Hannu Rajaniemi is a Finnish sci-fi writer who is best known for his Jean le Flambeur series, the first book of which is The Quantum Thief. The series is known for its take on a post-human society, where people are not confined to single bodies and are capable of living forever. I’ve only read the first book of this series, but I enjoyed it, and in a bid to get better at short story writing myself, I decided I would read his short story work.
Many of the stories in this collection present similar post-human worlds. Stories like “Deus Ex Homine” and “Elegy for a Young Elk” explore ideas of family in a post-human world, specifically focusing on the idea of parents struggling to understand their children who have become god-like figures. “His Master’s Voice” is also a fun heist story where a dog and a cat of augmented intelligence and ability team up to save their master from prison.
But not all of Rajaniemi’s tales in this collection are sci-fi. It is clear from his work that he is also a fan of mythology, and several of his stories prominently feature Finnish mythological figures. For instance, “Fisher of Men” is about a mermaid who was slighted by a man and so ensnares men in her net, tying them to her. Tuoni, a Finnish god of the underworld, appears in this story and several others. One of my favorite stories in the collection, “Tyche and the Ants”, combines mythology and technology. It shows a future where a young girl has hidden out on the moon to escape persecution on Earth, and she has created friends who are based on characters from (I believe) Japanese mythology.
The collection wraps up with two tales that explore story telling in new media. The first is “Snow White is Dead”, which was part of a Neurofiction project by Rajaniemi and Samuel Halliday. The idea is that, with the help of some special software, the story will respond to a reader’s thoughts and emotions, and the hardware will adapt the endings based on what the signal the reader is giving off. Of course the book doesn’t come with this hardware, so in the printed version Rajaniemi shares some of the popular sections that the device generate.
The final piece, “Unused Tomorrows and Other Stories”, were a smattering of Twitter stories that Rajaniemi put together. Some feature Imhotep Austin, a time-traveling mummy and hard boiled detective. Honestly I hope that this character one day gets his own full length novel. While I felt these tales were a bit disjointed, as might be expected given the format, it was interesting to see someone tackling story telling with a 140 character limit.
I also wanted to highlight two stories that really stood out to me, but that are less grandiose than some of the other tales in the collection. The first is “Shibuya, no Love”. In this setting there is a device called a lovegety which creates a kind of instantaneous romantic narrative with other users, letting people meet very quickly. As an avid daydreamer I found this story and the hypothetical technology very interesting and the story of generating a narrative with someone basically ahead of time definitely resonated with me.
The second story I wanted to touch on is “Paris, in Love”. There are a lot of famous stories about people who fall in love with cities, but in this story the city of Paris actually falls in love with a Finnish man who comes to visit. I thought this was a really interesting take on that trope and very well done.
Overall I really enjoyed this collection, and I think it’s a great set of short fiction. Rajaniemi has some really interesting ideas of what the future will look like, but I think his attachment to mythology makes the futuristic worlds he creates very grounded in themes and ideas that are still relatable. If you’ve read Rajaniemi’s novels, then I certainly think you’ll enjoy this, and if you’re just looking for a great collection of short stories, I would recommend this as well.