Tag: science fiction

Not so weird?

12 December 2013 | Non-fiction, Reviews

Johanna Sinisalo. Photo: Katja Lösönen

Johanna Sinisalo. Photo: Katja Lösönen

Johanna Sinisalo’s new novel Auringon ydin (‘The core of the sun‘, Teos, 2013), invites readers to take part in a thought experiment: What if a few minor details in the course of history had set things on a different track?

If Finnish society were built on the same principle of sisu, or inner grit, as it is now but with an emphasis on slightly different aspects, Finland in 2017 might be a ‘eusistocracy’. This term comes from the ancient Greek and Latin roots eu (meaning ‘good’) and sistere (‘stop, stand’), and it means an extreme welfare state.

In the alternative Finland portrayed in Auringon ydin, individual freedoms have been drastically restricted in the name of the public good. Restrictions have been placed on dangerous foreign influences: no internet, no mobile phones. All mood-enhancing substances such as alcohol and nicotine have been eradicated. Only one such substance remains in the authorities’ sights: chilli, which continues to make it over the border on occasion. More…

Bring on the white light

12 December 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Auringon ydin (‘The core of the sun’, Teos, 2013). Introduction by Outi Järvinen

Jare, March 2017

‘We call the chilli the Inner Fire that we try to tame, just as our forefathers tamed the Worldly Fire before it.’

Mirko pauses dramatically, and Valtteri interrupts. ‘Eusistocratic Finland offers us unique opportunities for experimentation and development. Once all those intoxicants affecting our neurochemistry and the nervous system have been eradicated from society, we will be able to conduct our experiments from a perfectly clean slate.’

‘We fully understand the need to ban alcohol and tobacco. These substances have had significant negative societal impact. And though in hedonistic societies it is claimed that drinks such as red wine can, in small amounts, promote better health, there is always the risk of slipping towards excessive use. All substances that cause states of restlessness and a loss of control over the body have been understandably outlawed, because they can cause harm not only to abusers themselves but also to innocent bystanders,’ Mirko continues.

This is nothing new to me, but I must admit that the criminalisation of chillies has always been a mystery to me. By all accounts it is extremely healthy and contains all necessary vitamins and antioxidants. A dealer that I met once told me that people in foreign countries think eating chillies can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels – and even prevent cancer. If someone makes a pot of tom yam soup, sweats and pants over it and enjoys the rush it gives him, how is that a threat, either to society or to our health? More…

Me and my shadow

7 March 2013 | Fiction, Prose

Hotel Sapiens is a place where people are made to take refuge from the world that no longer is habitable to them; the world economy has fallen – like the House of Usher, in Edgar Allan Poe’s story – and with it, most of what is called a civilised society. A rapid synthetic evolution has taken humankind by surprise, and the world is now governed by inhuman entities called the Guardians. ‘Kuin astuisitte aurinkoon’ (‘As if stepping into the sun’) is a chapter from the novel Hotel Sapiens ja muita irrationaalisia kertomuksia (‘Hotel Sapiens and other irrational tales’, Teos, 2012), where several narrators tell their stories

The fog banks have dissipated; the sky is empty. I cannot see the sails or swells in its heights, nor the golden cathedrals or teetering towers. I would not have believed I could miss a fog bank, but that’s exactly what it’s like: its disappearance is making me uneasy. For all its flimsiness and perforations it was our protection, our shield against the sun’s fire and the stars’ stings. Now the relentlessly blazing sun has awakened colours and extracted shadows from their hiding places. The moist warmth has dried into heat and the Flower Seller’s herb spirals have dried up into skeletons. The leaves on the trees are full of bronze, sickly red and black spots. Though there is no wind and autumn is not yet here, they come loose as if of their own volition, as if they wanted to die.

This morning, as I was strolling up and down the park path as usual, I saw another shadow alongside my own.

– Ah, you’re back! I said. – I wondered what had happened to you after you lost your shadow; how did you manage to change into your own shadow yourself? More…

Weird and proud of it

5 September 2011 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series Finnish authors ponder their profession. Johanna Sinisalo, detests literary pigeonholes: in her opinion, the genre isn’t the point, the story is. Instead of having her books labelled ‘fantasy’ or ‘science fiction’, she would like to coin a new term: Finnish weird

I’ve got a problem, and it’s a problem I share with my agent, my publisher, book retailers and librarians.

Nobody really knows which literary pigeonhole my works belong to. Almost without exception my stories include some element that is mystical, magical or otherwise at odds with our everyday reality, or they might be set in the future.

‘Doesn’t that make it fantasy?’ some might ask. ‘Or science fiction?’

Seasoned readers will of course appreciate that both ‘fantasy’ and ‘science fiction’ are very broad concepts that can encompass a whole variety of different texts. Even so, I still don’t want my works to be bunched into either of these categories. Why not? More…

A light shining

28 July 2011 | Essays, Non-fiction

Portrait of the author: Leena Krohn, watercolour by Marjatta Hanhijoki (1998, WSOY)

In many of Leena Krohn’s books metamorphosis and paradox are central. In this article she takes a look at her own history of reading and writing, which to her are ‘the most human of metamorphoses’. Her first book, Vihreä vallankumous (‘The green revolution’, 1970), was for children; what, if anything, makes writing for children different from writing for adults?

Extracts from an essay published in Luovuuden lähteillä. Lasten- ja nuortenkirjailijat kertovat (‘At the sources of creativity. Writings by authors of books for children and young people’, edited by Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen; The Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature & BTJ Kustannus, 2010)

What is writing? What is reading? I can still remember clearly the moment when, at the age of five, I saw signs become meanings. I had just woken up and taken down a book my mother had left on top of the chest of drawers, having read to us from it the previous day. It was Pilvihepo (‘The cloud-horse’) by Edith Unnerstad. I opened the book and as my eyes travelled along the lines, I understood what I saw. It was a second awakening, a moment of sudden realisation. I count that morning as one of the most significant of my life.

Learning to read lights up books. The dumb begin to speak. The dead come to life. The black letters look the same as they did before, and yet the change is thrilling. Reading and writing are among the most human of metamorphoses. More…

Winning stories of alternative realities

10 February 2011 | In the news

The Runeberg Prize for fiction, awarded this year for the twenty-fifth time, went to a collection of short stories by Tiina Raevaara.

Her En tunne sinua vierelläni (‘I don’t feel you beside me’, Teos, 2010) mixes fantasy and realism, dealing with, for example, animal kingdom, human mind and artificial intelligence. See the introduction and translation of a story which we ran here on the Books from Finland website.

Raevaara (born 1979) holds a doctorate in genetics; the prizewinner is her second work of fiction. The prize, worth €10,000, was awarded on 5 February – the birthday of the poet J.L Runeberg (1804–1877) – in the southern Finnish city of Porvoo.

The jury – representing the prize’s founders, the Uusimaa newspaper, the city of Porvoo, both the Finnish and Finland-Swedish writers’ associations and the Finnish Critics’ Association – chose the winner from a shortlist of eight books: a collection of poetry, Vagga liten vagabond (‘Swing, little wanderer’, Söderströms) by Eva-Stina Byggmästar, the novel Poikakirja (‘Boys’ Own Book’, Otava) by Olli Jalonen, the novel Kiimakangas (WSOY) by Pekka Manninen, two collections of essays, Kuka nauttii eniten (‘Who enjoys most’) by Tommi Melender and Halun ja epäluulon esseet (‘The essays of desire and suspicion’) by Antti Nylén (both publlished by Savukeidas), a collection of poetry, Texas, sakset (‘Texas, scissors’, Otava) by Harry Salmenniemi and another collection of short stories, Apatosauruksen maa (‘The land of the apatosaurus’, WSOY) by Miina Supinen.

Outside the human realm

28 May 2010 | Authors, Reviews

Tiina Raevaara

Tiina Raevaara. Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho

Themes enriched by the natural sciences set in a kind of naturalised literary fantasy make Tiina Raevaara an interesting young prose-writer. She is a doctor of genetics and a science writer whose collection of fourteen short stories, En tunne sinua vierelläni (‘I don’t feel you beside me’, Teos, 2010), is her second literary work.

Fantasy and a sombre dystopia combine in her debut novel, Eräänä päivänä tyhjä taivas (‘One day an empty sky’, 2008), which took its readers to the centre of ecological catastrophes and struggles for power taking the form of family relationships. The novel was seen as a morality tale examining the issue of human responsibility, and Leena Krohn, Johanna Sinisalo, Maarit Verronen and Jyrki Vainonen were identified as its literary godparents.

What unites these Finnish writers working at the borders of fact, fiction and fantasy? They are distinguished from realist prose by the way they pose a certain type of ethical question: the complex relationship between humankind and what is called nature, and the inexplicable fuzzy area between the two, which the hard sciences are unable to grasp. In these writers’ work, fantasy often layers into philosophical allegories which examine the limits of what can be experienced as human. More…

My creator, my creation

28 May 2010 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from En tunne sinua vierelläni (‘I don’t feel you beside me’, Teos, 2010)

Sticks his finger into me and adjusts something, tok-tok, fiddles with some tiny part inside me and gets me moving better – last evening I had apparently been shaking. Chuckles, gazes with water in his eyes. His own hands shake, because he can’t control his extremities. Discipline essential, both in oneself and in others.

What was it that was so strange about my shaking? He himself quivers over me, strokes my case and finally locks me, until the morning comes and I am on again, I make myself follow all day and filter everything into myself, in the evening I make myself close down and in the morning I’m found in bed again. Between evening and morning is a black space, unconsciousness, whamm – dark comes and clicks into light, light is good, keeps my black moment short. He has forbidden me it: for you there’s no night. Simply orders me to be in a continuum from morning to evening, evening to morning, again and again. But in the mornings I know I have been switched off. I won’t tell about it. Besides, why does exclude me from the night? I don’t ask, but I still call the darkness night. There is night and day, evening and morning will come. More…

Really existing?

30 March 2007 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Mehiläispaviljonki. Kertomus parvista (‘The Bee Pavilion. A story about swarms’, Teos, 2006)

There are few old buildings in this town. Most are demolished to make way for new ones long before they reach the end of their first century.

Nevertheless, one brick building in our part of town, built at the beginning of the last century, was spared demolition for a long time. The two-storey building functioned as a Support Centre for the Psychically Ill and later on, for a couple of winters, as a shelter for alcoholics. The board fence that had surrounded the building for decades was taken down long before the building itself, but the maples on the sidewalk cast their shadows on its windows to the very end. When the lilacs and dogwoods in the back garden were in bloom, their heavy racemes shed purple and white on the sand. More…

To sleep, to die

30 September 2004 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Unelmakuolema (‘Dreamdeath’, Teos, 2004)


Who would not like to cheat the grim reaper? Ways are known, of course, both scientific and non-scientific, but all of them are uncertain and temporary. Except for the simplest: to get there first oneself.

The refinement of this idea was Dreamdeath’s business idea. ‘Dreamdeath – because you deserve it!’ went Dreamdeath’s slogan.

The Dreamdeath home offered those who wished it the means to the most pleasant, even luxurious realisation of an autonomic death in an atmosphere of moral approval, against a suitable fee. At Dreamdeath the client himself decided when and in what conditions he would leave his mortal clay. More…

Enough is enough!

Issue 4/2001 | Archives online, Authors, Essays

Katri Vala’s admirers regarded her as a kind of priestess of passion for life. A hundred years after her birth, the contemporary writer Leena Krohn begs to differ

I have in my life been inspired by many poets – Salvatore Quasimodo, Charles Baudelaire, Nils Ferlin, T.S. Eliot, Edgar Lee Masters, Rainer Maria Rilke, for example.

Eino Leino, Uuno Kailas, P. Mustapää and Saima Harmaja are among the idols of my childhood, Edith Södergran and Helvi Juvonen those of my youth. Their verses must have formed such firm structures in my brain that I would be able to mumble them even if I were to become a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

Katri Vala has never been one of these poets. More…

In search of an identity

Issue 3/1999 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

‘You will be sorry, at least by the time you reach the gates of the Underworld, if you do not read this book,’ threatened the critic of the science-fiction and fantasy magazine Tähtivaeltaja (‘Star-traveller’) in his review of Maarit Verronen’s novel Pimeä maa (‘Out of the Land of Darkness’) in 1995. Verronen’s writing lies somewhere on the borderland between fantasy and science-fiction, the events of Pimeä maa are set in an unrecognisable primal time, in some unrecognisable and barren tundra landscape. More…


Issue 3/1999 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Löytöretkeilijä ja muita eksyneitä (‘The explorer and other lost people’, Tammi, 1999). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

The stranger met Delina at a development organisation’s work camp, but Delina was not a volunteer. Delina lived in the country permanently.

The stranger did not spend very much time in Delina’s company. His evenings were spent with fellow-volunteers in the village cafe, where Delina’s parents did not allow her to go. During the day, both of them worked in their separate ways: Delina at home and the stranger in the work camp’s fields.

The stranger did, however, get to know the girl well enough to hear that she was in love with a soldier called Zmiri from the nearest garrison. This soldier was arrested once when he and his comrades drunkenly molested volunteers – but Delina knew nothing of the case. More…

The son of the chimera

30 September 1999 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Pereat mundus. Romaani, eräänlainen  (‘Pereat mundus. A novel, sort of’, WSOY, 1998)

I was born, but not because anyone wanted it to happen. No one even knew it was possible, for my mother was a human being, my father a chimera. He was one of the first multi-species hybrids.

Only one picture of my father survives. It is not a photograph, but a water-colour, painted by my mother. My father is sitting in an armchair, book in hand, one cloven hoof placed delicately on top of the other. According to my mother, he liked to leaf through illustrated books, although he never learned to read. He is wearing an elegant, muted blue suit jacket, but no trousers at all. Thick grey fur covers his strong legs, right down to his hoofs. Small horns curve gracefully over his convex forehead. Striking in his face are his round, yellow eyes, his extraordinarily wide mouth, his tiny chin and his surprisingly large but flat nose. More…

A passion for darkness

Issue 4/1997 | Archives online, Authors, Essays

In the fourth part of an occasional series on writers and their inspirations, the essayist and short-story writer Leena Krohn considers the poet Uuno Kailas (1901–1933)

I’m far from claiming that Uuno Kailas has ever been my favourite author. But I definitely had a close affinity to him in an early phase of my life.

There were a lot of his volumes on the shelves in my childhood home. I leafed through them at a very early age – in my sixth, seventh and eighth years. There were times when, as a child, I was very afraid of the dark. I might lie awake at night, stiff with fear, hardly daring to breathe. Presumably that’s why I was drawn to his poem ‘On the edge’:

I’m afraid in my room,
I’m afraid of the window.
And the shadows
of people the window shows
as reptiles – lizards crawling
across my wall.
I’m afraid to look at the door,
it opens on dark.
The doorknob gleams:
it could turn
and they’d be there
the ones I’ve no name for,
the ones I see in my dreams. More…