The Art of Space Travel (Titan Books, September 2021). Cover by Vince Haig
I had the chance to wander the Dealer’s Room at Worldcon last week — and if you’ve never had that pleasure, I encourage you to do it at least once. If there’s a worthy pilgrimage for science fiction and fantasy readers, it’s the peerless Dealer’s Room at Worldcon. The only things in my experience that come close are the vast Dealer’s Room at Windy City in Chicago, and the endless Great Exhibit Hall at Gen Con.
As I wandered starstruck between the cramped aisles of booksellers, painfully aware that I couldn’t return to Chicago with more than I could carry onto the plane, my eyes lighted on numerous wonders. Virgil Finley art books, out of print for decades. Stacks of vintage paperbacks from the 1970s. Handsome sets of limited edition books from Centipede Press, Subterranean Books, and numerous others. A wall of press clippings about Worldcon, some dating back to the very first in 1939. Joshua Palmatier’s table, heavily laden with more anthologies than I could count.
And in the middle of it all was Sally Kobee’s island of tables, all piled high with new books. I wasn’t at Worldcon to buy new books — but you can’t help it when one catches your eye. And the first one to do so was Nina Allen’s new collection The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories.
Nina Allan has published short fiction in Clarkesworld, Nightmare, Interzone, Tor.com, Black Static, Shadows & Tall Trees, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and many other fine magazines, and appeared in anthologies such as Aickman’s Heirs, Solaris Rising 3, Dead Letters, New Fears, Drowned Worlds, and multiple Year’s Bests, including Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year, and Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year. Her novels include The Rift (2017), The Dollmaker (2019), and The Silver Wind (2019).
The Art of Space Travel contains 14 stories, including one original to this collection. It’s been warmly received, including by Gary Wolfe at Locus:
While not all the stories in The Art of Space Travel are linked (though we do see the same narrator showing up in pairs of tales, sometimes set decades apart), you end up with the uncanny sensation that there’s as much going on between the stories as within them…
The narrator and her friend in the lead story, ‘‘Amethyst,’’ become curious about the meaning of a song that is apparently about their hometown, and we’re given enough hints about the music group and its lead singer that we’re just about willing to follow that narrative thread right out of the story, though the nominal focus is on the friend Angela and her growing obsession with the idea that aliens may have visited the town…. In ‘‘A Thread of Truth’’, one of the most haunting tales here, the narrator overcomes his fear of spiders by becoming a noted arachnologist. After he meets and begins to fall in love with a fellow enthusiast named Jenny, during a ‘‘spider-watching weekend’’ at a remote house in East Suffolk – M.R. James country, we are told – the group decides to share ghost stories, and Jenny relates a spooky tale of a mysterious young woman named Alice Chilcott and her lover; only decades later does the narrator realize the connection between Jenny and Alice.
In ‘‘Microcosmos,’’ a young girl named Melodie is taken by her parents to visit an odd, reclusive man named Ballantine, who may be a relative and who ignites her curiosity by showing her paramecia through his microscope; decades later we meet Melodie again as the narrator of ‘‘The Common Thought, the Present Tense, the Known’’… set in a convincingly postapocalyptic world – tens of millions killed in tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, and such – but also invoking Melanie’s memories of that long-ago visit. An even more dispiriting future is that of ‘‘Neptune’s Trident,’’ in which two women survive mostly as scavengers in a future Scotland plagued by a terrifying parasitic condition called ‘‘the flukes’’ and constrained by something ominously (and spookily closer to home, now) called the Clampdown…
The brilliant title novelette ‘‘The Art of Space Travel,’’ which made it into multiple year’s best anthologies and earned a Hugo Award nomination, is set in the 2070s in a Heathrow hotel awaiting the arrival of astronauts preparing for a one-way mission to Mars. Emily, the head housekeeper at the hotel, finds herself increasingly preoccupied with her mother, a former physicist suffering from a form of dementia which may have been exacerbated by her role in investigating an earlier disastrous mission… The collection’s one unambiguous fantasy, ‘‘Fairy Skulls,’’ brings the same cool analytical voice to what otherwise might be a regional folktale about a remote house in Kent infested with fairies called menniken. Like Allan’s other tales, it has tendrils extending well beyond its borders, and we come away from The Art of Space Travel with the odd but exhilarating feeling that we’ve encountered a lot more stories than the 14 listed in the table of contents, as impressive as those are.
Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
The Art of Space Travel: A Writer’s Journey by Nina Allan
“Amethyst” (A Thread of Truth, 2007)
“Heroes” (A Thread of Truth, 2007)
“A Thread of Truth” (A Thread of Truth, 2007)
“Flying in the Face of God” (Interzone 227 March-April 2010) — BSFA nominee
“Microcosmos” (Interzone 222 June 2009)
“Fairy Skulls” (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, September 2013)
“The Science of Chance” (Solaris Rising 3, 2014)
“Marielena” (Interzone 254 September-October 2014)
“The Art of Space Travel” (Tor.com, July 27, 2016) – Hugo, Locus, and Sturgeon nominee
“Neptune’s Trident” (Clarkesworld, June 2017)
“Four Abstracts” (New Fears, 2017) — BSFA nominee
“The Common Tongue, the Present Tense, the Known” (Drowned Worlds, 2016) — BSFA nominee
“The Gift of Angels: An introduction” (Clarkesworld, November 2018)
“A Princess of Mars: Svetlana Belkina and Tarkovsky’s Lost Movie Aelita,” original to this collection
The Race and The Rift by Nina Allan (Titan Books, 2016 and 2017). Covers by Julia Lloyd
We’ve covered several of Nina’s previous releases:
The Art of Space Travel was published by Titan Books on September 7, 2021). It is 467 pages, priced at $15.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover art is by Vince Haig.
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