HMV
October 4, 2010 9:51 AM   Subscribe

His Masters Voice by Hannu Rajaniemi, the Edinburgh based Finnish physicist currently causing a big stir in Hard SF - also features doggies and kitties. Audio version and interview at StarShipSofa. Review of The Quantum Thief at Locus. Bonus story: Elegy for a Young Elk.
posted by Artw (44 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Another review of the Quantum Thief, by John Clute. (Who seems rather taken with it.)

<smug>I've been workshopping with Hannu on and off for some years now, and I've been telling folks for at least five years that he was going to be huge. Nice to have my opinions confirmed ...</smug> The Quantum Thief doesn't fall short; I'd be astonished if this doesn't feature on the Hugo shortlist in 2012 (it's eligible then due to first US publication being due in 2011).
posted by cstross at 9:58 AM on October 4, 2010


Hannu's a friend of a friend and couple of years back in a bar during the Edinburgh festival I got drunk while we talked string theory. Well by 'talked' I mean he explained it to me while my inferior booze-sodden brain did its best to keep up.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:15 AM on October 4, 2010


Whoa this rocks. [sheepish] I need to read more Hard SF I guess.[/sheepish]
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:41 AM on October 4, 2010


Heh, love this story. Sort of reminds me of We3.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2010


Thanks for the post, Artw. I need some new reads from some "new" authors.
posted by sciurus at 11:03 AM on October 4, 2010


This was great. Going to have to look for more of his work now.
posted by Hactar at 11:03 AM on October 4, 2010


Looks like on Friday they'll be distributing "His Master's Voice" and the rest of the issue as an epub.
posted by Zed at 11:27 AM on October 4, 2010


Apologies of this is a stupid question, but is 'His Master's Voice' a short story taster to the sort of thing Hannu Raajaniemi writes so would could consider buying 'The Quantum Thief'?
posted by vectr at 11:34 AM on October 4, 2010


Wow. I wish I had something intellectual to say but since I don't here's a post-reading-my-mind-is-still-blown-breath-of-musical-air:

His Master's Voice (in musical form)
posted by allymusiqua at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2010


vectr, that is the commercial purpose that short stories normally serve, yes.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:26 PM on October 4, 2010


Awesome. I would buy the quantum thief but I cannot figure out how. Amazon only has a UK only kindle edition. Barns and noble has never even heard of Hannu. Argh, I cannot even import it, everyone is out of stock.
posted by darkfred at 12:37 PM on October 4, 2010


Yeah, I found this story in Gardner Dozois' Year's Best anthology, and IMO it was the most entertaining of the bunch. Nice to see the author getting some recognition.
posted by teraflop at 12:54 PM on October 4, 2010


When in doubt, check out bookfinder.com, which aggregates pretty much all the other book dealer sites. Looks like I could get one shipped to the U.S. for under $21 if I really wanted. (My ginormous to-be-read stack says I don't really want to, though.)
posted by Zed at 1:00 PM on October 4, 2010


Sometimes a short story is just a short story of course. See: Ted Chiang.
posted by Artw at 1:11 PM on October 4, 2010


I probably buy half the books I own based on Gardner Dozois' Year's Best anthology. It is good, always, nearly every story is a perfect Gem. That, starship sofa, and a few go-to names for hard sci-fi make up the majority of my current modern sf reading. Alastair reynolds, charles stross etc.
posted by darkfred at 1:35 PM on October 4, 2010


Feels like the abovementioned We3 mashed up with Kaiba, and then some. Like it.
posted by yoHighness at 3:30 PM on October 4, 2010


When in doubt, check out bookfinder.com, which aggregates pretty much all the other book dealer sites. Looks like I could get one shipped to the U.S. for under $21 if I really wanted. (My ginormous to-be-read stack says I don't really want to, though.)

Tor have signed Hannu Rajaniemi for a three-book deal, starting with The Quantum Thief for May next year, so you might want to hold off on that.
posted by Artw at 7:41 PM on October 4, 2010


I stopped reading after about the 4th graf of unintelligible pseudojargon. Can't people write anymore without padding it full of meaningless words?
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:01 PM on October 4, 2010


Charlie, one of the most fundamental payoffs of SF is being confused by jargon, but then figuring out what it means by the end of the story. Language changes over time, and it's not like someone in the 22nd century is going to carefully take the time to explain everything in words that a 20th-century reader would understand.

Say you're talking about an interesting experience you just had online -- maybe you defeated some Big Bad Guy in World of Warcraft. You'd talk about the strategies you used and maybe the plot events that led up to the bad guy, but you're certainly not going to be explaining the basics of TCP/IP networking so that someone in the 1970s could understand what you're talking about, much less go over the history of bandwidth distribution, or computer graphics, or the advent of MMOs. Hell, you probably wouldn't even explain what an MMO itself is, even though there are current readers that wouldn't quite get it. You'd just talk about your interesting experience.

This particular story is just delicious; it uses jargon exactly as it needs to, trying to communicate complex concepts and carry a whole world in just a couple thousand words. It couldn't possibly tell the story the author wanted in the available space if it took the time to carefully define everything.

It's important, not just an affectation.
posted by Malor at 3:27 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting side-note: Hannu is Finnish. He writes in English, which is not his first language.

(His Finnish publisher is paying a translator to turn it into Finnish. Because it's an English-language novel, and the act of translation is itself going to mess with the text in interesting ways; as Hannu isn't a trained translator, it works better if a professional does the job, with input from the author. He says it's a really weird experience to read a translation of his own prose into his own language.)
posted by cstross at 3:54 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


vectr, that is the commercial purpose that short stories normally serve, yes.

Er no, not really. Short stories usually exist entirely in their own right.

A detailed discussion of 'Elegy For A Young Elk'.
posted by ninebelow at 3:56 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Malor, of course you are right. I often gloft zebnosk when refostling, but the rebonglitz sometimes tonrog the bozonkin. And one should gleever weznats tro xqillazning.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:05 AM on October 5, 2010


Not really seeing too many neologisms in this story, TBH.
posted by Artw at 6:15 AM on October 5, 2010


These are the first four (very brief) paragraphs:
Before the concert, we steal the master’s head.

The necropolis is a dark forest of concrete mushrooms in the blue Antarctic night. We huddle inside the utility fog bubble attached to the steep southern wall of the nunatak, the ice valley.

The cat washes itself with a pink tongue. It reeks of infinite confidence.

“Get ready,” I tell it. “We don’t have all night.”
I count one piece of jargon - "utility fog bubble" - and, although its exact mean isn't clear from context, it is easy enough to simply parse it as a type of structure (they "huddle inside" it and it is "attached to" the wall). In the next four (slightly longer) paragraphs we have quantum dot fabric, which is immediately and evocatively said to "envelope its striped body like living oil" and AR vision, which is explained in the next paragraph as Augmented Reality.

There is always something of an issue with the protocols of science fiction but this language is hardly unintelligble and it certainly isn't smeerp.
posted by ninebelow at 6:39 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This story seems to grow out of a subtle riff on the famous painting/logo His Master's Voice, as well as referencing to Głos Pana by Stanisław Lem. It seems like a bit of a stunt, albeit clever and well imagined.
posted by metaplectic at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2010


For me HMV is forever linked with the store.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on October 5, 2010


They are, in fact, linked.
posted by mek at 8:34 PM on October 5, 2010


When did sentences become paragraphs? There are only 4 actual paragraphs before the *** divider.

You don't have to use smeerp to write gibberish that conceals meaning rather than enhances it. I prefer writers who have an actual command of language.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:45 PM on October 5, 2010


If anyone asks I was betrayed by mothrtfucking seahorses.
posted by Artw at 8:51 PM on October 5, 2010


When did sentences become paragraphs?

When the author put a paragraph break at the end.

You don't have to use smeerp to write gibberish that conceals meaning rather than enhances it.

I'm glad you admit your smeerp criticism was baseless but I'm saddened that you persist in demonstrating your stupidity.
posted by ninebelow at 2:58 AM on October 6, 2010


My accusation of smeerp is perfectly valid. Using an ultra-obscure word like nunatak from a language the audience could not possibly know, is pretentious writing. Non sequiturs like "utility fog bubble," "quantum dot fabric," and "prayer of light" are just pretentious crap.

The writer isn't demonstrating he has command of the language, he is demonstrating he can wield it like a cudgel. He doesn't "eschew obfuscation," he embraces it.

When I read drivel like this, I know what my editor would say. He once told me, "I get to about the 4th graf and I start asking myself, 'why in the hell am I reading this crap?'"
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:52 AM on October 6, 2010


Using an ultra-obscure word like nunatak from a language the audience could not possibly know

"nunatak" is an English word. The OED has citations dating to 1875. I heard it frequently as a tourist in Alaska recently (where I was seeing them frequently), though I'd encountered the word rarely and only in writing before.

Personally, I like reading obscure vocabulary used well (though, of course, it can also be done badly and gratuitously.) I consider this a matter of taste, not a determinant of good or bad writing.

(All of this is separate from the issue of invented jargon in science fiction, which I'm not addressing.)
posted by Zed at 7:43 AM on October 6, 2010


Heh. Can I be an intolerable smartass and point out that utility fog and quantum dot are not so much invented jargon and have sources outside of science fiction?

charlie don't surf does have a point though, even if he is stomping all over it, overly jargon laden prose even of the non invented kind can be a problem. I'm just not sure that it's really all that much of a problem here - I mean, even if I were not an intolerable smartass who reads too much New Scientist I think theres sufficient context to make a leap of imagination and lknow that we're dealing with some kind of advanced materials science here., and as pointed out above it's fun from a language point of view, and whats more by hitting us with those terms straight off we can deduce things about the nature of the story, like we're more likely to be dealing with nanotech and advanced computer and that sort of thing than force-fields and psychic powers.

Also for those of us who are New Scientist reading intolerable jerks it can be a little bit of a thrill to say "aha! It's a that-kind-of-thing!".

Now, if there were no real point to it, or the prose were overly stuffed with that kind of thing I think it there would be a posibility of the story breaking down under the weight of all the technical tersm, but like I say, for me that isn't really happening and I think Hannu treads the line well. Milage may vary, of course.
posted by Artw at 12:19 PM on October 6, 2010


Me, I probably would have left nunatak out, especially since it doubles up and explains what that is within the paragraph. But hey, I learned a new word, and look: pretty.
posted by Artw at 12:24 PM on October 6, 2010


That link about utility fog has nothing but science fiction citations. Even the scientist is spouting secondhand SF ideas.

And even the simplest etymological exploration will reveal that nunatak is an Inuit word.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:01 PM on October 6, 2010


Oh, good grief. English steals. Get over it.
posted by Zed at 11:17 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that Wikipedia article is modertaly awful, I should have just pointed you at Utility Fog: The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of, the original 1993 peice by J. Storrs Hall ("the scientist"), and as you so cleverly spotted it's a concept that has antecedents in science fiction and has been heartily adopted by SF since the early 93, which really changes nothing - it's a technological term from outside of SF, not invented for the purposes of this story. Now, you could argue that J. Storrs Hall, Kurzweil and Drexler et al. are a bunch of kooky dreamers and believers in Transhumanist nonsense, and all this hypothetical technology stuff is not far off SF, and there you'd have a point, but it's still not quite the same thing, and the term has a health life outside science fiction as-fiction.

even the simplest etymological exploration will reveal that nunatak is an Inuit word.

Oh good grief. The simplest etymological exploration will reveal that pedant is a french word or that troll is a norse word.
posted by Artw at 12:06 AM on October 7, 2010


This might not be the scifi text for you. It's definitely not written for the intro reader. Many of these references are specifically invoking other texts, which you may not be familiar with. I would definitely not recommend this to someone who was not already steeped in hard sci-fi, because it's pretty dense in that respect. That said, it's frickin awesome.
posted by mek at 12:08 AM on October 7, 2010


And even the simplest etymological exploration will reveal that nunatak is an Inuit word.

And Hannu Rajaniemi is Finnish - how pretentious can you get!?
posted by ninebelow at 3:14 AM on October 7, 2010


Looks like on Friday they'll be distributing "His Master's Voice" and the rest of the issue as an epub.

Doh! Now there's a PDF, but they say the epub won't be there till the 10th.
posted by Zed at 11:07 PM on October 7, 2010


And Hannu Rajaniemi is Finnish - how pretentious can you get!?

It may be extremely difficult, but I am sure he could be more pretentious.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:21 PM on October 8, 2010


epub finally here.
posted by Zed at 10:31 AM on October 11, 2010


While in primary school, he was granted the Customer of the Year award in 1986 by his local library in Ylivieska, North-West Finland, after borrowing all possible books about science.

Hannu Rajaniemi aims at world domination
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:24 AM on October 15, 2010


Interview
posted by Artw at 11:05 PM on November 3, 2010


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