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The Race by Nina Allan

The Race (2014)

by Nina Allan

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This novel comes in four sections, all of which interlink, giving the viewpoint of each of the four main characters. These sections are all powerfully written, and a harrowing tale emerges. Unfortunately, the world-building is a mess as an alternate reality is in play here, where geography is re-written, along with SFnal elements, like feral whales and alien contact attempts. All it needs is a gunfight for a straight flush of genres... ( )
1 vote AlanPoulter | Oct 15, 2015 |
Four intertwined stories build to a compelling fragmented novel. Nina Allen is superb at world-building, creating a richly detailed dystopian timeline with extraordinary economy. I love her precisely beautiful writing. ( )
  Bernadette877 | Sep 23, 2015 |
This will be a very unusual review. Talking about the order of the novel or about the way it is split in parts will ruin it for anyone that wants to read it after that. If you are not planning to or you are still interested, Strange Horizons published a wonderful review that I agree with completely (and that does not happen too often) so you can read it. Instead of that, my review will be more about feelings and what I think about the book - with very little exact details and with no spoilers.

Somewhere in a version of Earth that had been through a war that we do not recognize, a young woman is telling the story of her family and of the smartdogs - the hounds that are not just hounds - and their handlers. The world sounds familiar and somewhat off - as if someone had taken the Earth as we know it and just changed a few things. As this is pretty common in SF, I was ready to accept that this is where Nina Allan was going and I actually enjoyed that story a lot. And then it changed. And grew. And changed again. Every next bit of the story was clarifying the previous one, making the reader's assumptions invalid and changing the story without invalidating the previous bit or making it impossible or lighter or less important. And just when you think you are holding the threads of the story, the carpet get pulled from under you again and you need to reevaluate and reconsider everything you think you know.

In a way that story can be called mainstream but I doubt that the mainstream readers that shunt SF as if it is the plague will appreciate it and I suspect that they will dismiss it as a weak attempt at original thinking. In the same way the purists from the SF readers may dismiss it as a stupid story or worse. But it is none of those things - it is intricately built story that makes you work hard but without the literary pretensions of some other authors, a story that is so rooted into SF that even if there was no pure SF element, you would still put it there. A story about reality, language and family. A story about changes and perceptions.

A story that shows the ugly part of the human condition - Nina Allan is not afraid to use rape, possible murder, animal death and the disappearance of a child in the same story - and none of those is there for the shock factor - they are needed where they are and without them the story would not have worked - because they are part of what would drive the reality and the unreality. And the story becomes circular - a remark in part 3 will explain something in part 4, a remark in part 2 will make you understand part 1. And between the parts, the connection grows as you progress and new things keep getting added to a story you think you had already finished reading. It is a meta story inside of a meta story without really being a meta story (and that sentence does not make much sense until you read the book and I cannot explain it better without spoilers).

One of the best novels I had read this year so far - and in a year where I read quite a few good ones, that says a lot. But if you decide to read it, do not stop in the middle - just finish the story. Without the end the middle and the start make no sense; without the middle, the end and the beginning remain orphans. ( )
  AnnieMod | Mar 8, 2015 |
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The present day and an alternate future merge as a child is kidnapped, a writer reaches into the past to discover the truth about a possible murder, and a young woman prepares for her mysterious future.

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