Last year, I was introduced to a lot of Finnish creative works, and I’ve been burying myself in more and more great Finnish work ever since. And by great Finnish work, I mostly mean Melodic Death Metal. But with how impressed I was by Hannu Rajaniemi’s Jean LeFlambeur series, I will be checking out more Finnish literature.
Let’s start with the death metal. In my book, Finland has boarded and plundered the flagship of the melodic death metal fleet (Because Scandinavian Death Metal needs a pirate analogy).
My first foray into Finnish Melodic Death Metal came prior to my first 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in 2016 when the cruise posted an interview they did with Insomnium in preparation for the cruise. Cut into the interview were snippets from their songs, which immediately caught my attention. Soaring riffs cut through atmospheric and symphonic synths. Insomnium’s music bears the same fast beats, melodic riffs, and harmonized guitars that make the melodic death metal genre, but with an added air of melancholy; the perfect touch of the gothic added to the brutal. My one regret from the cruise that year is that both of Insomnium’s performances occurred late at night, so I was pretty well shit faced by the time they performed. Luckily, they will be returning for 70,000 Tons of Metal 2018! My current favorites from Insomnium are “Ephemeral” and “Winter’s Gate, Pt. 3”
After the 2016 cruise, I didn’t think too much on Finnish heavy metal. Then came 70,000 Tons of Metal 2017. I discovered Omnium Gatherum—a band associated with Insomnium (both bands feature guitarist Markus Vanhala)—when they were announced. They possessed the same melodic sounds as Insomnium, but with deeper, growling vocals from Jukka Pelkonen and a bit more uplifting sound to them. I wasn’t quite so in the bag for Omnium Gatherum’s shows, so I remember them much better than Insomnium. The band possessed great stage presence. Pelkonen did an excellent job keeping the audience hyped and moving. My current favorites from Omnium Gatherum at “Ophidian Sunrise,” “White Palace,” and “The Unknowing.”
Once aboard the 2017, we had some time to kill so we decided to stop by the Alhambra Theater aboard the ship and check out Mors Principum Est. What kind of music does Mors Principum Est play, you ask? Finnish Melodic Death Metal. This band brought the same Finnish Melodic Death sound I had come to love with some grandiose symphonic elements and heart-pounding beats. With song titles such as “Leader of the Titans” and “The Colours of the Cosmos,” Mors Principum Est does an excellent job evoking the imagery of their lyrics through their sound. Mors Principum Est was definitely the surprise favorite of the 2017 cruise and I was extremely glad to come home from the cruise just in time for their new album, “Embers of a Dying World,” to be released.
The cruise introduced us to one more Finnish Death Metal band (That makes 3 for one cruise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another I missed.) we would see on that cruise. We cut out from a less-than-stellar show and Jess thought I’d like to see the band playing on the pool deck. I had never heard of Kalmah before, but Jess saw the words “Finland” and “Death Metal” in their description, so away we went. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. My current Kalmah favorites are “Rust Never Sleeps” and “One of Fail.”
The latest Finnish Death Metal band to capture my interest has been Wolfheart. 70,000 Tons of Metal announced they would be appearing on the 2018 cruise and, seeing they hailed from Finland and played Death Metal, I had to give them a listen. I found one description of Wolfheart labelling them as Melodic Death Metal, but they for sure have elements of Black Metal in their veins. I introduced myself to Wolfheart by watching their music video for “The Flood.” Their music does an amazing job putting the listener in the center of the snow-covered Finnish forest of their video and paying homage to the Norse history of the land. Here’s that music video for your own enjoyment. I’m of course assuming you’ve read this far and not skipped ahead because you like Finnish Melodic Viking Blackened Death Metal… Wolfheart – The Flood
Now we come to the part that brought most of you to this blog post: my foray into Finnish Hard Science Fiction. While walking through Sundance Books in Reno several months ago, Jess told me we couldn’t leave until I let her buy me a new book (OH NO!!!!!!). Wandering around the Fantasy and Sci-Fi room, the cover for Hannu Rajaniemi’s “The Causal Angel” jumped out at me. I had been wanting to read a Hard Sci-Fi novel for quite some time and Mr. Rajaniemi’s qualification certainly lent credibility to the science I would find within. To give some insight into how this reading endeavour went, Mr. Rajaniemi has a PhD in Mathematical Physics from the University of Edinburgh and writes his fiction in English, with more proficiency than most native speakers. I joined the Marine Corps infantry five days after high school. I certainly had my work cut out for me…
Now, since “The Causal Angel” (by the way, I thought it was “The Casual Angel” until I was about halfway through the book. I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any angels wearing flip-flops and drinking from pineapples yet.) was actually the third book in the series (another late discovery) I ran off and bought “The Quantum Thief” and “The Fractal Prince.” Nothing quite demonstrates going-all-in like buying a complete trilogy by a new author in a new genre before having read a single word.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers (which also means I’ll keep this as short as possible). The trilogy follows Jean LeFlambeur, our titular Quantum Thief, after he is sprung from the Dilemma Prison by a warrior-monk of sorts from the Solar System’s Oort Cloud, Mieli. Mieli does this at the behest of her master as part of the coming war between to Sobornost and Zoku factions who control our solar system. Now, needless to say, I didn’t know what a Quantum Thief would steal, what a Dilemma Prison was, and I had to immediately bring up Google and figure out what an “Oort Cloud” was. I asked about q-dots on Twitter and Mr. Rajaniemi was kind enough to reply personally and link me to an article (Q-dots are basically programmable molecules, by the way). A personal note from the author was a great way to start my reading experience.
Now, not only was I in over my head with the science, but Mr. Rajaniemi also took to heart one of writing’s most preeminent rules: Show, don’t tell. So, not only am I surrounded by science I don’t understand in a world far more advanced than our own, where time is currency, MMORPGs take place in tiny crystals with some very convincing scientific explanation, Jupiter has exploded, and minds are transferred from body to body and bodies are recreated via Zoku…. well, looking back, I’m still not 100% sure what all was going on. There were a few moments when Jean had to explain to Mieli the intricacies of Martian society or Earth’s history and why the only remaining true-humans live in a society pulled from Arabian Nights. These “Tell” moments are like sweet breaths of fresh air after having one’s head held underwater for longer than one would normally consider to be comfortable. Each “Tell” moment brought with it an exclamation of “Ah ha! Now things make sense!” The reader has no choice but to learn about the history, culture, and science of Mr. Rajaniemi’s future world the hard way: through immersion.
Now, it would have been very easy for me to have become frustrated with science and a world I didn’t, and sometimes couldn’t, understand. But I couldn’t put the books away. I had to find out Jean’s history, why Mieli served the Pelligrini. What was the Sobornost? What brought Matjek Chen to create the monstrosity that now was the Sobornost? What was the real history behind Jean and the Pelligrini. I HAD TO KNOW!!!!
Despite the hard work these books required to read, Mr. Rajaniemi’s writing gave what every reader needs: characters we care about embroiled in conflicts we want to see them overcome. In science fiction and fantasy, there seems to be more and more of a push for truer science and harder magic systems with exact rules. Brandon Sanderson receives heaps of praise for the intracacy and solid rules behind his Allomancy magic system. If you were to ask the average reader why Mr. Sanderson’s Mistborn series is so popular, you would probably get a lot of explanations involving the ingenuity and detail behind Allomancy. I would argue these reasons are not and will never be good enough to make a novel or series as popular and praise-worthy as what Mr. Rajaniemi and Mr. Sanderson delivered. Despite the science and systems of the worlds their stories are set in, they still deliver on characters and conflict. Naomi Novik’s novel, Uprooted, contained almost no explanation behind the magic, yet I found myself sitting in my car listening to just one more chapter of the audiobook. And then another one. And then just one more.
Needless to say, I’m a bit sad I missed WorldCon in Helsinki this year. With so much talent coming from the great northern lands of Finland, I will definitely be making plans to visit in the near future. I’m sure I have plenty of great Finnish Death Metal and Finnish Sci Fi that remains to be discovered as well. Until then, however, I will simply have to dream of post-humans shredding upon quantum guitars and singing of stars and Odin.