Nina Allan should be a familiar name to readers of Albedo One, if not for her impressive list of short story publications, then as the winner of the International Aeon Award Short Fiction Contest 2006-2007 for her fine story “Angelus”.
The second in the TTA Novellas series, Spin tells the odyssey of Layla as she travels across a futuristic Greece in search of answers to the eternal questions – who am I and what am I doing here? Layla’s mother, a gifted poet, was drowned when Layla was still a child, amidst claims that she was a sibyl. In the world of Spin, sibyls are prophet-type figures who can not only see the future but who also have the potential to unravel time itself – hence the talent being punishable by death upon discovery. As far as Layla is concerned, the very concept of time-bending oracles is sheer superstition, but as her journey progresses, she begins to wonder whether her own skill as an embroiderer has supernatural provenance and whether she might have powers that are not of this world.
A reweaving of the Arachne myth, Spin seamlessly blends mythology, futurism and fantasy in a manner that will be familiar to readers of Allan’s work. The near-future setting is one of the most successful elements of this novella. There are things we recognise, such as rusting and rickety buses and the ubiquitous iPads, but then we have The Atoll and the city of Athena – locations that could equally have been created by some earthly catastrophe or fantastic event. The descriptions are evocative and memorable, bringing the reader to a time and place that resonates with authenticity and sparkles with a subtle and exotic flavour of the unknown.
Spin unravels slowly. Every event, no matter how trivial-seeming, is part of Layla’s journey and therefore important. But although Allan takes the time to ground the narrative in a realistic setting, the dreamlike nature of parts of Spin and the unhurried pacing can break the spell from time to time. I felt little connection to the character of Layla, who seemed as much a vehicle and muse for Allan as a fully-fleshed protagonist. Ultimately, this reduced the power of Spin somewhat for me, but it remains a vibrant and well-worked re-imagining of a classic myth.