Short Story Club: “Elegy for a Young Elk”

An earlier than usual kick-off for Hannu Rajaniemi’s story, because fairly shortly I will be leaving for the airport and a two-week holiday. (Fear not! I have scheduled the other short story club posts ahead of time. Plus I’ll probably be online at points.) Anyway, Jason Sanford has tried to claim this story as Sci-Fi Strange; but is it actually any good? Over to Gardner Dozois, in the August Locus:

Also first-rate in the Summer issue is Hannu Rajaniemi’s “Elegy for a Young Elk”. Rajaniemi is a writer who cranks the bit-rate up about as high as it can go and still remain comprehensible (although there will almost certainly be some who think that this doesn’t remain comprehensible). Said by some to out-Charles Stross Charles Stross, this slender story, set in a post-Apocalyptic future society where posthumans with godlike powers are at war, manages to jam enough high-concept into a few pages to fuel a 400-page novel.

Lois Tilton is more lukewarm:

A lot of neat images here in a world transformed into something fantastic and not very explicable. There is a fragmentary story about Kosonon and his son, and parental guilt, but mostly this is a world incomprehensibly transformed and a man trying to find his place it in.

Pam Philips liked it, but can’t pin it down:

When I re-read it to make sure of the details, the story clicked. I was sucked right in and couldn’t stop reading from beginning to end of Kosonen’s quest to regain his lost poetry. I love the way he proves he has it back, with an act that skates the melting edge between scif-fi nanotech and magic. It had me wondering if the magic in the story had cast some spell of confusion on me the first time. Or maybe I was just awake on the second try. I’m still annoyed by who the lord of the city is, but if it were someone else, the ease of Kosonen’s choice at the end wouldn’t make sense.

Alex at Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth feels similarly:

Hannu Rajaniemi, Elegy for a Young Elk is… one of those stories where words fail me. I just flail my hands in the air, saying “it’s just… good… and… a bit weird but good weird. Y’know?” The idea of post-humanity and AIs taken in a really awesome direction, with the humanity still achingly there. Also, a talking bear.

Chad Orzel:

I liked this better than the previous entries in the Short Story Club, though I suspect this is more to do with it not pushing buttons of mine than any absolute quality of the story. As with “A Serpent in the Gears,” this is an excellent example of providing backstory without infodumping, though many serious gaps remain (the exact nature of the apocalypse remains a little unclear, and there are some dangling references that never quite get explained). The language is very evocative, and while it mostly uses the time-honored dodge of describing but not quoting the important poetry of the story, the bit that is quoted is perfectly fine (allowing for the fact that I am not generally a poetry person).

This does suffer a bit from a kind of incompleteness that I suspect is an unavoidable consequence of the form. It’s got a reasonable plot– Kosonen is given a quest, which turns out to have more personal significance than he expected, and its completion is different than what was presumably intended. Kosonen remains something of a cipher, though– there are hints of character there, but for the most part, he seems to do what he does because it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise. The narrative sort of floats above the core of the character, never really providing all that much depth.

Matt Hilliard’s take:

The star of the story, for me, was the magic lamp genie nanomachine device commanded by poetry. Generally I have a tin ear for poetry, but I actually was pretty impressed by the narrator’s train poem. But the poetry business was also the biggest disappointment since it was only used once. Well, once, and then sort of at the end, which almost ruined the story for me. In a great story, Esa would have been trapped and died, but his father would have used an epic poem to recreate something like him out the magic bean nanoseed. In this story, Esa uses magic quantum something or other to hide from the city’s magic guardian firewall. This was an enormous cop out of an ending. If this firewall was so easily duped, why couldn’t he escape before? I suppose the story implies his mother is helping out from her end, but come on.

And Evan also tries to puzzle out the ending:

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.

He also says:

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.

OR IS IT? Over to you.

27 Responses to “Short Story Club: “Elegy for a Young Elk””

  1. Ian Mond Says:

    I agree with a number of the comments above. I thought it was very cleanly written story. Thre aren’t that many writerly flourishes or even a very distinctive voice.

    I don’t have a problem with that. It makes the story very readable and as a result an easy enough read.

    I like that Rajaniemi doesn’t feel the next to exposite through the story. As a Lois states above, it’s a story about parental guilt, but we’re expected to join the dots together. And for that matter, we’re expected to fill in the gaps as to the quantum nature of this world.

    It falls apart a bit at the ending, and seems oddly rushed (unlike the rest of the story which feels well paced). But if this is an indication of Rajaniemi’s work, then I’m on board.

  2. Tansy Rayner Roberts Says:

    I thought the story was smoothly written, pulling the reader along effortlessly though a world that was, beneath the surface, far more complex than imagined.

    The pain of the broken family kept the narrative grounded. I found the way that humans used ‘magical’ or ‘religious’ terminology as ways of explaining the advanced science to themselves very interesting. In the past I have found myself bouncing off SF stories which rely too much on nanotech and, you know, all that “quantum” stuff, because many of them lose that human element and are more like elaborate puzzles than stories about people with actual warmth to them. This shows that you can use alienating science without an alienating narrative, so hooray!

    I think I need to read more of Rajaniemi’s work to really get a feel for what he is doing, and I am excited by the impression I get, which is that he is using many stories/novels to explore what is basically the same kind of idea, in different forms.

  3. Niall Says:

    Some brief, somewhat disjointed thoughts as I rush off to catch my flight:

    — I’m ambivalent about the story, and I think it’s in large part because “the same kind of idea, in different forms” doesn’t particularly excite me; I’m interested in what’s specific and distinct about different kinds of stories (science fiction, fantasy, non-fantastic, whatever) rather than what’s similar about them. I also think promoting Rajaniemi as hard sf — or even “high bit rate” — is, on the strength of this story, doing him something of a disservice; this is about as hard as chalk, and not particularly dense.

    — Making the main character a poet appealed to me, in part because the last near-singularitarian story I read with a writer protagonist (Rainbows End) had him give it up to learn the One True Way of Engineering and Maths. If you’re going to go the magic-technology route, you might as well have spells too.

    — Similarly I liked that the nanoseed was so complicated it looked like a child’s toy, and the description of the plague as “turns the world soft”. Sentence-by-sentence it isn’t a particularly exciting story, but it is quite efficient, and effective.

    — I’m sort of intrigued as to why Otso is “it”. Just because not human, and “he” and “she” are human designates? Or something else?

    — I thought Marja’s wink pretty clearly indicated that the whole affair went off as she planned; I’m not sure I see that the escape was too easy, given that Kosonen is a new element in the equation.

  4. Ian Mond Says:

    Nial: Oh, so this isn’t Hard SF. And thre I go thinking that maybe I’ve just read a Hard SF that (a) I like and (b) I understood.

  5. Niall Says:

    Perhaps “hard as chalk” is overstating it, but even if this is a plausible extrapolation of the implications of quantum physics (about which I have no idea), I don’t get the sense — which I think hard sf should offer — that the universe is bound by rules that are external to and independent of humanity. This is a universe subject to whim.

    (I can imagine a great debate here about whether the universe already is subject to our whims, in some quantum observer-affecting-the-world way, and it’s just our perception that it exists independently…)

  6. James Says:

    I didn’t really find the story that weird, or dense, just nicely full of ideas, although not many of them original.

    It reminded me a bit of Queen City Jazz.

    I wasn’t stunned by the story which felt a bit thin, but it’s definitely made me want to search out more stuff by Hannu.

  7. Chad Orzel Says:

    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.

    I don’t know that the sky-people collectively planned it, but I think it’s fairly clear that Marja did. She’s definitely pleased with how things turned out, and it makes sense for her to want to do that, where having it be a collective decision by the sky-people seems a little odd. I think it’s more likely that the whole thing was set up by Marja for the sake of Kosonen and Esa than that the sky-people really lost something critical that just happened to be in a place where the story could play out as it does.

  8. Karen Burnham Says:

    I agree with James that this reminded me a bit of “Queen City Jazz” (which was a novel that I didn’t like) and also with Gardner that it reminded me of “Singularity Sky” (which I did like). It took me a little while to get a feel for the world of the story, but it all seemed to hang together well enough. I liked the imagery of the elk, and the feel of the rural world vs. the urban world.

    A couple of quibbles: “As he watched, they changed shape, joined together and made a woman, spindle-thin bones, mist-flesh and muscle. She looked like a glass sculpture. The small breasts were perfect hemispheres, her sex an equilateral silver triangle.” Really made me roll my eyes. Guys, even post-human naked guys, are rarely described this way in sf/f.

    Also, for a story that’s about poetry and a poet, I felt that the urban sections had prose that was too stilted. e. g.: “Kosonen fumbled with a bolt, then loosed it at the thing. The crossbow kicked, but the arrow glanced off its windshield. It seemed to confuse it enough for Kosonen to jump aside. He dove, hit the pavement with a painful thump, and rolled.”

    I understand that in times of action you shorten your sentences to speed up the pace for the reader. But each of these sentences seemed to stop dead instead of flowing into the next, which actually slowed things down for me (had a similar problem with Mieville’s noir-styled prose in “The City and the City.”) Also “It seemed to confuse it…” felt off. Rajaniemi may have been pointing out the sort of soul-deadening aspects of the urban scene, but considering the centrality of poetry to the plot resolution, I felt that the prose style didn’t quite keep up.

  9. Karen Burnham Says:

    Another thought: Sade, the person living in multiple quantum realities, was the most interesting idea in the story for me. It would’ve been nice to get something from her perspective. Instead she’s the only voiceless character in the piece. Bit of a shame, that.

  10. Chad Orzel Says:

    Another thought: Sade, the person living in multiple quantum realities, was the most interesting idea in the story for me. It would’ve been nice to get something from her perspective. Instead she’s the only voiceless character in the piece. Bit of a shame, that.

    I think that’s one of those ideas that makes a really cool McGuffin, but would end up being a huge disappointment if somebody tried to write it as a central element. But then, I’m a professional physicist, and I find most attempts at doing quantum effects in SF excruciating.

  11. Mike Johnstone Says:

    On a first reading, I found a great deal to appreciate in the story and enjoyed it quite a bit as a whole, though I stumbled somewhat with the sections set in the city and with the ending (which did feel a bit rushed). I tend to gravitate to stories about poets and/or poetry, and to stories that have poetry in the writing … give me both together, and I may just swoon. :-)

    On a second reading, however, my experience was like Pam Philips’ — i.e., “the story clicked.” Really clicked. The ending in particular had more clarity, made more sense; the writing also revealed itself to be more consistent throughout, and the plotting to be carefully measured.

    There are, still, a couple of seeming grammar hiccups that caused me to stop a little in my reading: “Otso was more comfortable outside, and he preferred the bear’s company to being alone” (the “he” is not clearly referring directly to Kosonen at this point, so the relationship between the characters is somewhat confused here); and, “It seemed to confuse it enough for Kosonen to jump aside” (“it” and “it” are tangled up here, and could be untangled by a simple fix: “The arrow seemed to confuse it,” with “it” now related directly to “its windshield” in the previous sentence). Also, as Karen notes, the prose does change somewhat when Kosonen’s in the city, perhaps because it is dedicated more to description/exposition, and thus loses a touch of the atmosphere and intrigue established from the story’s beginning.

    Rajaniemi recaptures that atmosphere and intrigue, though, once Kosonen meets Esa and then Säde, and then leaves the city. Put another way, for me, the poetry of the story returns, as the narrative returns to its focus upon the poet and the creative act of poetry.

    What a second reading most clicks into place is the parallel between Kosonen and Esa (and maybe, subtly, Marja) — as both are poets. They are poets in the sense of the Greek poietes, maker, and poiein, to make/create/produce. Perhaps they are also poets in the sense of the creation in Genesis (i.e., “He said, let there be light”) and in the Gospel of John (i.e., “In the beginning was the Word …. All things came into being through him …”). Language brings the world into being; words make and remake the world, especially the speaking of words, the going out of breath and — from the story — of “phonemes.”

    The threat of the plague is thus the unmaking of the world. Esa says to Kosonen, “‘You think a thought, and things break. You can’t help it.'” We see in the city the results of the plague’s unmaking, or, rather, the results of its bastardised, horrifying creativity: buildings with faces that eat people and get “stingy” with food; exploding pigeons, cats with sapphire eyes, and rats with azure tails; cars that are part monster. Esa, at least, appears to assert some measure of control over and in the city: “he could still dream, weave words and images into threads, make worlds out of the memories.” Here resides the parallel between Esa and Kosonen, as the latter now owns the ability, in a way, to “make worlds” with Marja’s gift of words and of the nanoseed, where Kosonen’s speaking of poetry triggers the nanoseed in material, physical, literal acts of creation/making.

    Catching on to this parallel in my second reading of the story made me better prepared for the ending, I think. Only that which is fully human can pass back through the firewall, and so Esa and Säde hide themselves in Kosonen’s very biology — as, “information,” or code and words and language … as the “poem” that Kosonen “held on to” while leaving the city behind. In the woods, Kosonen’s poem brings together the various parties of this post-plague world in a single, spoken creative act: Kosonen, Esa, Säde, and Marja. It is a creative act, I suspect, of love and of moving on from the past and from mourning. It is an act that potentially could represent the beginning of a new world that shifts from being sedentary to being in motion, just like Kosonen over the course of the narrative. Such is the very purpose of an elegy.

    As I reflect on the story, I appreciate more how it does something that only SF can do: take ideas and theories such as nanotech and quantum physics and turn them to poetic, very human(ising) ends. No matter what, perhaps, humanity will always adapt to the world and make or remake it as necessary, with words and speaking them into creative acts at the heart of it all.

  12. SF Strangelove Says:

    I agree with Karen Burnham, the line — “The small breasts were perfect hemispheres, her sex an equilateral silver triangle.” — brought me to a screeching halt. I also agree with Karen about voiceless Säde. When Kosonen speaks to her Esa replies instead, which is too bad on a couple of levels.

    On the other hand, the juxtaposition of the two holes in the ground tickled me. Early in the story: “The words needed to come from him, a dirty bearded man in the woods whose toilet was a hole in the ground.” Toward the end: “Kosonen planted the nanoseed in the woods. He dug a deep hole in the half-frozen peat with his bare hands, under an old tree stump.”

    My reaction to the story is mildly favorable. The nano-as-magic idea risks over-exposure by now. I liked the elk and the bear sidekick. The story needed a little more room to breathe.

  13. Martin Says:

    Sentence-by-sentence it isn’t a particularly exciting story, but it is quite efficient, and effective.

    I think I would go a bit further than that. When you make your protagonist a poet and call your story an elegy, you are inevitably going to draw extra scrutiny to your own prose and, like Karen, I stumbled over a few things in the city section.

    For example: “Kosonen shook it gingerly, feeling strange jagged things under Pera’s skin. It was like squeezing a glove filled with powdered glass.” Powdered glass is powder, it isn’t jagged. On the next page we have “sapphire-eyed animals, sleek cats looking at them from windowsills” followed almost immediately by “cats with sapphire claws clung to its walls like sleek gargoyles”. The references to Highlander in this section also struck me as off.

    In terms of the story as a whole, I think I need to re-read it as I wasn’t particularly engaged the first time round. Am I right that most people think Marja set up the whole thing to reconcil Kosonen with his son? This doesn’t strike me as particularly plausible motive for a post-human, particularly one who has already sublimed away from Kosonen.

  14. Lois Tilton Says:

    I assumed it was supposed to be a scheme to reconnect Marja with her son.

  15. Martin Says:

    But if that is the case, I’m not clear why she needs Kosonen to facilitate the reunion. She is, after all, an immensely powerful post-human. And why would she want a re-union? The family relationships seem overly conventional for the radical changes they have undergone.

  16. Lois Tilton Says:

    That is accepting the premise that she can’t get into the city, where, presumably, he is hiding from her.

    I think the point of the work is how family relationships remain unaltered even when so much has changed so much.

  17. Evan Says:

    It all has to be a plot, or it’s appallingly stupid as a whole story. She has the keys, the post-humans made the firewall. They can use the entity that controls the firewall to destroy the city. Since they have more energy access, presumably they can out-compute it as well. What’s surprising is that Kosonen doesn’t see through the transparency of the ploy.

    Like I said, I liked the story. The ‘world gone soft’ aspect of this particular singularity setting is one of its charms, but I think that you have to be incredibly careful in shaping the setup for stories like this, and I don’t think that enough care was taken. Even if it was a ploy, we should feel as abused as Kosonen should (but he doesn’t, since he implausibly never realizes that it was a set-up). That the sky people can’t get through the firewall that they created or talk to Säde and Esa is absurd on its face.

    Super-powerful post-humans would have the bandwidth to try and make all of the stayers happy, I’m sure, but they risk ruining their work when they leave such big fingerprints everywhere.

  18. Nick H. Says:

    The references to Highlander in this section also struck me as off.

    YES.

    I was quite enjoying the story – which is to say, unlike most of the short story club outings from last time, I didn’t start off hating it and then end up picking nits all the way through – but the first mention of Highlander really drew my up short and made me do something very much of a mental “Wait. What? Really?”

    The problem I have with it is twofold. First, it really dates the story. Not just in making it appear very much of this time, but in making it appear almost as of 10, 20 years ago. Because Highlander is already quite a dated reference, I’d say. Second, and from an in-story point of view, why on earth would people in a post-singularity future even care to know of Highlander? That doesn’t really stack up for me, and is a major problem with putting anything resembling contemporary references in a SF story – it will make them date horribly.

    That aside, I did enjoy it. Niall mentions the issue of whether the story is hard SF or not, and I’d file it firmly under the ‘not’ column. The science and the society in the story are evoked rather than built; whereas in hard SF I’d be expecting pages of exposition over how exactly the society is built and what makes the quantum magic stuff work etc., here it’s mentioned, touched on, but more than enough is left to the reader’s imagination.

    On the other hand, the plot clearly is secondary to the setting, but in a way more like Paul DiFilippo’s “Providence”, or some Cordwainer Smith, where showing off part of a strange new world seems more important than the actual story per se.

    I can’t agree with any criticism about the lack of poetry in the story, though. What there was wasn’t terribly good, and while it may seem a cop out to not quote any verses from the genius poet that is the main character, it’s far preferable to having the genius poet turn out uninspired bilge, which is the most likely outcome of the writer trying to insert their own poetry into the story. So I have to applaud Rajaniemi for (mostly) managing to avoid that mistake.

    In terms of some of the sentence-level criticism Martin offers up, I can’t argue with any of that. There are some clunkers. I did on first read start the story wondering if we were reading about two men and a bear or one man and a bear. But, surprisingly, I wasn’t as bothered as I might have been about similar clunkers in a bad story. I think perhaps the fact I like the bulk of the story carried me through those bits. And, I understand, this is an early work from Rajaniemi, so they seem like the sort of things he should be able to iron out in future.

  19. Pam Phillips Says:

    I think I understand better why I enjoyed this story. Tansy Roberts speaks more clearly than I could about how the story pulls you under. I think the second read goes more smoothly because you know where the glitches are. I third Karen Burnham and SF Strangelove about how distasteful the sex-robot description of Marja is.

    Along with Chad Orzel and others, I also thought it clear that Marja is the driving agent of a scheme to rescue Esa and Sade. Esa says the firewall is killing them. Marja may be post-human, but she’s still human enough to care. As for the firewall itself, we don’t know who put it in place. Maybe the last civilization was trying to purge itself of technology gone wild. Maybe the sky-people were expelled from the Earth, and that’s why they can’t get through the firewall. Anyway, Kosonen remains the logical person for Marja to enlist. It still seems awfully scheming of her not to tell him what he was really looking for, but then, she doesn’t come off as a very nice person in the first place.

    Mike Johnstone’s comments about poetry and creation, and how they explains the ending are beautiful. I was also thinking about poetry expressing multiple meanings of information, so it made sense to use it to encapsulate quantum information.

    This is one of the few post-Singularity stories I’ve read that makes a good case for being an unmodified human. Usually the case for remaining human animals is asserted as an unexaminable assumption.

    I also like how much of it takes place in the natural world, however infested by technology. Conversely, the city is itself overgrown and wild. It’s one of the few post-Singularity stories that look like a world I could live in.

    And in the end, an estranged couple manage to do their children some good after all.

  20. SF Strangelove Says:

    Niall mentions Marja’s wink at the end. I thought that was a false note, a case of the author wrapping everything up and putting a decorative bow on it. Marja is clearly manipulating the situation to bring Kosonen and Esa together, we don’t need a wink.

    Martin and Nick H. mention the Highlander references. Even if this had been a reference to a good movie or TV show it would have been a mistake. That we are asked to recall a bad show compounds the error.

  21. James Says:

    SF Strangelove: Highlander bad? Infidel. And yes there is only one Highlander film and no TV series.

  22. SF Strangelove Says:

    James: Alternate histories are quite popular now, aren’t they?

  23. Niall Says:

    Drive by note:

    Yes, the Highlander references were out of place.

    And Pam:

    I also like how much of it takes place in the natural world, however infested by technology.

    Yes, that’s a strong point in the story’s favour, for me.

  24. Matt Denault Says:

    Coming to this a little late, I don’t have much new to add — mostly just dittos.

    So yes, ditto Tansy, Niall, and Chad on the economy of the storytelling: with a few caveats, I enjoyed the pattern of what was included and what was left unexplained (Otso, Kosonen somehow losing his words), and the details that only hint at the broader world the story takes place in (as when Marja’s avatar says “I’m a partial, but a faithful one,” implying that there are unfaithful partials). Ditto Matt H, Mike, Niall, and Pam on the appreciation of the character-as-poet, the more poetic phrasings and repetitions of the story, and the link between poetry and complex creation. Ditto Karen, Mike, and Martin, though, on finding some of the phrasing not quite right — those unassigned “it”s that Mike mentions tripped me up several times, too, and also the repetition of “perkele,” he swore: once was enough, I get that it’s a swear. Ditto many folks on the odd datedness of the story: not just the Highlander reference, but also Marja’s statement that “I didn’t have to come: They could have sent Mickey Mouse,” and then the bit about the vending machines in supermarkets. (Maybe these things didn’t take root until later, or have lingered in the culture longer, in Finland?) Ditto Karen on the rather “golden age SF” depictions of the female characters, which is not a compliment.

    That last is perhaps something worth talking about a little more. We seem agreed that, to some degree, the background plot is that Marja planned all that happened. That requires Säde being created in such a way that Marja could know Esa would be sufficiently enraptured with Säde that he’d be willing to forsake the city and his expanded consciousness for her. So we’re back, with a sigh, to a Biblical depiction of woman as something created–as by gods above–for man’s enjoyment, or something close to that–and then both being set free to roam the garden in the spring of the world…

    (On the other hand, contra that sort of Biblical allusion, I wonder if there’s also an aspect of something like Finnish paganism to the story. It seems too much to be coincidental that Esa is living in a cathedral in the city. Which he abandons. And Otso is a name of the great bear spirit of Finnish mythology. Hmm. I can’t untangle a specific allegorical thread that runs through it all, but the whole story does have that sense of poetic logic about it: of gods, and of what it means to be a god, and of those humans who would be gods in different ways. As Mike suggests, everyone in the story is a creator, a maker, of some sort.)

    Beyond this, though, ditto everyone on being rather confused with the background plot. Marja is clearly in on it, based on the wink (which yes, is a bit silly, but is in keeping with her characterization as needing to always have the last word). As best I can make sense of it, it seems to me that the desire of the post-humans in general must have been to neutralize the source of the plague, which I take to be Esa. Yet they were unwilling destroy Esa outright, perhaps because Marja, who’s clearly a VIP among the post-humans, wouldn’t allow it. So Marja creates Säde and sends her down to the city (er, with Säde somehow passing through the firewall, yet needing to be inside Kosonen on the way out) where Esa falls in love with her, an planned. Then Marja smartly sends in Kosonen, knowing he’s the only one likely to be permitted to see Esa; and she gives him the gift of poetry with which to bring them out of the city, but only in a reduced, harmless form. So good family feelings are created, Marja saves her son (and fixes him up with a girl of her own creation, every mother’s dream!), and then the dangerous city is destroyed. (Along, we might add, with Pera and any other stayers in the city. But we won’t think about them….)

    Another thing I’ll add is that reading this story right after having discussed “A Serpent in the Gears” makes for an interesting compare/contrast. They are both stories of men who pass through barriers to return home, only to find home to be a stranger. “Elegy for a Young Elk” works a bit better for me because it has more emotional layers: Kosonen, Marja, and Esa are each emotional drivers of the story, where in “Serpent,” it’s really just Charles, despite all the other characters we’re introduced to. It’s a case where the smaller cast and more economical writing in “Elk” allows for each cast member to matter more. Also, it makes me wonder what Westerfeld would make of Rajaniemi’s story: is it steampunk, by Westerfeld’s definition? It does show, at least to my tastes, that one doesn’t necessarily need the overt gears and bottled brains of steampunk to evoke that same sort of technological wonder of the mad scientist-as-remixing-DJ: that more traditional SF can do it just as well, with the right imagination behind it.

    “Elegy for a Young Elk” also reminded me just a tiny bit of the Daniel Abraham story we read last year–another luddite man meets his ex who has transcended his understanding, BUT AT WHAT COST TO HER HUMANITY? But like the Abraham story, reading between the lines, the woman is clearly more human than the man gives her credit for. Both stories strike a pose of technological dissonance, but end up hinting that really it’s mainly the ordinary dissonance between men and women that’s at work. I have mixed feelings about this.

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    […] “Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi [discussion] […]

  27. Short Story Club Discusses Singh; Rajaniemi « The World SF Blog Says:

    […] A Sky River Sutra (read the story online at Strange Horizons) – and Hannu Rajaniemi – Elegy for a Young Elk (read the story online at Subterranean Online). Check out the discussion on […]


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