Hannu Rajaniemi is one of the bright young things of speculative fiction. His Jean le Flambeur trilogy is high-octane , fast-paced and wildly inventive. Small press Tachyon Publications is publishing a collection of his short fiction tomorrow, in a limited edition hardback (I got an advance review copy via NetGalley).
The short fiction in this collection is slower-paced than Rajaniemi’s full-length work, and you can see the exploration of recurring themes around identity and human consciousness. Both of these are repeatedly fractured as a result of technology, posing questions about what makes us truly human. There is also a strong thread of traditional fairy tale running through this collection, often drawing on Rajaniemi’s Finnish heritage.
Stories like “Deus ex Homine”, “His Master’s Voice” and “Elegy for a Young Elk” explore the post-human. What would happen if human consciousness could be augmented by technology? Or if we could augment our pets, increasing their intelligence and teaching them new skills? Humans are granted god-like powers and surrender their bodies to live as pure consciousness. But human flaws and the thirst for power expose themselves, often exacerbated by sentient viruses. “The Server and the Dragon” paints a fantastical picture of far future predators preying on our own technology.
More explicitly in the fairy-tale tradition (even if more techno-fairy tales than anything else), “Tyche and the Ants” shows us a lost child whose world is populated by projections of her own fractured identity and consciousness. “Fisher of Men” reads as a deeply traditional story about a man bewitched by the daughter of the sea-god Ahti who has to undertake a quest to find a lost item to free himself. In a twist on the traditional form, in “The Oldest Game” a man enters a contest with a god to be allowed to die.
“The Jugaad Cathedral” is a cautionary tale about the impact of controls on our technology and the impacts of walled gardens. Without the access to underlying code and systems, people become dependent on their suppliers and providers, and the space for ingenuity and artistry is gone.
The longest piece in the collection, “Skywalker of Earth”, is a rip-roaring pulp epic in the style of Flash Gordon. It’s all mad scientists building their own spaceships, but given a modern riff with the addition of crowd-sourcing.
There is much here that Rajaniemi fans will recognise, and many of the stories seem to be set in the same world as his Jean le Flambeur series of books. The collection gives one a real sense of the author playing with the ideas that form a large part of his later work and settling on his voice and style. This makes for a very interesting and engaging collection of short fiction.
Goodreads rating: 3*