Okay, this one originally appeared in Black Static #27, hopefully in a format and wording not too dissimilar from that here:-
Chances are if you’ve been reading Black Static for any length of time you’ll have already encountered the work of Nina Allan, and recognised her as one of the most intelligent and daring new voices in genre fiction, a proposition THE SILVER WIND (Eibonvale hard/paperback, 153pp, £18/£6.99) seems set to test to breaking point and beyond.
With an introduction by Tricia Sullivan, herself no slouch when it comes to ringing the changes, Allan’s second collection consists of ‘four stories of time disrupted’ plus an afterword, with the theme of time at their heart and characters with the same names, though not necessarily the same identities, flitting in and out of the various pieces, so that what eventually emerges is more in the nature of a mosaic novel. And, although ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ previously appeared in Black Static #12, it seems fair to say that this is not in any conventional meaning of the term a work of horror fiction, though undoubtedly of interest to readers of that genre, at least those with a broader appreciation of its possibilities. Rather it’s one of those transcending works that terms like speculative fiction and slipstream have been coined to encompass.
Martin, the protagonist of ‘Time’s Chariot’, is given an antique watch for his eighteenth birthday, a device he tellingly introduces as ‘my first time machine’. And yet, although he feels himself now close to mastery of time, Martin is unable to prevent the death of his sister Dora, who he loves and is sexually involved with. In ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Martin is fourteen and the recipient of an antique watch, but there the resemblance ends. The watch is a different make and this Martin has no sister, but communicates with the spirit of his dead brother Stephen, who reveals the truth about his own identity to Martin. Peripheral to the narrative in both stories is a dwarf, referred to as ‘the Circus Man’. This enigmatic figure moves centre stage for ‘The Silver Wind’, which was previously published in Interzone and is the only one of these stories that is overtly science fictional, set in a fascist Britain where the government are experimenting with time travel. An estate agent of sorts, Martin stumbles across a rare timepiece made by the dwarf Owen Andrews, and sets out to track down this man, a brilliant scientist living in seclusion and under government surveillance. But as well as finding Andrews, Martin appears to cross into some parallel world where Britain seems a much kinder and more cosmopolitan society. In ‘Rewind’ Martin goes off to Hastings, the scene of a childhood encounter with the dwarf, in search of the truth about the sister he loved, but what he finds is romance with work colleague Miranda.
Each story stands alone, and apart from the title piece they could all easily pass muster as mainstream, literary fiction rooted in character and precise observation, and on that level alone Allan’s work is remarkable, giving us finely detailed character studies and effortlessly tapping into a universality of emotion, so that we can feel and identify with what these people are going through. But it’s in the way in which these stories interact and interweave that the work reaches another level, suggesting that each is set in some different version of reality. Like Moorcock’s Cornelius books with their portmanteau characters, The Silver Wind references the mutability of identity and strives to demonstrate how time and reality are different aspects of the same thing.
But it’s with the last offering, ‘Timelines: An Afterword’, that Allan shows her hand, a piece that stands apart from the other stories and yet also provides the backdrop against which they have their being. It’s the story of Ginny, who finds that she has a gift for storytelling, and one of her stories tells of ‘the people who lived inside watches, microscopic engineers who kept time flowing smoothly and were able to decide if it went forward or back’, and one of her creations is ‘Andy the little watch boy’. As an adult she writes of a physicist called Andrew. Many of the events that occurred in the preceding stories, and the grand obsession with timepieces, are a part of Ginny’s life, which introduces a metafictional element to the book, the idea that time is a matter of perspective, and by changing how we think about it we can alter the reality itself, or perhaps we can theorise – and this may be a step further than Allan intends – that these other realities exist, and Ginny is simply someone who is sensitive to them.
However you read it, The Silver Wind is a rewarding and challenging work of fiction, one that can be enjoyed for the sensitivity with which the various relationships are developed and portrayed, but also for the way in which it cleverly manipulates reader expectation and gives us food for thought.
I loved this book. As you say, each story is remarkable, but even more so together like this. I’ve enjoyed all of her work so far, actually.
I believe she has a fantasy novel or novella in the pipeline from PS Publishing, and of course the TTA novella.