Published by Osuuskumma Publishing in 2017, ‘Never Stop’ collects 15 stories from Finnish SF & fantasy writers, mostly published between 2013 and 2017 (one outlier dates from 2006). The following is not a review, but a continuation of my project to share notes on my daily short story reading. If you would like to read a review there’s a good one on Strange Horizons by Duncan Lawie.
M.A. Tyrskyluoto, Never Stop. I’m writing these notes almost a year after reading this story, and my memory is famously bad, but I remember this being a coming of age story in a dystopian setting, where the teen protagonist wants to escape the humdrum destiny planned out for him. One day he breaks a rule – an unthinkable act in his conformist society, and one that could ruin him and his family – but that tiny act of independence and rebellion opens him up to a whole new world. The story was engaging, but it more or less stops right after the veil is lifted from the protagonist’s eyes.
Jussi Katajala, Mare Nostrum. A random fact about me: I like cephalopods a lot. I think they’re fascinating creatures. I also won’t pretend I don’t love eating squid (although I made the decision some years back not to eat octopus). So I certainly found the idea of climate change producing hyper-intelligent Humboldt squid who begin a secret conflict with humanity over Earth’s seas a very appealing concept. This story has some fun skullduggery and its antagonists are quite sympathetic, all things considered. The story wraps up nicely, and I would actually love to read more in this setting.
Mikko Rauhala, The Guardian of Kobayashi. A young man steals a spaceship in order to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps in search of adventure and, more specifically, a treasure trove aboard a pre-Fall spaceship. Human civilization is supposed to have collapsed between their generations, and space flight capability has only recently been regained by mankind. The young man finds his treasure trove, and certainly finds adventure, but this is a case study in applying caution to what you wish for. The broader setting is just enticing enough to support a fairly simple story built around a twist.
Janos Honkonen, The Air Itself Caught Fire. A six year old boy loses his parents to a house fire in 1920s Germany. The enduring memory of this formative moment is not, however, a sense of grief or loss: it is the memory of a dragon, its head roaring through the fire. An obsession with fire, and with finding that dragon again, dominates the mindset of this precocious young man. As he grows older, his voracious intellect sees him win stipends to support his university education. Later, the Nazi government recognises in him great potential for its weapon programmes – and its nuclear programmes. Although the story’s protagonist Johannes is fictional, his story is mapped closely to famous historical events, and his obsessive, single-minded attitude is well-portrayed. I shan’t spoil the ending.
Saara Henriksson, The Whaler’s Wife. A young woman is intrigued by the tales of a wannabe whaler, and after the latter is repeatedly shot down by the sponsors he sought to woo she persuades her fiance to invest in the voyage. They seek a leviathan, an intelligent whale that will lead them to a mysterious hidden land replete with new resources to exploit. From the point of view of the 21st century, a kind of whale oil that is twice as efficient seems a poor return on such extractive violence, but fortunately the whaler’s voyage doesn’t work out quite as originally planned. I enjoyed this story. For the most part very little happens, but its story of budding and fracturing relationships, of the fallacies of drive and obsession, of letting go of one’s past and future, and of coming to terms with the world as it is, have a warmth that resonated with me.
J. S. Meresmaa, The Heart That Beats in a Dream. An interesting story that blends classic coming of age tropes with a cross-dimensional tale of familial bonds. The former is the story at its strongest, with the lives and concerns of its young characters well-realised and fondly explored. The latter is a little thin, primarily serving as an sfnal version of the ‘leap into the unknown’ that bridges childhood and adulthood in a coming of age story, and injecting some nice bits of weirdness into the story. Some of these might have benefited from resisting the urge to try and explain them, and certainly the sentient bicycle isn’t critical to the story.
Markus Harju, The Silver Bride. A story with a fairytale conceit, complete with gruff blacksmith, his downtrodden orphan assistant, and a request from a nobleman to make him a deathless wife of gold and silver. The assistant – Little Man, so called for his “misshapen” physicality – is tasked with fetching water from a magical river near the town, and it is here that he sees a vision of beauty singing as she washes herself in the river. He is dumbstruck by her song and the sight of her, though it is not carnal desire that affects him so. This is for the best, given how the story later develops. The tale has some nice twists and turns although, in retrospect, the blacksmith is a shitty father, the reveal about Little Man is undercooked, and the villain of the piece could perhaps have been dealt with in a less overwrought manner. Still, fans of Grimm fairytales and the wild implausibility of mythic storytelling might enjoy the grisly vengeance that is enacted.
Artemis Kelosaari, The Wings of the Hornet Queen. A steampunkish story set in the age of sail, and following a variety of officers in the British Royal Navy, plus one French naval commander. Foremost among these is Pike, nicknamed the Hornet Queen for her nature. Pike and her French counterpart, Rene, share a contempt for the conservatisms of their governments, and for the weaknesses and frailties of humanity – the demands and weaknesses of the flesh, though they have a passionate common interest in sex. Rene, like other French officers, is heavily modified with implants that enhance his strength and stamina, and mould his physical dimensions to the navy’s exacting requirements. Pike wishes to achieve something similar, and as the story opens her conspiracy to do so has been betrayed and she has been arrested by the admiralty. There’s a lot going on there, though ultimately this is a sort of steampunk Master & Commander spin on transhumanism, complete with contempt for humanity (Pike is betrayed because she seeks to experiment on orphan children with learning difficulties and fails to imagine that anyone she trusts might have a problem with this). The story ends without much direction; Pike gets her wish but appears content to continue serving the Admiralty, and heads off to get drunk with a subordinate.
Maija Haavisto, Josefiina’s Cart of Wonders. Another steampunkish story set at some undefined point in Finland’s past. Josefiina is an extremely intelligent young girl who is struck with partial paralysis, leaving her unable to walk. Thanks to her aunt – another very intelligent woman, whose very existence impresses Josefiina’s friends because she has gone to university in Switzerland, something no woman in Finland can do at this time – Josefiina regains mobility. This is due to the titular cart: a wheelchair. Josefiina steadily modifies it, and the narrator’s admiration for Josefiina extends to her “cart of wonders”. Eventually narrator and Josefiina part, their lives pulling them in different directions, but the narrator – inspired by this young woman – defies the destiny planned out for him and sets out to pursue his own path. I liked that this story frames a physical impairment the way that it does, and that the narrator is inspired as he is.
Anne Leinonen, Maid of Tuonela. This story derives from Finnish mythology, wherein Tuonela is the realm of the dead and the titular maid is one of the ferrypersons transporting souls to the underworld. There are some intriguing small touches – the maid and her father appear to possess metal flesh and nails, though it’s only mentioned in passing – and whilst this afterlife is familiar enough to the more widely known Greco-Roman mythic canon there are elements unique to Finnish myth. The story concerns a mortal who comes one day to the underworld – of course it does! – but is told from the maid’s perspective, and of course it is tragic. I enjoyed this story quite a lot.
Maria Carole, My Buttercup, My Everything. A creepy story about obsession and control. The narrator undergoes a bizarre procedure that, essentially, turns them into a sort of spirit or ghost that can only interact with the world through the narrator’s disembodied hand. This is sold as a sex aid to an attractive young woman. The relationship between woman and hand is rich and fulfilling, but the hand turns jealous when the woman brings a man home. Things turn out much as you imagine they might. The strangeness of the central conceit makes this story compelling even if the ultimate outcome is not in question.
Anni Nupponen, The Tiniest in the World. The smallest of all Lilliputians leaves their home town and begins to travel the world. As they do so they experience growth spurts – the first increasing them in size from a person who sails a nutshell boat to a small human – and adopt new lives. They learn, reflect, adapt and love as they live each life, but each always ends. The story is often surrealist but given that the narrator starts out as a Lilliputian there’s the suggestion that it be read partly allegorically. Towards the end quantum physics comes into play: “Quantum physics is a joke that physicists haven’t figured out yet, and supersymmetry is a longing, a desire to believe in simplicity that lives under everything and inside every perfect circle.” Courage and embracing change are put forward as the source of a richer, better life than the pursuit of simplicity and understanding. Playful and interesting story.
Anu Korpinen, Star in the Deep. A mermaid follows a great sailing ship, singing to the beautiful prince it carries aboard, and hiding whenever another might see or hear it. The ship is bound for the deepest of seas, beneath which something hungry and wild dwells – something originating within or drawn near the eponymous fallen star. The prince the mermaid is smitten must, of course, play his role when the ship reaches its destination. I liked that the mermaid is, ultimately, a somewhat selfish character, and their emotional state as they leave the scene and the story concludes I found wryly amusing.
Magdalena Hai, The Beautiful Boy. The titular boy is surrendered by his father to pirate raiders as a child. He’s taken under the wing of the brutal, terrifying and cruel leader of these raiders, and subsequently grows up among them. Eventually the two become lovers, and the boy struggles with the sense of threat he feels when the leader’s husband arrives. The pirate band is structured in two groups, with two powerful and mutually bound leaders balancing one another. The world this story is set in feels interesting and compelling, drawn with relatively few brush strokes, and seeing it through the eyes of someone who is both insider and outsider helps make it feel real. The broad thrust of the story’s conclusion can be seen coming, though the specifics present some surprises. I found the pleasure of this story was in the journey.
Katri Alatalo, A Winter Night’s Tale. A storyteller wanders from village to village, seeking food and shelter in exchange for a tale. We follow her as she visits two towns where she is welcomed, and her stories tell us something of her past as well as the myths and tales of her people. When she visits a third village, she is not welcomed. The story’s conclusion is surprisingly cruel, though I suppose it may be intended in the vein of a stern admonition toward those lacking in hospitality. Beyond that it feels awkwardly as though the petulance and entitlement of a wandering storyteller is held in higher regard than the lives of a community, and that this should be considered right.