“Damn you, Occam’s razor,” thinks one of Rajaniemi’s protagonists, when rationality forces her to parse the impossible into the most likely. Incidentally or not, that story is probably the most flamboyantly incredible of those in the collection (think Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon). This has to mean something when the very first paragraph of the book runs like this:
“As gods go, I wasn’t one of the holier-than-thou, dying-for-your-sins variety. I was a full-blown transhuman deity with a liquid metal body, an external brain, clouds of self-replicating utility fog to do my bidding and a recursively self-improving AI slaved to my volition. I could do anything I wanted. I wasn’t Jesus, I was a Superman: an evil Bizarro Superman.”
It is remarkable how much range Rajaniemi shows here. Having read the Jean le Flambeur novels, I wasn’t surprised by the techno-miracles and post-singularity futures (fans of the trilogy will recognize a lot of familiar concepts; in that regard the collection very nicely modulates the vision outlined in the series). Even the micro- and “neurofiction” stories toward the end weren’t unexpected, what with him having a PhD in string theory, running a math think-tank, being a Singularity University alumnus, etc.
What surprised me more was Rajaniemi’s readiness and apparent relish in employing Finnish folk lore in the fantasy/horror-oriented pieces (some merpeople, a goddess of death and a heavy-drinking giant make appearances). Those evoke a strong sense of place, and of the people who call those places home and are in some sense trapped in them (associations with Mieli and the Oortians from the trilogy come naturally to mind); that is something that can enliven immensely any tale of the fantastic. His stories about outsiders in alien countries convey with equal force what it is like not to be at home, to miss that familiar trap. And there is that final cluster of tales that can only be called cosmic(I heard it on a podcast that Rajaniemi is a big Stapledon fan), half-fable, half-cosmogony, doffing proverbial hats to the likes of Calvino, yet blithely ironic and not shying away from some hot dragon sex.
Many of the stories erupt with similar bravado, right away; he knows how to write his first sentences. But his stories are not just flashy toys for the nerdier segments of society. In fact, they work best when they connect at a deeper level with real life.
Read the rest of Popov’s review at RANDOM’S 23 CENTS.
For more info on HANNU RAJANIEMI: COLLECTED FICTION, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Lius Lasahido
Design by Elizabeth Story