an evocative piece of rural futurism set in the author’s native Devon. Some years hence, humankind has discovered a space gateway to a richly resourced planet named Qita, and wasted no time colonising and exploiting that world. An émigré Qitan called Isley now cohabits with Earthwoman Jem, and together they run the pub of the book’s title, nestled amid the moors and tors of the now self-segregated, fiercely independent West Country. Another Qitan, Won, turns up unexpectedly at their doorstep, bringing trouble. Meanwhile, a strange, transformative disease is ravaging the region.
Neural technology has webbed the human world together, but England’s West Country stands apart. The region is now a Protectorate for those who want to return to a technologically simpler time of craft, town-hall meetings and barter trade. Jem, back from the bloodless human invasion and colonisation of the planet Qita, wants that simpler life for herself. However, to complicate matters, she’s brought one of Qita’s peaceable natives back with her. Broad-chested, curly-haired and desirable (though not sexual), Isley is considered “one of the lads” at Jem’s pub, the Skyward Inn, not least for his Jarrowbrew, a Qitan liquor that prompts the retelling of good memories.
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (Solaris, £14.99) combines an intriguing, character-driven plot with great splashes of science fictional weirdness. The novel grips from the start, exploring with deceptive simplicity issues ranging from the difficulties of communicating with the people we love to colonisation on a planetary scale. It opens in a traditional English village pub, run by Jem, who has returned home from a 10-year posting to the planet Qita with a Qitan called Isley. Although there is a spaceport nearby, the villagers have nothing to do with it; they belong to the Western Protectorate, a region of Britain that chose to divorce itself from the complications of the modern world and adopt a simpler way of life.