An antiutopia, updated

30 September 2004 | Authors, Reviews

Leena Krohn

Photo: Ida Pimenoff

How many goodly creatures are the here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

The quotation is the motto of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World dystopia; in Shakespeare’s The Tempest the innocent Miranda sees strangers for the first time when a ship is wrecked on the shore of Prospero’s enchanted island. In Huxley’s world, created in 1932, children in the year ‘600 After Ford’ are bred in test tubes, and the opium for the people, ‘soma’, is taken to fight off anxiety.

Brave New World comes to mind as a parallel when reading the new novel by Leena Krohn (born 1947), Unelmakuolema (‘Dreamdeath’, Teos, 2004). It is set in the future, and the law has been changed so as to allow people to choose a gourmet death for themselves. Some want to make an artwork of their own death or are tired of other extreme experiences. The social services can also offer the impecunious a less expensive version: a small sleeping tube for a couple of hours, a sauna, a double hamburger – and a portion of ‘dayma’. The people who die at the special hospital in Brave New World are allowed to die to the accompaniment of cheerful ‘synthetic music’. But unlike ‘soma’, ‘dayma’ is designed to remove anxiety once and for all – after producing wonderful visions and music.

The potential of digital intelligence and human utopias as well as paradoxes that grow from human experience have often been subjects in Krohn’s prose, both fiction and non-fiction. In Unelmakuolema, which is her eighth novel, we encounter characters from her earlier fiction such as the doctor Umbra, who is compiling an archive of paradoxes, and Dr Fakelove from the novel Pereat mundus (1998; see Books from Finland 3/99), but the principal character is the anaesthetist Lucia. Her secondary job in the Posterus Institute of Cryonics is the deep-freezing of clients for a possible resurrection in the future. ‘What is the most important goal of technology? Is it not the mastery of life and death?’ Baskerville, the institute’s director, asks rhetorically.

At the centre of the British dramatist Dennis Potter’s wild antiutopia Cold Lazarus (1994) was a writer’s cryogenically stored head, which was ‘awakened’ in 2368, in order to project its memories through visual reality displays. At Posterus there is a moment of horror when the young people who have slid into vague anarchy succeed in pulling the electric plugs out of the wall – the clients are melting! Will the resurrection be cancelled?

‘Nothing withstood the storm of death. Nothing, except the human spirit.’ In the depths of Krohn’s bitingly dystopic novel, despite its macabre, sombre dimensions, there glistens, like a tiny light in the darkness, the will to believe in the change of direction, in that human power which has done good, for mankind and its planet.

Krohn’s gallery of characters are united by their thoughts about either the mystery – or the mastery – of death. In Krohn’s antiutopia the moral problems of the artist, for example, are manifested in different ways. A motto of the book (though Huxley’s motto would also be suitable) could be Krohn’s dry statement about the future of the human race: what can be expected of a biological species in which technological progress is combined with ‘artificial intelligence and natural stupidity’.

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