THE PLANET SUITE by Allen Ashley, Eibonvale, UK p/b £8.99 (UK) 232 pages, ISBN: 978-1-908125-24-8, www.eibonvalepress.co.uk
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
When Gustav Holst created his musical Planet Suite he conceived it as a set of instrumental pieces with each separate movement thematically linked, the theme being the planets of our Solar System. Allen Ashley has created a print version of Suite but casting the movements as short stories in a slipstream novel. This might generate two questions, the first being the nature of slipstream. Most would regard it as kind of non-realistic literary fiction that crosses boundaries. The second question is whether this is a novel. Since the idea of a novel as being something new then this would qualify as Ashley is experimenting with a novel approach to his fiction.
Within The Planet Suite each story is equivalent to a movement in the orchestral version. Each contains common themes revolving around the lives of a group of friends. From childhood, Simon was enamoured with Jane Wylie. She, her brother Eddie and his best friend Jack were introduced to astronomy by Dutch Uncle Nicholas who sometimes chaperoned them when they played on the beach. Each story is a variation on childhood, later relationships and voyages by some or all of the gang to different planets. Woven into it is the idea that perhaps the universe is not what astronomers believe. The planets have different characteristics and the solar system is enclosed in a bubble that is impenetrable, the stars being merely reflections.
The adventures of the gang are not related in the way of a regular story but in the pattern of a musical piece as passages that are returned to and embellished. Between them are elements of philosophy and the fantastical.
Just as a classic of music, whatever its genre, is often reissued at a later date with additions, so is this book. The original publication in 1997 from TTA Press contains only the first 165 pages. There are now bonus tracks (chapters) of another three stories and like any deluxe version of a CD, there are the extras. These include interviews, commentary and reviews relating to the original publication.
This is a cleverly designed volume packed with rich, delightful writing. Whether or not you like slipstream, this is worth dipping into just for the quality of the ideas and the execution of them. This is a symphony.