top of page
  • Writer's pictureRowan Fortune

Equinox, a multigenre parable

A review of the novel Equinox by Greg Michaelson and Ruth Aylett.

From the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky to the recent Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett pairing, speculative fiction of all types has benefited from collaborative authorships. The breadth of subject matter and prose registers such genres crisscross, invent and reinvent makes it conducive to a type of joint creation whereby different vantages can inform the tensions and associations at play, embellishing and enhancing one another’s unique styles to make something new. When this type of artistic conversation is at its best, the sum of the author’s output becomes impossible to tease apart in a seamless act of imagining.

If coauthors are good for such genre fiction per se, this is arguably truer for Ruth Aylett and Greg Michaelson’s novel Equinox. This narrative outing occupies and surpasses a variety of conventions; as Juliet McKenna puts it in her review, quoted on the blurb, it is at once ‘SF, fantasy, crime fiction and thriller’; a medley that nonetheless remains all of a piece, whether in investigative procedural mode or weaving wicca archetypes into experimental physics. The account is grounded in the world we know, replete with familial dramas and rural politicking, but joins that up with the fantastical to say something about our place in the universe and our more mundane social choices.

Aptly, we have a deuteragonist setup, with the point of view roaming between the two cousins, Helen ‘Hulkie’ McIver, a ship engineer and first aider, and Malcolm Nicholson, a Rannoch Moor ranger, sometimes bringing them in the third person. Scotland's moor and surrounding area is the primary setting, where the mysterious company F2 is tapping into cosmic and dangerous forces in response to the twinned pressures of climate crisis and profit. After strange goings on and murders deposit two enigmatic stones in the hands of each cousin, they are drawn into an alliance of necessity to uncover nefarious connections (esoteric and altogether base) while this spiral events compel each to confront their own stalled lives.

What makes the plot effective is how Aylett and Michaelson have created characters who are each differently difficult but sympathetic. The capable, no-nonsense Helen is a perfect foil for the obsessive, introverted Malcolm, and vice versa, but equally, even in the ways they mirror (their shared scepticism, independence and distrust), they still inevitably spar. At the same time, this tendency for the characters to spark off one another's foibles and eccentricities is not exaggerated or caricatured; they can see from the other's viewpoint and develop in their interactions. And this balancing of the heroes means that in a novel rife with opportunities for cheap deus ex machina contrivances, the story is propelled more believably and relatably by the people that populate it and not forced authorial interventions.

When magic (or magic-like phenomena) do interrupt events, it is always earned and generally in the form of obstacles, intrusions of an incomprehensible deeper reality that hinders the predictable flow of everyday life. Consequently, the fantastic never feels forced into the story, it operates by its own consistent logic and parameters even when they are not initially apparent. And that consistency facilitates a satisfying mystery story, one in which you can join up with Helen and Malcolm both in their initial bafflement and their many later hard-won revelations.

The language, even in its rhythms and expressions, is a core part of the character based storytelling; both the notably distinct but grounded first-person portions and all of the well-observed dialogue are utilised to give readers a fuller understanding of these people, their personalities and assumptions about the world, as well as their links to (and ruptures from) place and family. As the previously mentioned magical elements come into the course of events, the language again gives insight into older worldviews rooted in expansive Scottish myth and its enduring resonances for the contemporary hurdles of ecological breakdown now confronting humanity. On this and other points of theme, the authors eschew preaching and convey a sense of our predicament not via cartoonish villains but the grind of choices ordinary people must navigate with faltering success, but often surprising integrity and a capacity for self-sacrifice.

The novel can be humorously cynical, especially about the self-important, but it is never banally nihilistic. Instead, the world it depicts is one in which social tensions, unacknowledged oversights and assumed notions of what is the best result in turmoil and occasionally terrible choices, but also one where people with their own limits and vulnerability can act justly and decisively at opportune moments. It is then a book suffused with a humanist hope, and in its clear parable about the metabolic rifts that truly threaten our species, from pandemics to global, man-made heating, this is finally a fable that offers a sense of hard-won optimism—something fiction of this type is uniquely situated to deliver.

42 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page