[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
A few months ago, I read Hannu Rajaniemi's first two installments of "The Quantum Thief": not so easy to follow novels, but unique in their own right, because of their fascinating blend of science and, dare I say, poetry.
These short stories are a little easier to follow, while retaining this quality, as well as first sentences that almost always manage to pique my interest, combining as they do totally different elements. Typical example: "Before the concert, we steal the master’s head." We often hear or read that first sentences and first pages are important to grab a reader's attention, and I think this author manages to do that very well here.
Most of those stories kept me enthralled, although not always for the same reasons. Some of them were clearly set in a distant enough future that men had become digital gods, or launched starships meant to drop servers into spaces just like one would plant seends, aiming to create a network spanning entire galaxies. Other stories felt closer to contemporary times, while toying with Finnish myths and legends (Tuoni...). Not to mention the inclusion of Edinburgh: I very often derive pleasure just from reading about a city I know well and/or live in.
Generally speaking, I would divide these stories into three (somewhat loose) categories:
- The exploring of technology, pushed back to its limits and beyond, and what it means to be a sentient being in such a world. I use the words "beings" here on purpose, since not all protagonists are human: "His Master's Voice" features two extremely enhanced and intelligent pets, and is narrated by the dog itself. Brilliant.
The same applies to "The Server and the Dragon" (a lone server growing in space, questioning its own purpose), "Deux Ex Homine" (the story of one who briefly embraced a plague turning people into digital deities), "Elegy for a Young Elk", or "Invisible Planets" (where the protagonist is, in fact, a ship).
"Skywalker of Earth" has its own charm, in between a contemporary alien invasion adventure and a pulp serial—considering the people who initiated the conflict in it, and when they did it (1930s pseudo-science). I also really liked the idea of going open source in order to pool all resources available and fight back.
Certainly closer to our own time period, "Topsight" deals with what's left of people in the digital world after their death, while "The Jugaad Cathedral" explores the meaning of living in a digital world, most specifically a MMORPG, vs. embracing the "real" world, and blurs boundaries between both.
The one I didnt like so much was "Shibuya no Love", because its portrayal of Japan and its inhabitants felt too close to caricature. It was probably on purpose, but it didn't work for me.
- The mythical-tinged stories: "Fisher of Men" (includes Iku-Turso), "The Viper Blanket" (with its bizarre family following ancient rites), "The Oldest Game"...
- The others: "Paris, In Love", "Ghost Dogs", or "Satan's Typist". The first one was close to urban fantasy, in that the City in it really took on a life of its own. The other two are more the horror-infused type—the ghost dogs especially echoed Gaiman's wolves in the wall for me.
Definitely a unique collection, one that I will recommend without fear of the science thrown in: maybe the concepts will be lost on some (I won't pretend I understood absolutely everything either), but it doesn't really matter. Context, feelings and ideas largely make up for it, allowing to mentally draw a bigger picture in every case.