The Race

Nina Allan
The Race Cover

Like no other SF you'll read this year


Setting: Begins in an imaginary near-future decaying resort town in England, transformed by frakking and toxic marshland, and later provides glimpses of re-imagined continents.

Format: Four intertextually linked novelettes, too dissimilar to give the reader a strong grasp of the textual reality.

Summary: A family trains smartdogs for racing, and the daughter has a special connection with them... A writer grapples with her traumatic upbringing... A journalist copes with love and heritage... A girl is confined and trained for her communicative abilities with animals...

They are all tied together loosely. The intent is consistent, but elusive.

Synopsis quote: Get real. This book is the anti-synopsis.

Flavor quote:

...that fishy smell and the slippery texture, sour and salty and not quite natural. Those frankfurters seemed to sum up my life, really. It was not a good time. [Loc.104]

How it feels: Not dark, but heavy, melancholy, uncomfortably intimate. Evocative, dreamlike and wispy. Conveys the limited affect of the traumatized. Hard to read.

Reading advice: Watch a good comedy with easy laughs after each reading.

Further reading advice: Trigger warning, SF debacles be damned.

Typical reader criticism: This isn't really a novel!

My response: But it's not really a collection, either. It's not just a few stories tied together by a common theme. Its essence is ether, hard to grasp, but it's there, and it cannot be perceived without a complete reading, maybe two.

Why it's special: Nothing so real has ever felt so surreal. Forget graffiti-writing slug-monsters; read this for a text dripping with mood and tone, without the use of a thousand descriptors. I still can't figure out how she did it.

Why it's really special: A prime example of SF doing something different. Will inspire endless coffeehouse conversations about its meaning and significance. Speculative fiction that invites speculation.

My interpretation: How abouts you go read it and then we'll talk about it over a coffee?

A better review: Jesse always says it better than me.

Parallel reading experience: I read this on the treadmill.

Should you read this? You mean you haven't read it yet? I've been talking about this for months!


This review is part of a review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.