Reading: Hannu Rajaniemi — Collected Fiction

The third from my recent sci-fi fantasy fiction adventures. I’m on somewhat safer ground with Hannu Rajaniemi than the other two. I’ve read all his works and—well, nothing’s quite measured up to his first, The Quantum Angel but Collected Fiction has some fine moments. I bought this because for the moment he’s still on my list of “will always buy.”

The cover! I haven’t had a good cover conversation with myself in a long time, mostly unmemorable, or in the case of almost all non-fiction, not applicable (“blue-grey cloth hardback with gold-embossed serif type … mmmhuh.”) Collected Fiction, he got a good typeface finally, two in fact, nice mix of condensed serif (with drop shadow) and monospace. And then there’s the Alien/Borg/Ex Machina/face of hot white chick attached to spiky cyborg body with boobs. And arse! On a sort of Asian/Japanese-y sunset-red disc and swirly blue-green background. Plus a couple of Egrets flapping their feathers loose. Definitely in Questionableland. Kinda like it. Still questionable.

So I was reading, reading … thinking, yeah some of this is pretty smart, but I really wish there was a bit more, you know … always having to define it in terms of what’s there, not so hetero, not so blah, not so other blah. And I read Tycho and the Ants, and The Haunting of Apollo A7LB, and His Master’s Voice, and Elegy for a Young Elk, and I’m thinking, ooh yeah, getting there, some nice and smart and funny and beautiful stuff, more like this, please. That thing of diversity, representation. Reading stories that could only come from Finland is part of this, it’s the geography and culture shaping what would otherwise exist within a narrow and predictable worldview into something that can only come from this place. It’s specificity: Not any place, this place … still not quite though … still wanting …

And then I read The Jugaad Cathedral. This story is up there somewhere with Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice in its simplicity and sheer radicality. It has ideas I’ve read before (possibly in other Rajaniemi works, maybe in Charles Stross’ Rule 34 or Halting State), but it’s what he does with these, the outcome, that’s critical and glorious, and I wanted a whole novel of this, not just a mean barely score of pages. I often question the reality or substantiality of the internet, doing things like building websites, it often seems low on meaning or value or realness. It’s a question of perspective. To use what is there to affect physical things, to gain agency and control of one’s self through an abstract chain of seemingly trivial, childish, imaginary things, this makes it as real as any engine or apparatus.

I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll just say it made me smile and laugh and filled me with such happiness, and when I blab the fuck on about diversity and representation, it’s this kind of story I mean.

What else? The collection got a bit floppy towards the end though Invisible Planets, Paris in Love, Topsight, quite a bit of Skywalker of Earth, all brilliant. Not quite as remarkable as The Quantum Angel, but high on my favourites for this year.