Hannu Rajaniemi is a new name to conjure with in genre circles. A mathematical physicist, his “The Quantum Thief” made serious waves in 2010; it was well observed, the characters believable, the science was accurate, and the narrative compelling. He went on to write several more texts in the same trilogy, and has now released a collection of his short fiction.
There’s something in the area of seventeen short stories in the collection, and they cover a startling amount of conceptual ground. From the nano-enhanced pets looking to resurrect their master, to a man who is drawn into marriage with a sea-spirit, there’s something here from all ends of the spectrum. Many of the stories have a post-human theme, looking at how people react and evolve (sometimes literally), when something occurs which changes the state of society out of recognition. Whilst some of the concepts are a little lower down the latter, or perhaps didn’t click with me as well as others, there were some works which ran with high-concept ideas (for example, the ‘God Plague’, allowing people to do, create, change whatever they wanted, including each other), fleshed them out, and provided a strong narrative around them – all in a few thousand words.
Hannu also writes good characters. Some of the stories show this off to better advantage than others, though. Probably this is a function of the story format, rather than anything else – trying to cover plot, world and character all within such compressed form. The story of a man whose family return to life one day a year is a great example of this – the character is well drawn, understated, and feels entirely human. There are other examples, and Rajaniemi managed to make me care about each of his characters, giving them room to breathe, even in such limited narrative space.
The worlds are similarly well-crafted. The reader only has a small window onto them, and typically it isn’t one blaring about the setting. Instead, there’s a quiet whisper, dropped asides by characters, worlds constructed by inference, rather than statement. The majority of the construction is left ot the imagination – and it works well.
The prose is always well done – easily readable, and lots of scientific background is made available without feeling like a technobabble infodump. Rajaniemi gives the words a more liquid, easy-flowing flavour, and they’re largely a pleasure to read. There was the odd awkward construction, but overall, the stories always had me turning pages, and the language always seemed to flow well.
The only sticking point for me is some of the experimental constructions in the text. The stories done by Twitter have a nice introduction, and they actually work quite well, as micro-narratives. I was less sure about the story designed to be read alongside virtual reality augmentation. I suspect it needed to have that more visual medium alongside it to really work – still, a brave experiment.
Overall, each of these works, individually, ranges from perfectly good up to excellent little gems of high-concept, high delivery prose. They make the reader think, they provide a new way to do that, and they tell great stories – I couldn’t ask for anything more.