The stories in Hannu Rajaniemi’s forthcoming (May 2015) COLLECTED FICTION often start in full stream, looking both backward and forward. “The night after Kosonen shot the young elk, he tried to write a poem by the campfire” begins a tale of post-humanity, where squirrels pick locks, language animates matter, and a girl thinks in qubits. The timescape of a story may vary from millennia to microseconds, but always returns to the familiar metronome of a warm heartbeat, people dealing with circumstance, relationships made and broken, dreams shattered and rebuilt.
If you enjoy surfing the edge of mindspace and occasionally dipping into a wormhole of true otherness, I highly recommend this collection of stories, as well as his previous Jean Le Flambeur series. Take along your exocortex and reserve a few spare cloud cycles, to forestall brain overload.
His method for writing is to imagine a premise and then work out the implications, building a consistent gestalt. This may be derived (as he notes) from his training in theoretical mathematics. Not exactly science or fantasy, his stories inhabit an in-between zone, brightly lit and carefully limned. The result takes us to the heart of Paris, or to a space-suited soul of an astronaut, or to the existential reflections of a von Neumann probe. His prose is dense with thought and feeling, and each piece should be read twice: first for wonder, then for insight.
Rajaniemi’s stories are grounded in place, specifically Finland, with the slap of water at the edge of a fjord and endless summer days at the top of the world. They evoke an unfamiliar northland mythology: Tuoni the god of the underworld, Pekko the overseer of barley, Ahti with a beard made of moss.
These days it is fashionable to sniff at myth, secure in our enlightened certainty that von Neumann machines rule the day. We should perhaps wipe our sniffly noses and take stock.
Far from living in an age that has relegated mythology to the the back shelf of ancient history, hyper-rationalists today are actively conjuring figures in the mind’s eye. Our sufficiently advanced technology forms ghost images, and then life is breathed into these fearsome gods and demons: the inexorable thunderbolt of Moore’s Law, Pandora’s box of exponential returns, Olympian Jupiter brains.
Even during trippy excursions into mindlike cosmology he manages to a evoke humanity 1.0, the deep feeling of what it means to be a person. His purpose in writing may lie in “widening the space of the possible forms of human existence,” as he describes transhumanism, but such existence is rooted in our hopes and fears. In addition to science we find echoes of ancient wisdom, as when a character discovers a silence in his mind or another shakes off brain-numbing trauma with the help of the Gayatri mantra. Reading COLLECTED FICTION reminds us that a song can bring joy into the heart, and language can transform a life. Fine fiction like this expands our sensibility as well as our mind. As one character reflects, “there are always words behind words, never spoken.”
COLLECTED FICTION shows the beginning development of a rising star in literature, a writer testing forms and methods. I look forward to Rajaniemi’s continued developments in the craft, as well as his work in the practical sciences. The future looks varied and bright, and with storytellers like him to keep us company by the fire, we’ll fall asleep to the chatter of sentient squirrels and wake to the whisper of possibility.
Read the rest of Hutchinson’s thorough and fascinating review at THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY.
For more info on HANNU RAJANIEMI: COLLECTED FICTION, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Lius Lasahido
Design by Elizabeth Story