Science facts, science fiction

Issue 1/1987 | Archives online, Articles, Authors, Non-fiction

Science fiction has never been one of the great success stories of the Finnish book business. But interest in the genre is nevertheless undoubtedly greater than the sales figures give us to understand. And there are other pointers: at present, for instance, five magazines entirely devoted to the subject are published in Finland.

In 1986 the astronomical society Ursa organised a science fiction writing competition, in connection with which a preliminary bibliography of Finnish science fiction was put together.

That bibliography revealed some surprising science fiction enthusiasts: some of the best-known names in Finnish literature, such as Mika Waltari and Toivo Pekkanen, turned out to have given their imaginations a holiday at some point in their careers and turned their hands to a couple of colourful pieces of science fiction.

The Ursa competition gave cause for a kind of centenary of Finnish science fiction writing. For the first Finnish science fiction story is dated 1886, when a Helsinki journalist named Viktor Pettersson published at his own expense a story called Kolmenkymmenen vuoden jälkeen (‘After thirty years’).

Pettersson’s story is a fantasy of the future in which he imagines what Helsinki will be like in 1916. In a tale which is at times highly satirical Pettersson mocks some of the phenomena of his own time, but is also able to predict some future events astonishingly accurately; for instance, he accurately foresees the prohibition law that came into effect during the 1920s.

After Pettersson, Finnish science fiction and fantasy literature lived on almost exclusively in stories and tales intended for children, until it suddenly became extremely popular during the 1920s. A great deal of the science fiction of the 1920s is written in the spirit of machine romanticism and belief in progress characteristic of the time, but there were a few dissenting voices, such as the well-known working class writer Toivo Pekkanen, who was extremely critical of the machine romanticists who viewed the entire world through their modernist spectacles.

Mika Waltari, as already mentioned, also paid a brief visit to science fiction, under the pseudonym Kristian Korppi. Waltari wrote tales that can primarily be classified as horror stories, but that from time to time nevertheless border on science fiction proper.

In Finland science fiction has always surfaced after times of crisis, in the 1920s and 1940s. It is true that, for example, in the 1920s the recent First World War did not colour science fiction with pacifist optimism. On the contrary, much of it was tinged with right-wing ambitions for a Greater Finland that would spread eastwards into Russia.

In the 1930s interest in science fiction abated for a time, but by the end of the 1940s it had revived. Far and away the most prolific Finnish science fiction writer of this period was Aarne Haapakoski (alias Outsider), a kind of mass-producer of thrillers and light reading whose books sold in quantity. Outsider created a character called Atorox whose adventures ranged from the Earth to the Moon, Mars and Venus.

The 1950s, too, were relatively fat years for science fiction in Finland, but subsequently interest in such novels disappeared again. During the 1970s it was really only Erkki Ahonen who kept interest alive with his novels Paikka nimeltä Plaston (‘A place called Plaston’), Tietokonelapsi (‘Computer child’) and Syvä matka (‘Deep journey’).

From the beginning, a noticeable characteristic of Finnish science fiction has been the small part played by so called ‘hard’ science fiction. In place of expertise in the details of hard technology and the style based on it, more ‘adapted’ or ‘soft’ science fiction has been the norm in Finland.

In the past few years Finnish science fiction has returned to its starting point, young people’s and children’s books. All the same, the various science fiction writing competitions have brought a good harvest: the two latest competitions attracted hundreds of short stories.

It is hardly an exaggeration to see these as good omens for the new rise of Finnish science fiction – although predicting the future is difficult, even in these circumstances.

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