Few things delight me more than a strong, consistent short story collection. Anthologies, by their very nature, are varied, and the constant switches between authors can prevent the reader from gaining a sense of flow. But well-written, single-author collections are to be treasured. There is nothing like being taken by the hand, and following the author on a winding path to their inner world.
This is especially true with Nina Allan’s collection, The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories. Allan’s fantastic introduction provides a real insight into how her writing has evolved through the years, her tendency to avoid technology in her stories, and the central themes her stories cover; memory, loss, time, and sense of place. As a newcomer to Allan’s work, I enjoyed getting inside her head before diving into her work.
But the real treats here are the stories, and they are wonderful. Allan’s writing covers the uncanny, the unknown, the dystopian future, and most importantly, people. While most of Allan’s stories deal in some way with the supernatural, or the distant future, at the heart of every tale is a deeply human story. Whether it be pigeon racing in Heroes, a bracelet made from questionable objects in Fairy Skulls, or overcoming a fear of spiders in A Thread of Truth, Allan focuses on the characters, and how the events of the story impact and shape who they are.
But there were two things that made me absolutely adore this collection. The first is Allan’s frequent mentions of books and films. I think this is the first time I’ve come away from a collection with more books to add to my TBR pile. Mentions of Ray Bradbury, J.G Ballard, Chris Marker’s short film La Jetee, to name but a few. Allan is clearly an author who loves to read, and share that love with others. As a reader, this assured me I was in very safe hands.
The second thing is how these stories link together. I won’t give too much away, but it made me beam with delight when I came across an event, or a character, that Allan had mentioned in an earlier story. It gave validity to the world Allan has created. And I also felt rewarded, in a strange way.
The stories in The Art of Space Travel are warm, human, heartbreaking, and incredible. This collection was a very pleasant surprise, and I am now a huge Nina Allan fan. If you enjoy the work of Elizabeth Hand, David Mitchell, and Kelly Link, I think you’ll love this collection too. It is released on September 7th, 2021, from Titan Books.