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"Elegy for a Young Elk" by Hannu Rajaniemi

Several years ago, I wrote a story set in a post-singularity world, which bore a bit of a family resemblance to ‘Elegy …’. Mine was pretty bad. There’s a posthuman guy and another posthuman about to transcend, and a bunch of people trying to stop her from doing it. I never did revise it fully, because I could never convince myself that the setting wasn’t precisely isomorphic to the same situation reworked as a fantasy, or a superhero story. Also it contained enough Ellisian verbal tics that I worried that Warren would file suit. And also there are the ugly chunks of autobiography and personal opinion dropped in there. But those things are fixable. There might even be a story worth telling in there, but I never could get over the foundational problem that basically that the setting didn’t say anything unique, and didn’t reflect interestingly on the story that I had to tell.

I suppose that that failure was the beginning of the end of my flirtation with singulatarian fiction. I still enjoy a finely-wrought peice of it, but I never could make it work for me, and I was less impressed with work in the sub-genre thereafter, having struggled with the setting issues up close and rarely seeing anyone solve them in a satisfying way.

I struggle too much, a lot of the time, with the underlying meanings of stories, both the ones I try to write and the ones I read. I don’t think that SFF is required to be allegory at all times, or even most of the time. I don’t subscribe to Gibson’s theory that all SFF is built around a re-framing of some contemporary issue or the current zeitgeist. But I suppose I at least expect an argument, a lesson, a possible issue, or something to think about.

This story was good. It was coherent, it managed not to over-explain, it was about real-feeling people and realistic relationships. Rajaniemi has the storyteller’s spark. It was a bit baggy, like it was told at the granularity of a novel, rather than a short story. It’s satisfyingly low on exposition. There are many moments where the writing is quite nice.

There are two takes on the ending, I think. Either the sky-people planned the entire affair to go off the way it did, or they didn’t. I like the former theory better. A bit of theater, allowing Kosonen to move on and his son and the quantum girl to finally go free in a way that makes them less dangerous to the people around them (presumably they’re reduced somewhat by translation into poetical form). The setting here then is a neat bit of work, but doesn’t really get behind the story and push. It’s stronger if you’ve read “Deus Ex Homine”, I think.

If the latter is the case, then the story is unfinished, the ending makes very little sense, the setup is stupid, and Rajaniemi is betrayed by the allure of his setting, much like I was.

There’s a longer discussion to be had, now that the singularity thing is just about wound down, but I am not sure that this story is the right tee for kicking it off.

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