Having reviewed another of Eric Shapiro’s novellas on these pages a while ago, I hoped for several
things from his latest, one of which was that it would be longer. It isn’t.
A more welcome discovery was the evidence of Mr Shapiro’s growing maturity as a writer. If he isn’t
writing longer books, he is writing better (as in "even better") ones.
Days of Allison is a science fiction story. Like his previous work, It’s Only Temporary,
it appears to be set in the near future, a future in which the paraphernalia of everyday life are still instantly recognisable
– apart from the robots. I hesitated for a moment as to whether I should mention that Allison is a robot. Since the
author gives the game away in the first few pages, I decided that this revelation didn’t qualify as a spoiler.
Mr Shapiro’s story-telling technique, honed almost to perfection in the course of his previous efforts,
leads us into the narrative via a pen-picture of the narrator’s relationship with his mother, a relationship anyone
lucky enough to have a mother will be able to identify with, at least partially. The narrator’s mother looks set to
be the only recognisably human character (apart from himself, of course) who plays a significant role in the narrative. Or
Science fiction (like its neighbour, fantasy writing) gives the writer plenty of scope for inventiveness,
but this carries with it a responsibility, one that Eric Shapiro does not shirk. Every invented or imagined object and circumstance
has knock-on effects that have to be dealt with. The successful science fiction writer is expected to build a three-dimensional
world in which at least some of the "obvious" questions are answered. There is a downside to this, which is that the narrative
can degenerate into a lecture, and at times Days of Allison comes perilously close to this.
What saves the author from falling over the edge of his own ingenuity is that this is a rattling good yarn,
which gathers pace as the pages turn. Perhaps a devotee of the genre would have been able to predict the turn of events, but
I didn’t see the twist coming until it landed shockingly in my lap. Maybe I should read more science fiction. If it
was all as good as this, I would.