek mythology. Little by little the edges blur, certainties spin away, the past is resolved and the web is complete. Spin is ambitious and enigmatic. Call it dark fantasy if you will, though that description seems at odds with a story so illuminated by bold Mediterranean light and colour. Whatever Spin is, it is further evidence that Nina Allan is one of the most interesting and rewarding new writers to emerge in recent years.

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Since this review was originally published Spin has won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Short Fiction. The Award was announced at the 65th EasterCon on 20 April 2014.

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this review originally appeared on Amazing Stories

 


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