Hannu Rajaniemi, Collected Fiction

To read Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction is to get thrown immediately into the deep end. There are no warmup stories here, no simpler pieces to ease the reader into Rajaniemi’s voice and style. Instead, the very first story bombards the reader with the technical language of a highly wired, gloriously convoluted future. It’s sink or swim; either you’re along for the ride or you’re hopelessly lost.

Cover of Hannu Rajaniemi, Collected FictionYet all of this hypertechnical virtuosity is couched in the language of purest mythology. Switching effortlessly between science fiction and fantasy, Rajaniemi swaps stories of a “god plague” that grants its victims incredible powers for a tale of a man (a tech geek, of course) who finds himself betrothed to a goddess, and who must rely on his knowledge of the old ways to free himself. Artificial intelligences who are also explorers grapple with dragons who are also viruses; returns to family turn into encounters with gods of the soil and underworld. There’s no barrier between the magical and the technological. For all intents and purposes, in these stories they are the same.

What he’s really writing about, of course, is power; the godlike power modern technology grants us framed in the context of things we once thought were only imaginary. The sheer volume of information at our fingertips now dwarfs the greatest libraries in history, and with that knowledge we can do wonderful - or terrible - things. Rajaniemi understands that and communicates it effortlessly. After all, where’s the difference between an oracle and a smartphone ap that can unerringly predict the outcome of a possible rendezvous?

And so Rajaniemi paints glorious pictures of what happens when that power gets put to use, for good or for ill. “Skywalker of Earth” essentially takes Doc Smith’s Lensman series and examines it in the context of modern crowdsourcing and information technologies. “Elegy for a Young Elk” finds poetry and heartbreak in the wars and romances of artificial intelligences, all balanced on the actions of one man the world has left behind. “Deus Ex Homine” touches on the desperately human needs of those touched by the God Plague. And “Snow White Is Dead” is as much an artifact as it is a narrative, intended to be read while hooked into an electroencephalography helmet so the story can read the reader’s reactions and decide how it should go.

Not every story is as fraught with the dynamics of knowledge and power, but the ones dwelling a few steps back from the bleeding edge are no less spectacularly written. “Paris, In Love” is a droll fable about a city falling in love with a tourist instead of the other way around. “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” is two love stories wrapped around a ghost story tucked into the stitching of a haunted spacesuit. “His Master’s Voice” is quite literally a shaggy dog story, mixed with transhuman technology and household pets who DJ.

I could go on, but there’s no need. Every story in the collection is a gem, one that delights in playing with expectations before simultaneously dodging and exceeding them. To read Collected Fiction is to be shown something new and wonderful at every turn. The only possible complaint a willing reader could have of it is that it ends far too soon.

(Tachyon, 2015)

[Editor’s note: The Green Man Review previously reviewed Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief and sequel, The Fractal Prince. You can find Hannu Rajaniemi is on Twitter. ]

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