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  • Spin
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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As a fan of Greek mythology it's always of interest to see modern interpretations of the ancient myths. Spin is based loosely on the legend of Arachne and her defiance of Athena. Arachne boasted that her skill was greater than that of the goddess. She refused to acknowledge that her knowledge came, in part at least, from the gods. Taking the themes from this story Nina Allan has given this ancient tale a modern twist.

Layla Vargas is a normal girl who has grown up with just her father on the Greek coast. The one thing that sets her apart from all others is her ability as a weaver. Her talent to create vibrant, colourful images from the silk her father manufactures is so good that it has prompted a change. Layla is moving to the city, to start a new life, taking a chance to control her own destiny. Everything appears to be going perfectly but who exactly is the mysterious old woman that keeps cropping up when Layla least expects it?

On a deeper level this story explores the nature of what it means to be a creator, what it means to bring something new into the world. How does the creative process and that intangible spark of talent blend together to make something new. Does the act of creation come from within or is there some unknown power guiding us? Through Layla's work, we get glimpses of this as she turns her artistic vision into something tangible.

There is a nice open-ended quality to the final pages of Spin. You're left in little doubt that all you've witnessed is just the beginning of a much larger story.

At first glance, Spin may appear to be a straight fantasy novel, but Nina Allan has also blended in a few nice science fiction flourishes. Set in a near-future version of Greece there are a couple of subtle sci-fi elements, handled very delicately, which add some extra depth to the story.

I'm fortunate enough to have travelled on the Greek mainland and also some of the islands and, even though the author freely admits she has taken some liberties with geography, she has perfectly captured the sights and sounds of this wonderful part of the world. It's so easy to picture the quiet coastal villages or the bustle of the city streets.

I read Spin straight through in a single sitting. It's not a huge novella, but it is thoroughly captivating. What impressed me was the evocative, sensory quality to the writing. Allan truly brings Layla and her journey vividly to life. This is a beautiful story filled with some wondrous moments. I always enjoy that moment when you discover an author's writing for the first time. Spin is a perfect introduction to Nina Allan's work. I will most definitely be seeking out more.
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on 14 May 2013
Note: This review originally appeared on my Goodreads page.

Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this novella from TTA Press.

Review: It requires a degree of courage to take an existing story and to then create another based around it. Such endeavours are often met with the immediate prejudice of the reader, who will naturally wonder why the author didn't create their own tale to begin with. (To all the lazy, execrable "mash-ups" currently clogging up bookshelves across the world, I'm looking straight at you at this point.) Yup, these days, if you're going to step into that particular arena, it seems you'll need a rocket-propelled grenade to accompany that trident and net of yours.

To then make your own story work regardless of the original, and when the original story itself is older than most every story in history... well, that requires a hell of a lot of skill too.

Which takes us to "Spin", Nina Allan's aptly-titled take on the story of Arachne, newly released by TTA Press as part of their novella series.

Set in a near-future alternate Greece we follow Layla as she leaves her father, Idmon, a successful dyer, and travels from her small coastal village to the big smoke where she begins to make her own way in the world as a weaver of considerable skill. Along the way she meets an old woman who informs her that she knew her mother, a sybil who died in tragic circumstances when Layla was a child. The old woman informs Layla that she too has the "gift" once possessed by her mother. What happens next... well, you'll have to get hold of a copy to find out.

Of course, those versed in Arachne's story may have an inkling where this all leads. As one who is not up on their Classics to the extent they perhaps ought to be, however, I'm happy to report that "Spin" stands up well on its own terms. You don't need an intimate knowledge of the source material in order to understand and appreciate the story. There is much to enjoy here, particularly for those who like their fantasy and sci-fi stories with a literary bent.

For me, it is in describing and fleshing out her alternate Greece that Allan really shines. Layla's expert eye allows Allan to fill her world with dazzling splashes of colour, from topaz sunsets to "the searing catamite yellow of the robes of choirboys" - a wonderfully barbed line that had me dashing for my Chambers (which is no bad thing). I'm fairly certain that the scorching heat described in the story upped the temperature in my house a couple of degrees, which was no mean feat given that it was close to Absolute Zero outside.

Even the parts of Allan's alternate Greece that initially jarred began to make sense the morning after the read before. For example, the casual mention of drachmas and their relatively low exchange rate clicked once one took into account the technological advancements that the country (or at least the wealthier element) enjoyed. Allan's Greece is a more economically sound country than the one we see today, and yet it is one that still carries chilling echoes of the very real racial intolerance and right-wing politics brewing there.

It is this attention to detail that should give you an idea of the skill and the care that has gone into writing this piece. Allan has an immense, poetic command of language and a vocabulary to die for. This is one for which you will want to pour a drink, pop your feet up on the sofa and to put your phone on silent before heading on in.

Ultimately "Spin" succeeds for me because Allan is not trying to compete or improve upon the Arachne myth, nor is she wilfully offering up a new and jaunty twist. (Meowmorphosis... please.) No, instead what we get is a highly personal piece that was written for and is dedicated to her father. No RPG's were needed in the arena after all, folks. The fight wasn't there to begin with.

In short, I'd heartily recommend "Spin" to fans of literary sci-fi and fantasy, and especially to those already familiar with Nina Allan's work. If you tick any of those boxes then I doubt you'd be disappointed with this.
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on 11 May 2013
Nina Allan's "Spin" is the second of TTA's new series of novellas -- the astute amongst you will remember that I also reviewed the first; "Eyepennies" by Mike O'Driscoll. "Spin" is set in a strange version of Greece, which seems recognisable, but strays in distinct ways into a fantastically strange world.

Layla, the daughter of dye magnate, leaves home to make her own life and find success as a weaver. But, with the death of her mother -- executed for "clairvoyancy" crimes -- hanging over her, she struggles to escape the uncomfortable touch of destiny.

There are layers of meaning hidden within this story -- hidden to a depth that I don't seriously believe that I have understood them all. One, on the very edge of my periphery, is a heavy influence of the classical myth of Arachne. But as I said, I know very little about that.

I did, however, still enjoy the story in its own rights.

Allan has created a palpable sense of location here. The prose drips with a hot Mediterranean sweat which gives the whole story a sense of slow and exotic weariness, a real palpable sense of both the weather and the lingering sense of oppression. Layla is very much a woman trapped; by her parentage, by the expectations of the people she meets, and by her own gift for embroidery.

So too the characters hum with a vitality of their own. Layla leads the charge, with an achingly sympathetic urge for freedom and independence -- ultimately the architect of a peculiar kind of arrogance which forms her downfall. But behind her is a rich and fascinating cast. Bit parts, mostly, but they all feel complete and whole. Like we are simply passing through their stories, and that greater of them remains untold -- but that is a different tale.

Of course, the flipside of such an abstract tone is that it requires closer attention. Twisting avenues of plot and description will see the unfocused reader lost and turned around. Several times I had to re-read passages simply because their labyrinthine complexity had confused me.

But to call this anything but excellent would be a lie. I loved it because it excited me, and I found myself so easily consumed by it. With beautiful settings and compelling characters, Allan writes a subtle smudging of real-world lines, blurring fantasy and reality into a heady and intoxicating cocktail.
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on 12 March 2016
Nina Allan takes the myth of Arachne’s metamorphosis and reimagines it in a strangely altered modern version of Greece, in which iPads and mobile phones co-exist with sibyls, bizarre executions and the power of gifted protagonist Layla, who may be able to fashion the future as she does her tapestries. As Layla leaves home and begins to find her way in Atoll City, she finds herself increasingly obsessed with an old woman who sat next to her on the bus. Who is this lady, and how does she know so much about Layla and the mysterious fate of her mother?
The author weaves ideas about time and space into a subtle and compelling narrative that explores ways in which the future is crafted, from the nature of choice to divine intervention. As in Allan’s ‘The Silver Wind’, the protagonist lives in a dictatorship, whose extremes are another level of fatalistic control, in order to do ‘the undoable’; either turn back time or, in this case, heal an incurable disease.
The Mediterranean landscape is beautifully evoked but its beauty is a striking correlative to the ambiguous fires of creative power; the glorious heat is overwhelming and the lovely cobalt blue waters a place of death. However, for all its otherworldly tension, the story is primarily that of a young woman in a new city as she finds her first job, has her first affair and begins to discover her potential. There is an emotional rawness beneath the deceptively elegant prose that suggests honesty and integrity are the best ways to negotiate the metaphysical confusions of the story’s fractured age, and by implication our own.
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I became aware of Nina Allan by reading one of her short stories, Bellony, in the Blind Swimmer anthology (Eibonvale Press, 2010). Then I had a chance to read The Silver Wind (Eibonvale Press, 2011), which was a fascinating short story collection. I was very impressed by her writing, because her stories were good, so I'm glad that I had a chance to read and review Spin, which is without a doubt one of this year's best novellas.

The author has created an alternate and futuristic Mediterranean world. She blends fantasy with science fiction and mythology in an entertaining way to create a new and modern reimagining of the Arachne myth. Her version of the Arachne myth is genuinely fascinating and will be of interest to several readers who enjoy reading good and well constructed stories.

Here's a few words about the story: The protagonist is Layla Vargas, who makes panoramas and tapestries. Nashe Crawe asks Layla to help her son, Alcander, but Layla says that she can't heal him...

Layla is an interesting character, because the author writes fluently about all aspects of her life. Her transformation is the core of the story, because she has a gift and she has to accept who she is. It was interesting to read about her inner struggle with her gift.

There are wonderful scenes in this novella. The scenes with Alcander are written beautifully and touchingly. It was fascinating to read about Alcander's disease, because it made him look different. The scenes with the old woman, Thanick Acampos, were also well written.

Nina Allan writes good prose and easily captures the heart of the reader with her descriptions about the places and people. She is a talented author who clearly has a vivid imagination. In my opinion she writes beautifully about weavers, sybils, clairvoyance laws, spiders (Saint Joan Spiders) and other things.

If you're looking for an extraordinary and beautifully written story that will charm you with its happenings you've just found it. Spin is perfect entertainment for SFF readers, because it's a well written and surprisingly literary novella, which combines science fiction, fantasy and mythology.

Excellent novella!
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on 12 May 2013
The story is about Layla, a gifted young lady with a troubled past. She is a weaver who has a gift, like her mother before her. She leaves her father and the coast to make a life for herself in the big city. There she meets Nasha Crewe who wants her to change the fate of her son, Alcander. She says that she does not have the power to do so, but after meeting Alcander, she weaves...

Set in an alternate Greece, this is a re-imagining of the Arachne myth. Nina Allan draws upon her own experiences of the hot Mediterranean country, and its rich history. Her descriptions of the places, people and culture don't so much as draw you in, but involve you. You are there with Layla experiencing the sights and sounds of Corinth and its suburbs.

I started to read this one evening, with the intentions of reading through the book over the next few days. I sat and read it through in one sitting. I was completely drawn in to the flawless literary prose. This is one of those books that you not so much as can't put down, as you don't realise you haven't put it down until it is finished.

Now I am not normally a fan of alternate histories, nor am I classically read, but neither of these stopped me from enjoying this novella immensely. I can't recommend this book enough.

I would also suggest you read Nina Allan's 'Story behind Spin' for more about this story.

Sean P Chatterton
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