Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction • 2015 • SF story anthology by Hannu Rajaniemi

★★★★

Meta: Rajaniemi’s body of work, published 2015 at Tachyon Publications.

This is Rajaniemi’s second anthology after Words of Birth and Death’s three stories. It collects his best-of stories, re-publishes stories that are not accessible anymore and brings three previously unpublished stories. Their length reach from twitter size to novelette, they are in the genres of SF and weird fiction.

Considering that Rajaniemi published stories since some 10 years, one might get the impression that it is a bit early for a retrospective, comparing to other names like Zelazny, Vance or Dick. I found that some earlier stories showed the author’s unfinished narrative voice, and I’m not so sure if they’d have been published or that even that I wanted to read those.

Rajaniemi is an author who seems to have set out to deliberately confuse readers by throwing strange words and complicate contexts at him without any explanation at all. One should be firm in geeky physics and mathematics when he throws terms like quantum theory, dark matter, cryptology, or recursion unexplained at you.  That is my impression from the Quantum Thief. But don’t despair: He exploits his PHD to a far lesser extent in the anthology’s stories. Having stomached his novel, got used to this style I enjoyed them very much. But beware, they are not trivial. Either you like Rajaniemi’s style or you run away from it – it certainly isn’t dedicated to the weak-hearted who don’t want to leave their comfort zone.

A second characteristic is that he often mixes mythology or Finnish faerytale subjects and hard SF: Interstellar routers and dragons, wizard and robots on the moon. It remembers me a bit of Science Fantasy style by Roger Zelazny.

I was overwhelmed by the first half of this anthology and would have given it five stars. The second half brought the overall quality down. The stories are best as long as Rajaniemi’s imagination carries the tale. But when they need an easier style or when emotions and characters need to drive the narration, his stories sometimes lack – the plot is driven forward, leaving characters behind. Rajaniemi’s vivid imagination isn’t the only outshining factor – he also varies narration style and experiments a bit in structure (not always succeeding, e.g. with Invisible Planets).

I’d fully recommend this collection – as an introduction to the author you might want to cherry-pick a couple of stories, as a hardcore fan you’ll want to read the whole thing.

Finally, let me thank Tachyon Publishing for providing an ARC.

My favourite ★★★★★ stories were

  • Deus Ex Homine
  • His Master’s Voice
  • Unused Tomorrows and Other Stories (Microstories)

Zero or ★ for me were

  • Ghost Dogs
  • Snow White Is Dead

Contents:

  • ★★★★★ • Deus Ex Homine • 2005 • posthuman ex-god meets lover • review
  • ★★★★1/2 • The Server and the Dragon • 2005 • interstellar router creates baby universe and meets a dragon • review
  • ★★★1/2 • Tyche and the Ants • 2012 • warded girl faces kidnappers on the moon • review 
  • ★★★ • The Haunting of Apollo A7LB • 2015 • seemstress reworks a haunted spacesuit •  review
  • ★★★★★ • His Master’s Voice •  2008 • dog rescues master  •   review
  • ★★★ • Elegy for a Young Elk •  2010 • former poet goes on a quest with his sentient bear  • review
  • ★★★ • The Jugaad Cathedral •  2012 • minecrafting and reality • review
  • ★★★ • Fisher of Men • 2006 • weird fantasy • review
  • ★★ • Invisible Planets • 2014 experimental structure mainly • review
  • ★ • Ghost Dogs 2014 • coming-of-age • review
  • ★★ • The Viper Blanket • 2006 •  weird fantasy featuring a pagan cult’s human sacrifices in modern times, witnessed from a Finnish angle: An old man discovers that family blood is not the thickest. I didn’t connect to the story
  • ★★1/2 • Paris, in Love • 2006 • Rajaniemi expresses his love for Paris, embedding it in a sort of weird story where he visits Paris and when returning finds the city in his Lappland home. If you love Paris like me, this brings up holiday feelings. But for a story it isn’t enough.
  • ★★ • Topsight • 2006 • How long does it take to die in the virtual world? •  review
  • ★★ • The Oldest Game / (orig.: Barley Child) • 2006 • suicide turns drinking game: a betrayed, abandoned man seeks death, connects to his home soil, goes into a drinking game with an earth god. Weak start heading for a culturally rich setting with Finnish sauna, alcohol, mythology. Predictable end.
  • ★★ • Shibuya no Love • 2003 • One of earliest works, Rajaniemi tested his skills in this near future SF story, all a bow to Haruki Murakami: A futuristic gadget helps a Finnish girl find a boyfriend in Tokyo. Clumsy dialogues and an exaggerated Japanese setting with its fetishism are the negative sides. But I liked the mix of cultures, the characterizations, and the extrapolation of today’s gadgets.
  • ★★1/2 • Satan’s Typist • 2011 • Three page story as fast as the first paragraph’s rhythm. Title gives away too much.
  • ★★★★ • Skywalker of Earth • 2015 • Longest story in the collection. Pulpish space opera transported to quantum continuum: Some old guys from the 30s find an immensely advanced machine culture. Now they fight out their old battle on a galactic scope. Great characterization of these old, grumpy geezers and their old resentments passed to a futuristic setting. Weak dialogues contrasted by innovative setting.
  • ★ • Snow White Is Dead • 2012 • Neurofiction: Like in a choose-your-adventure this story automatically adapts to your wishes using a gadget. I don’t have it, so the linearized version presenting the average path taken by users doesn’t work for me. Neither do I like the experiment: I want to stomach the whole Buddenbrock, Moby Dick, Lord of the Rings, not the abbreviations I’d have taken out of a whim.
  • ★★★★★ • Unused Tomorrows and Other Stories • 2008 •  A handful of standalone microstories fitting in a tweed. Similarly, two space opera microstory series featuring a half-mummy detective. I’ve never been exposed to this kind of story but like it immensely. Can’t say if Rajaniemi’s are exceptional in this format but I loved them all. His inventiveness shines here!

 

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