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Issue #133 - September 2006

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Finns of Fantasy

By Cheryl Morgan

British publisher Dedalus has a long-running series of anthologies of fantastic fiction from different European countries. Their latest addition is of tales from Finland, and who better to edit it than that countryís latest hot property, Johanna Sinisalo.

Iíve actually been meaning to get this book for ages, but havenít got round to it. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I not only got to meet Sinisalo in Helsinki, but she gave me a copy of the book. Iím very pleased to have it in this issue.

Because Dedalus sells to a mainstream audience there is some suggestion that what they are producing is a collection of charming little folk tales written by funny foreigners. In support of this, some of the fiction included is quite old. There is one extract from 1870, and two more from the 1920ís that remind you that Lovecraft wrote in a funny, stilted style in part because in those days thatís what a lot of people did. But the vast majority of the stories that Sinisalo uses are from more modern times, and the majority of the material is by writers who are still alive, some of whom Iíve met. It would therefore be a mistake to think of this as a collection of folk tales, it is mainly a collection of fantastic stories by modern writers.

Leena Krohn is, of course, one of the contributors. The book contains several short extracts from her novel, Datura, which Iíd love to see translated into English. From the glimpses we are given it appears to be deeply strange (although perhaps no more so than Tainaron).

Some of the stories reflect the scars left on Finland by the countryís war with Communist Russia, and from living for so long with the Soviet bear on the doorstep. One of my favorite stories from the collection is "A Zoo from the Heavens" by Pasi Jääskeläinen. It tells the tale of three generations of men from the same family. The grandfather was so mentally disturbed by his time in the war that he subsequent behavior scarred the father for life. Returning to the family home on a trip, the father is unable to tell his young son the truth of what happened to him when he was a boy, so instead he masks the truth in a fable about a container of zoo animals that fell from a Russian plane and landed by the house. It is a wonderfully moving story.

Sinisaloís own contribution, "Transit", is equally strange. If is told from the point of view of a young man about to stand trial for murder. He weaves a bizarre take of a drunken nightís escapade with a teenage girl who had seemed merely a little crazy to him at the time but whom we know to be autistic. The girlís reported actions have been completely out of character, and indeed are well beyond her previously displayed mental capabilities. All that her nurse can offer by way of explanation is that during the day the girl was powerfully affected by a visit to a dolphinarium.

As anthologies go, this one was particularly successful for me. There was only one writer whose contribution I ended up skipping. Most of the material is best described as "weird" rather than the classic swords & sorcery or epic material that these days has taken over the term "fantasy". But, if you like weirdness, the Finns would appear to do it very well.

The book is translated by David Hackston who is a professional translator specializing in adapting Finnish theatre for performance in the UK. He has done a fine job. I hope he works on more books.

The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy - Johanna Sinisalo (ed.) - Dedalus - trade paperback

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
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