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Rajaniemi, Hannu

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1978-    ) Finnish-born author, in the UK for nearly a decade and more recently in the US, who began to publish work of genre interest with "Deus Ex Homine" in Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction (anth 2005) edited by Neil Williamson and Andrew J Wilson, and who assembled in Worlds of Birth and Death (coll 2006 chap) a set of fantasy tales linked by a reiterated pattern, where a modern man or woman in psychic trouble is confronted with mythopoeic places and figures out of the myths of the north. His stories to date, including the 2006 volume, have been brought together as Collected Fiction (coll 2015; vt Invisible Planets: Collected Fiction 2016).

Rajaniemi's first novel, The Quantum Thief (2010), which begins the Jean de Flambeur sequence, is an sf tale of very considerable noirish exuberance, with elements of Space Opera, Cyberpunk, Cosmology-wonk, Hard SF and McGuffin-hunt mixed together in a solar system – fairly distant into the future – governed by AIs and their Avatars, by godlike entities who inhabit (or are) Spaceships and/or Living Worlds, and by various examples of Posthuman Evolution. The main protagonist – his name, Jean de Flambeur, homages the tick-tock, victimized-by-genre protagonist of Jean-Pierre Melville's noir film Bob le Flambeur (1956) – suffers from Amnesia, a blessing in disguise as his Paranoia is entirely justified; forced to undertake a quest for the codes (see Game-Worlds) that govern the living City he finds himself in, a quest with punitive Godgame implications: he may be the bad god he's looking for. A secondary plotline, set in a cartoonish Planetary Romance world, joins the main story in a family-romance climax.

Much of this complexity is carried over into The Fractal Prince (2012), and an increasing sense that the heart of de Flambeur lies in the stories that make him (and his Doppelgangers) cohere; in this case stories within stories are enacted, and/or told by narrators who may be unreliable, as quests, and exercises in detection, must vie with an increasingly neologism-harried environment. The third volume, in which de Flambeur is promoted from Prince to Angel, is The Causal Angel (2014), is again complex and allusion-filled, one reflexive citing being to Johan Huizinga, whose analysis of the play-element in culture focuses attention on the game element in this kind of intensively recomplicated narrative (see Games and Sports).

The universe to which Rajaniemi opens so many doors may seem at points harum-scarum, and some of the gonzo extravagances of its unfettered Hard SF extremities of Thought Experiment are not easy to trace for readers less versed in contemporary science. At the same time, the Jean de Flambeur sequence is narrated with startling eloquence, as though even its greatest exorbitances describe worlds inhabited by living beings. And over and above the joys of the chase, the sequence conveys a sense that interweaving Technologies and the story structures that describe them for us may in themselves work as heuristic models of the nature of the universe itself: as the author puts it, any "sufficiently advanced technology should be indistinguishable from nature".

This exuberant rigorousness of approach is perhaps sweetened in Summerland (2018), an Equipoisal tale set in an Alternate History version of Europe just before World War Two seems due to explode; the main antagonists, Britain and the USSR, joust vigorously, complicated throughout by their mutual access to an afterlife realm whose dead occupants intervene in the live world. [JC]

see also: Finland.

Hannu Jaakko Rajaniemi

born Ylivieska, Finland: 9 March 1978



Jean de Flambeur

individual titles


works as editor


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