IN­VIS­I­BLE PLAN­ETS

Short sto­ries, big ideas

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews - Jonathan Wright

Given that his de­but tril­ogy fea­tured Jean le Flam­beur, a gen­tle­man thief mod­elled on 19th cen­tury writer Mau­rice Le­blanc’s Arsène Lupin, the unini­ti­ated might be for­given for ex­pect­ing the fic­tion of Hannu Ra­janiemi to be on the lighter side of SF. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

While the post-cy­ber­punk Quan­tum Thief and its suc­ces­sors take de­light in genre tropes and are writ­ten with a deft touch, they’re dense with ideas and plot switch­backs, and de­mand close at­ten­tion. The strange vis­tas of Ian McDon­ald’s early work spring to mind as a com­par­i­son.

One re­sult is that while those who get Ra­janiemi re­ally get his work, oth­ers just find it con­fus­ing. For the lat­ter, this col­lec­tion of short fic­tion may help. Es­sen­tially, it’s a sum­ma­tion of how Ra­janiemi got to where he is – which is a place where all sorts of bat­shitcrazy things are hap­pen­ing, and the gap be­tween the real and dig­i­tal worlds is at best in­dis­tinct.

It gath­ers to­gether work pre­vi­ously avail­able via such sources as In­ter­zone, themed col­lec­tions edited by Jonathan Stra­han and even an event at the Ed­in­burgh Sci­ence Fes­ti­val. The sto­ries fall, broadly, into two cat­e­gories: heavy-on-the(com­puter)-sci­ence SF of­fer­ings and tales that draw on the mythol­ogy of Fin­nish émi­gré Ra­janiemi’s home coun­try.

The best sto­ries are ter­rific. “The Server And The Dragon” is an eerie cre­ation myth; “The Haunt­ing Of Apollo A7LB” starts out as a spooky ghost story be­fore mor­ph­ing into some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent; while “Snow White Is Dead” grew from an ex­per­i­ment to cre­ate “a story that reads you, a Choose Your Own Ad­ven­ture with­out con­scious choice” – so no fault­ing the man for am­bi­tion. Other of­fer­ings, how­ever, are slight or – ar­guably a re­cur­ring fault in Ra­janiemi’s work – just a lit­tle too oblique.

A col­lec­tion that com­bines the hard sci­ence smarts of, say, Gre­gory Ben­ford with the hip­ster speak-in­flected ex­per­i­men­ta­tion of M John Har­ri­son, it’s the per­fect start­ing point for grap­pling with Ra­janiemi’s fic­tion.

Be­fore do­ing his PhD, Ra­janiemi did na­tional ser­vice with the Fin­nish De­fence Forces – as a re­search sci­en­tist.

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