Friday, November 24, 2017
The Gate to BSF
Reading Nina Allan's The Rift represents the moment in time that I came to favour British Science Fiction over any other genre/place. This was, of course, a gradual conversion, occurring between my reading of Adam Roberts' The Thing Itself, and the point in The Rift when I nailed down what its novum is. The latter occurs not early on in the action of the novel, one that is psychological in the same sense that Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is. We are not quite sure if the science fictional action is actually occurring, or if it just a figment of the protagonists' warped senses of reality. Mind you, these warps themselves are very real, having origins in painful traumatic events in their personal histories.
So, the verisimilitude is very fine, and lends the reading an urgency that a non-psychological approach might find, in a different context, very difficult to do. But the way the characters Allan creates interact, the richness and emotional complexities they possess, and ensuing irrational, unexplainable phenomena they create, lies at the heart of a novel like The Rift's success. This, as much as the literal and main novum I am about to describe, is equally as new as any of the novel's other successes, and is, as far as I can tell, a novum unto itself.
A complex of objects, feelings, and reactions revolve around what I can only describe as a 4-dimensional geographical time-slip that takes the form of a remote lake in a forest. The contents of the lake are actually catalogued in one of many sections that take the form of alternate representations of the world Allan describes: a sort of shopping list of detritus at the bottom of the lake that is dredged after Julie (Selena's sister, and we are never really sure if there are actually two of them) disappears. Others include writings of a person of some standing in a world to which Julie has somehow teleported (either literally or schizophrenically as it were), in the form of a book into which the narrative dips periodically; and descriptions of a creature called a cleef, that seems to be the cause or source of some kind of inter-world infection that may also somehow 'lubricate' or activate the time-slip.
It is without a doubt a very complex novel, but I didn't find it difficult to read, and the fact that its psychology worked so well helped immensely. My mother also read the novel this autumn, after I had returned from a summer interviewing tourists around the Culloden battlefield near Inverness Scotland (where I read the book in the evenings after watching Outlander some nights), and while she had some difficulty with the alternating alternative representations, told me she was deeply affected by this book. We've been having a great time re-discovering science fiction together (see the photo above for some of our foundational texts).
What happens in The Rift is really very hard to follow, but the emotion is not. The latter is mapped with such precision and clarity (despite the very muddiness of the subject matter itself), that I felt at times like I was inhabiting another life. Despite all its angst and unhappiness, I didn't want it to end (like life itself), and this is a sign of an elevated (high, even) art, one that rises above all the rest, and exists on a plane of its own. The Rift is a revelation, one that has infected my view of British Science Fiction as a whole, very much for the better. There is before The Rift, and then there is after The Rift, and there is no going back after. I kind of feel this way about BSF as a whole, actually, no small thanks to Nina Allan.