BSFA Shortlist Review: The Race by Nina Allan

theraceThe Race by Nina Allan

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, 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.

Previous BSFA Shortlist Review: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson

Next BSFA Shortlist Review: Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge