There are two types of short story collections: those that are carefully put together with an overarching purpose, and those that shove everything an author has put out there in one volume without much thought to the former. After reading Invisible Planets, the collected fiction of Finnish writer Hannu Rajaniemi, two things are clear. The first is that Rajaniemi is an exceptionally smart mind and a good author, the second is that this is one of those everything shoved in one volume collections whose incoherent connections and lack of thought in overall structure make it an ultimately unexceptional and fairly bland read.
The good stuff first then. Rajaniemi is clearly a great mind. He has a PhD in string theory and his knowledge of scientific concepts, combined with what is clearly a great imagination makes for some bizarre and quite wonderful concepts and worlds. This is most clear in the titular story which opens with an apology to Italo Calvino (and bastardises its title from Calvino’s own Invisible Cities) and gives the reader a tour across several imaginative and surreal worlds. It’s also in this story that Rajaniemi’s prose comes across best with a poetic style that isn’t quite found anywhere else. “Zywie’s ruins are a scaffold. One day, life will climb up along its struts again, reach up and leave its own ruins behind for others to use, just another stroke of the pen in Zywie’s endless palimpsest.”
However, before we get to that point, we have to trudge through several fairly mediocre stories about moon magicians, servers and dragons. Rajaniemi also has a tendency to throw in last minute twists that, although they make sense, feel like last minute adjustments to an unsatisfying tale.
To add further frustration to the book, at the end we get ‘Snow White is Dead’. The overall concept of the story is a fascinating one, an experimentation in neurofiction, ‘Snow White is Dead’ is a story that operates as a choose your own adventure by just reading your brainwaves. Using binary choices and old archetypical ideas to create something which the brain can read without the reader even really knowing they’re making a choice. That all sounds really interesting, doesn’t it? Except that at the start of the introduction we get, “you should really be reading this story on a computer screen wearing an electroencephalography headset.” The story we get in the collection is just the most common choice combination of those who undertook the experiment. There’s little reason for it to be included, and the story is fairly poor (I imagine it would have been much more interested had I managed to find myself an electroencephalography headset, though we’ll never know I guess).
In the end then, this book isn’t terrible. There are certainly some good stories to be found within. But it’s not the kind of carefully put together collection that you’d expect. This is everything that Rajaniemi had to offer at the time of publication, and that’s fine for his fans. It just doesn’t work as much of an introduction to an author that I suspect is much, much better than this.
Any cop? For fans only.