Review: Spin by Nina Allan

spincover[1]Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this novella from TTA Press.

Review: It requires a degree of courage to take an existing story and to then create another based around it. Such endeavours are often met with the immediate prejudice of the reader, who will naturally wonder why the author didn’t create their own tale to begin with. (To all the lazy, execrable “mash-ups” currently clogging up bookshelves across the world, I’m looking straight at you at this point.) Yup, these days, if you’re going to step into that particular arena, it seems you’ll need a rocket-propelled grenade to accompany that trident and net of yours.

To then make your own story work regardless of the original, and when the original story itself is older than most every story in history… well, that requires a hell of a lot of skill too.

Which takes us to “Spin”, Nina Allan’s aptly-titled take on the story of Arachne, newly released by TTA Press as part of their novella series.

Set in a near-future alternate Greece we follow Layla as she leaves her father, Idmon, a successful dyer, and travels from her small coastal village to the big smoke where she begins to make her own way in the world as a weaver of considerable skill. Along the way she meets an old woman who informs her that she knew her mother, a sybil who died in tragic circumstances when Layla was a child. The old woman informs Layla that she too has the “gift” once possessed by her mother. What happens next… well, you’ll have to get hold of a copy to find out.

Of course, those versed in Arachne’s story may have an inkling where this all leads. As one who is not up on their Classics to the extent they perhaps ought to be, however, I’m happy to report that “Spin” stands up well on its own terms. You don’t need an intimate knowledge of the source material in order to understand and appreciate the story. There is much to enjoy here, particularly for those who like their fantasy and sci-fi stories with a literary bent.

For me, it is in describing and fleshing out her alternate Greece that Allan really shines. Layla’s expert eye allows Allan to fill her world with dazzling splashes of colour, from topaz sunsets to “the searing catamite yellow of the robes of choirboys” – a wonderfully barbed line that had me dashing for my Chambers (which is no bad thing). I’m fairly certain that the scorching heat described in the story upped the temperature in my house a couple of degrees, which was no mean feat given that it was close to Absolute Zero outside.

Even the parts of Allan’s alternate Greece that initially jarred began to make sense the morning after the read before. For example, the casual mention of drachmas and their relatively low exchange rate clicked once one took into account the technological advancements that the country (or at least the wealthier element) enjoyed. Allan’s Greece is a more economically sound country than the one we see today, and yet it is one that still carries chilling echoes of the very real racial intolerance and right-wing politics brewing there.

It is this attention to detail that should give you an idea of the skill and the care that has gone into writing this piece. Allan has an immense, poetic command of language and a vocabulary to die for. This is one for which you will want to pour a drink, pop your feet up on the sofa and to put your phone on silent before heading on in.

Ultimately “Spin” succeeds for me because Allan is not trying to compete or improve upon the Arachne myth, nor is she wilfully offering up a new and jaunty twist. (Meowmorphosis… please.) No, instead what we get is a highly personal piece that was written for and is dedicated to her father. No RPG’s were needed in the arena after all, folks. The fight wasn’t there to begin with.

In short, I’d heartily recommend “Spin” to fans of literary sci-fi and fantasy, and especially to those already familiar with Nina Allan’s work. If you tick any of those boxes then I doubt you’d be disappointed with this.

Rating: 5/5

And finally…
I’ll post a few reviews here while I plough through the second draft of The Floors. I’ll have a status update and more news on that whole thing shortly. When I’m not slaving over a hot keyboard, ploughing through a book, or (heaven forbid) at work, you’ll often find me haunting Goodreads. Do mosey on round to my place, why doncha: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6543771.Lucian_Poll

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NaNoWriMo: The best laid plans…

Pinky and The Brain issue 1 cover.
Come on! With a post headed ‘The best laid plans…’ what did you expect?

Previously on the NaNoWriMo theme I gave myself a hearty slap on the back for hitting the 50K mark a couple of days ahead of schedule. Up went the hurrahs, and far-flung were strewn the smileys.

What do they say about pride?

Yes, well. Ahem. Perhaps I should have kept quiet because the supposed easy bit – the final act – hasn’t been quite as forthcoming as the first 50,000 words.

So what went wrong? Basically December happened. I forgot that December is that most wonderful time of the year where time itself disappears into a black hole. (The kind of black hole where the event horizon is helpfully decked in lovely, red-shifting tinsel.) Another major real-life factor that slipped my mind was W-O-R-K, but then most everyone would like to forget about that.

Nil desperandum, though. While there has been a lot of jingle belling and real life-living and other such distractions, December has still seen a fair amount achieved in the world of Lucian Poll, just not a vast amount on the novel.

For example, a fair chunk of time was spent crafting and honing a 5000-word short story called “Flood Warning” to submit to Cemetery Dance magazine. As I type this here post the submissions window is still open, but you’ll have to be quick. They’ve got 20 story slots open for 2013 and they’ve already received hundreds of stories for consideration. Here’s a link:

Cemetery Dance magazine open for short story submissions

(For those of you with longer ones, they are also accepting submissions for their eBook line.)

As you may have seen from earlier posts December has seen me continue my quest to become one of those self-publishing author things. As far as blogging goes I admit it does make for a dry read, but I hope my experience helps others, and that it will be a worthwhile endeavour in the long run. Either way, my W-8BEN forms have since been accepted by Amazon, so there’s a nice uplift in royalties of nearly 43%.

(As an aside, I was delighted to find a spike in my blog hits in December. It turns out my guide recently ranked all top three spots in Google searches for “removing US withholding tax”. I’m not sure how long that will last, or how localised the results may be, but I don’t care. Hello, world!)

But now December is out of the way, and with it all recent distractions. The admin stuff is done – I’m now on Uncle Sam’s books. The story for Cemetery Dance is done – whether they like it or not! Christmas is done – and with it most of the skin around my nose thanks to a rotten cold.

What remains is the unfinished novel. It continues to scratch and scald the back of my mind and I need to get it out of there sharpish. Why? Well, the observant among you will have noticed that we’ve hit 2013. (All contrarians flapping their Julian calendars at me can piss off for the moment, thank you.) You may have also sensed that the number 13 features rather prominently in the novel: warnings issued to triskaidekaphobes, for example, or little updates saying how my story is jinxed. Even this blog was started on the 13th of the month. The release date for the novel is therefore very deliberate, and so I must work hard to meet it. To go and release the thing on a wet Tuesday afternoon in the middle of 2014 would be a bit silly.

So Friday 13th September 2013 it is.

That gives me just over 8 months. The only way I’m going to do this is to keep to a schedule. Having a schedule worked so well during November, even those days when I was at work, and so I must try to repeat that. Therefore here is my challenge:

January: finish first draft, minimum 1500 words per day.
February:put the novel to bed for a month; scope out advertising rates in assorted horror and sci-fi fiction magazines; create artwork for rear cover and promotional material; query respected manuscript editors for lead times on their services.
March:begin second draft
April:complete second draft; final readthrough and edits
May:submit manuscript for professional review and pace the house; start promoting the novel where I can; submit adverts where lead times are long
June – August:more promotion; tighten up novel in line with professional opinion; umpteen readthroughs until I’m sick of the sight of the novel
Friday 13th September 2013: time to release the beast! And then pace the house again.

How close I keep to the schedule remains to be seen, though at least it gives me something to work towards. Do drop by every now and again to see how I’m getting on.

In the meantime I should be writing.

P.S. Comic nerd moment: I’ve actually got that issue (#1) of Pinky & The Brain up there. Terrifyingly I think it is almost old enough to legally drink. Tempus fugit.

P.P.S. Okay, now I should be writing. Laters!