Wednesday, 1 January 2014

It Came From the North

(December 2013)

After the success of Jagganath last year, it seemed like a good idea to revisit Cheeky Frawg’s latest Nordic short story collection. North is an anthology of Finnish speculative fiction, and it’s a bit more of a mixed bag to be honest.

Partly I think it’s an issue inherent in the brief: the only unifying features of these stories are the nationality of the authors and that they all contain some SFnal elements. The effect is that there’s no kind of overall theme or coherence (‘Finnishness’ being as disparate and varied as ‘Englishness’ or any other type of ‘~ness’ you care to mention). You could spin that as a guarantee of variety, I suppose, but my personal experience was more disjointed.

Anyway, the positives. Cartia Forsgren’s ‘Hairball’ is a gloriously weird opener telling of a love triangle between two flatmates and a plughole hair-clot; Hannu Rajaniemi (he of The Quantum Thief) perhaps unsurprisingly provides the most recognizably science fictional offering with ‘Elegy for a Young Elk’, which I enjoyed immensely; ‘Chronicles of a State’ is Olli Jalonen’s powerfully satirical warning on abuse of power and seems particularly prescient in light of Japan’s disgraceful new secrets law, but given the subject matter I suspect it will sadly never not be relevant; Mari Saario’s ‘The Horseshoe Nail’ is, by contrast, a charming but bittersweet tale about loss and the intrusion of the fantastic into the mundane. My favourite story though is perhaps also the shortest: Leena Likitalo’s ‘Watcher’, which is a magical, terrifying, and beautifully contained parable on envy and the partial perspective.

My least favourite story, by contrast, is also the longest. ‘Those Were the Days’ by Ilmari Jääskeläinen is the final offering and, at about 20% of the book, pushing novelette (or perhaps novella, who knows?) territory. It’s an interesting idea but fairly repetitive, and in coming at the end of the book it just drags, frankly. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t do enough to justify devoting such a large chunk of this anthology to it, and I can’t help but wonder at that decision. I also can’t help wondering at the inclusion of author profiles before each story, as opposed to sticking them all together at the end. This is a neutral decision, but the fact is a lot are basically just advertising, and all finish with a rather dispiriting intro to the story along the lines of, ‘in Story X author Y does a thing in a way with a character. Dot, dot, dot’ (after a while you can’t help but hear the ellipses in your head). It’s as though the editor doesn’t trust the readers enough to just let them read the stories by themselves, or perhaps it shows an awareness of how the profiles pull you out of the experience and is an attempt to ease you back in. But in that case why not just move the damn things to the end?

It’s just a quibble, but it does reinforce my feeling that this is a book probably best enjoyed by dipping in and out sporadically instead of reading straight through. That said, and the annoying editorial intrusion and lack of thematic cohesion aside, there’s definitely a lot of good stuff here and the ambition to make more translated SF easily available deserves to be supported. Money well spent, I think.


  1. This is one I'm looking forward to reading, although I may do something unconventional for me and read that last story first just to not be as disappointed at the end.

    I don't always mind the lack of unifying theme as long as the quality of stories is maintained.

    1. Yeah, I guess I've been a bit spoiled recently with the anthologies I've read, as they all hung together as a whole as well as being a very good collection of parts. Not so here, but that's not to say the individual stories aren't good.. Starting at the end certainly wouldn't change the experience all that much, I don't think.

  2. While this seems interesting... I just put a hold on Jagganath at the library instead. Why can't fantastic covers always hold fantastic words inside? It Came From the North looks whimsical as hell. Oh well.

    1. Oh, hey! Welcome back!

      It's a great cover, isn't it? I should probably emphasise that there's a lot of good stuff in this one, and at least when I bought it the ebook wasn't that pricey so I certainly didn't feel ripped off. But as I said to Carl, the more time that passes the more I think I might have been a bit harsh on this by judging it against the more thematically coherent collections I've been reading of late.

      Jagganath is better. But then Jagganath is phenomenal, so there's no shame in that. You'll love it :)