Short stories, big ideas
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.