Ecological collapse, genetically modified dogs that bond with their human trainers and owners, the darker side of decaying worlds and the people trapped within them, and metatextual games. The Race by Nina Allan is a SF novel that is much more on the literary end of science fiction, much more Rachel Swirsky than Linda Nagata.
The Race is composed of several interlinked and interlaced stories, and finding and discovering the connections, even below the immediately obvious, is part of the joy of the novel. In part one, Jenna’s story is of a hardscrabble existence in a town devoted to genetically uplifted dogs, and the desperate life people on the margins sometimes live. It encapsulates the domino problem and the fragility of people on the edge: just one domino falling can bring down an entire chain of lives. In terms of more straightforward science fictional elements and their use, this was by far the strongest section of the novels.
Part two, Christy’s story, is the story of a writer, whose brother Derek’s dark and possibly evil acts mean that his long shadow casts over her as she delves into the true depths of his depravity. I felt the most uncomfortable reading this section because of the Derek/Christy relationship and the dark place that it goes. The threads of Christy’s story run directly into Alex’s story, met during Christy’s story. I was unaccountably discomforted for the entire center of the novel.
To capstone the volume, Maree’s story more firmly take us out into more intertextual realms, as we both follow her journey to a strange and alien land, and then find out the truth of her nature, and whose story it really is. And we learn who is telling these stories, and why. These last two sections, Maree’s story and its extremely metafictional coda, recouped the promise of the original section and brought the collection to a successful and strong conclusion. I was frankly happy to get out of Christy’s world and into another perspective.
The secondary world that Allan presents in the stories is and isn’t our own. In many cases, it feels more like a future version of a world very much like our own, but with referents and possibly geography that are different enough to make it clear that this isn’t and never was our world. For all of the fun of these metafictional games, the secondary and referential and interpolated world’s didn’t always gel for me as I hoped they would. It wasn’t as easy to pin things down as I’d like. Perhaps, though, given the metafictional nature of the texts, that was the point. In a way, the metaphor of the novel being on the boundary and edge of SF and literary space extended to the physical product. All of the book is undeniably written well, on a line by line level evocative, descriptive and emotionally resonant. However for me, the two ends and edges of the novel, the more charged SF portion at the front, and the highly metafictional back-end, were far more pleasant for me to read and enjoy, than its center.