“A unique and fascinating near-future ecological SF novel. Buy it!” (Jeff VanderMeer)
The Race begins in an alternate future, on the south coast of England, where a failed fracking industry has reduced large areas of the natural environment to a toxic wasteland. Jenna Hoolman is a young woman who earns her living by making the high-end couture gloves habitually worn by the ‘runners’ who are the stars of the shady but lucrative sport of smartdog racing. The breeding of smartdogs has been officially banned by the government, but their use as intelligent weapons, together with the unprecedented economic success of the smartdog racing industry, means that the research program has gone underground and continues unhindered.
When Jenna’s infant niece Lumey Maree is kidnapped, Jenna assumes the crime has something to do with her brother Del’s connections in the drug trade. But Lumey is more than just a hostage to fortune. As a natural empath, she is one of the first of a new race of humans who can communicate sub-audibly without the aid of a runner’s implant. Desperate to recover her, Del conceives a plan that to Jenna seems desperate and doomed to failure.
In a present-day Hastings we meet Christy Peller, a writer who has recently returned to the town in the wake of a bereavement. As she looks back on the events that shaped her life there as a teenager, she remembers how as a child she learned to escape the influence of her violent and controlling brother Derek by retreating inside an imaginary version of the town she grew up in. As an adult she finds herself increasingly troubled by guilt over what might really have happened to Derek’s fiancée Linda, who disappeared from both their lives twenty years before.
Determined to discover the truth, she contacts Alex Adeyemi, a journalist who was Linda’s boyfriend before she met Derek. Alex’s return to the town prompts unwelcome memories of the bullying that marked his schooldays and forces him to confront his fears for his young daughter and the true reasons behind the breakdown of his marriage.
As the two realities twist and merge, we journey north to rejoin Maree. The kidnapped child is now a young adult, living in a croft community in an alternate Scotland with no memory of her former life in the south. She is about to embark on voyage to the country of Thalia, where she will join other ‘new race’ empaths to fulfil her part in the scientific program that has nurtured her since her early childhood. Maree has never had close contact with anyone outside the program, and her growing shipboard friendships with rich widow Dodie and scarred fighter pilot Lin make her start to question her previous assumptions about her life at the Croft and her forgotten past. There is a detective on board the ship, someone who appears to know more about Maree than she knows herself. In the aftermath of the horrific death of one of the passengers, Maree must finally choose which future will become her reality.
The Race went through so many drafts I lost count of them. The one constant – the passage that remained virtually unchanged throughout the writing process – was the sequence at the beginning of Christy’s narrative, where Christy watches her mother leave home in the back of a taxi. That was a key scene for me, that sense of helplessness experienced by a young person who knows their world is about to change and whose only defence is to retreat into the kingdom of the imagination. Also, and very importantly, the passage contains some of my very first writing about Hastings, so in a way it was a response to the changes in my own world, and to the vital need to assimilate my new surroundings into my imaginative life. I knew that section was staying, no matter what.
One of the key inspirations for Jenna’s narrative was Inarritu’s film from the year 2000 Amores Perros. I am fascinated by specialism of any kind, and Guillermo Arriaga’s story of the underground dogfighting scene in Mexico City really got to me. I thought about this for quite a while, wondering how I could use it. I knew pretty much immediately that I couldn’t have dog fighting as a subject because I find its inherent cruelty too personally affecting to write about it dispassionately in the way it needed to be written about for this particular story. Eventually I remembered a fragment of something I’d written and filed away some time before, about a woman who trained telepathic greyhounds on a distant planet. Everything about Jenna seemed to fall into place pretty quickly around that, and I could see at once how her life would be linked to Christy’s through the person of Del.
The final quarter of the book, Maree’s narrative, was the part of the novel that came closest to writing itself. I started work on the first draft of it in the July of 2012 and still remember how I felt writing that first scene, with Maree and Maud lying in the long grass on the hillside above Asterwych, that here was the stuff, the crux of everything I’d been working towards when I began writing The Race. Something about the sea, and warm weather, a young woman reviewing her past as she looks forward into an uncertain future.
Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review and called it ‘enticingly mysterious…akin to the best alternative history fiction’.
Barnes and Noble called The Race ‘a metaphysical, science-fictional mindbender’, declaring it ‘the best kind of metafiction’.
Tor.com described it as ‘absolutely remarkable…the best debut of the year to date’.
Library Journal compared the book with Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and made it their Debut of the Month.
The Los Angeles Review of Books found the book ‘intensely readable and intellectually sophisticated, The Race is one of the finest novels I’ve read’.
The Chicago Tribune said that ‘The Race is an ingenious puzzle-box of a narrative that works both as a haunting family saga and as a vivid picture of a future worth avoiding’.
You can read the Story Behind The Race at upcoming4me here.