Our peripatetic journey around a world of science fiction that isn’t entirely Anglo-American brings us to Finland, a country that has developed its own particular take on fiction with a weird inflection. And there are three contemporary writers that really stand out, so much so that if you’ve not read them yet you are missing some of the most interesting contemporary sf around.
Johanna Sinisalo came to popular attention when her first translated novel, Troll: A Love Story, won the James Tiptree Memorial Award: a pretty impressive debut. Like so much of her fiction, it presents a world slightly at odds with what we know, and the way we negotiate this unsettling difference opens up a powerful story that deals with our relationship with nature and also gender issues. Thus Troll begins when a photographer rescues a young troll that is being attacked by teenagers. As a variety of news reports, tracts, folk tales and web pages paint a picture of a distinctly different world, so the presence of the troll gradually begins to affect the photographer’s relationship with his world and with others. The world around us is not to be taken for granted. In Birdbrain, for instance, a young Finnish couple hiking in the Australian outback find nature turning against them, the attacks seemingly orchestrated by a local parrot. While in The Blood of Angels, the world’s bees disappear into a parallel reality, leaving human agriculture on the point of collapse. In her most recent novel, The Core of the Sun, an exceptionally hot chilli pepper becomes the key to a quest through an alternative world where artificial women have been bred for sex while real women are sterilized and reduced to manual labour.
The underlying sense of the weird in Sinisalo’s work is transformed, in Hannu Rajaniemi’s novels, into a glittering, hard-edged future in which we don’t quite belong unless we radically change the way we perceive the world. His three novels to date, The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince and The Causal Angel, follow the adventures of Jean le Flambeur, the greatest thief and adventurer of this distant future who is rescued from an impossible prison to perform the greatest robbery of his career, a crime that will first involve him recovering his own memory. In the moving city of Mars we first begin to glimpse the fact that reality is not what we imagine, and across the three novels Jean learns that he is caught up in an immense game and his only hope is to become one of the players. His short stories, in which troubled humans often find themselves caught up in settings and stories that echo the northern myths, have been gathered in the collection Invisible Planets.
The sense of a world that is unstable, unsustainable, and a threat seems to be one of the characteristic features of Finnish science fiction. It is here, again, in the two novels that have come out from Emmi Itäranta. Memory of Water tells of a world in which water has become scarce, and China now rules in Europe. A young girls learns to become a tea master, an important position because it means learning the location of a hidden source of water. But such knowledge can be incredibly dangerous when the army starts taking an interest in her village. In The Weaver, dreamers are ostracized, but for one young woman her dreams may be the only weapon she has to protect herself and expose the dark secrets at the heart of her prosperous island home. Itäranta has also put togethera selection of Finnish science fiction and fantasy stories, Never Stop, that could be an excellent introduction to the new writers emerging from Finland.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.