If you’re looking for which of the newer generation of writers is going to be the next big thing, it might be worth keeping your eyes on Nina Allan. She’s already published a handful of books, most of them short story collections. Each is better than the last, and each is getting a lot of attention, and she has already picked up a handful of awards and been shortlisted for a whole lot more. These are five books that will convince you she is a writer worth following:
This is a collection of linked short stories that almost works as a novel. Certainly, the book as a whole is even more interesting than the individual stories. Each story follows a man called Martin in what appears to be present-day England. Except that in each iteration, Martin’s life and circumstances are subtly different. And in each story there is a watchmaker, whose clocks somehow control time, shifting Martin into parallel realities where he has vague memories of another life in another world, which don’t quite cohere. It’s a subtle and intriguing early collection that gave notice of the way that her later work would disturb our sense of reality.
This is another collection of linked stories, in this case the links don’t aspire to tie it together like a novel, but they do provide haunting connections. Haunting is a good word for it, since the linkages are mostly provided by people who are absent from the story. In particular Ruby Castle, a one time circus performer who went on to become a movie star only to murder someone and end up in prison. Her story keeps cropping up throughout the collection: one of her films might be playing in the background, or one of the characters once knew her, for instance. But Ruby Castle herself is a character in only one of the stories. All the time there is a sense that we are looking at the world from the corner of the eye, and there is something subtly not right about that world.
This novella is, in some ways, one of the most conventional of her works, in the sense that it is a single story told from a consistent perspective and set in a recogniseable world. Like much of her work, there is a distinctive mix of science fiction, fantasy and a frisson of horror in the story. It is set in an alternate Greece that has elements of both ancient and modern about it, and it tells a story about a woman who spins silk. And the story it tells recapitulates the ancient legend of arachne. Spin won the BSFA Best Short Fiction Award.
Nina Allan’s first novel also has something of a short story collection about it, as if reality must be disordered by breaking it into distinct segments. Two of these segments are set in a recogniseable present-day setting and feature a writer. The other segments (two in the first edition of the book, three in the expanded edition that came out earlier this year) are set in a parallel world that echoes our own but has distinct and disturbing differences. The landscape has changed because of climate change, but so have some social and class arrangements, and as disparate characters come to intersect our perceptions of the world are constantly changing.
Her most recent novel to date also overturns any sense of solidity in the world we occupy. It is set in contemporary England. Years before, while they were still in their teens, Selena’s sister, Julie, disappeared. There is no clue as to what happened; she may have been a runaway, there are hints that she might have been kidnapped and murdered. But her disappearance had a devastating effect on the family, and partly as a consequence Selena now works in a dead-end job as a shop assistant. Then, one day, Julie reappears, claiming to have been transported to another world. One of the things that makes this such a complex and satisfying novel is that there is no definitive answer to any of our questions. Julie’s other world may be real; Julie may not be real; Julie may simply have run away; Julie may actually have been murdered; and the novel hovers over all of them in such a way that it is impossible to decide which we are supposed to believe.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.