Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a bonafide fanboy of Rajaniemi, first for his trilogy and then for his short story collection, I was really chomping at the bit for ANYTHING he might write next. His imagination is by far some of the most hard-hitting spectacular steam-rolling post-singularity tour-de-force circuses I've ever come across.
So what was my initial reaction when I heard he was writing about 1938 pre-war spy fiction where the afterlife is not only accessible but is actively involved in politics in that alternate world?
For me, I've never been a gung-ho fan of Le Carre spy fiction, and although this is apparently written in a very similar style, I can't go completely ga-ga over it because I'm not starting out as a fan. Fortunately, I have read enough similar stuff to enjoy it, at least intellectually. And so I dove in. Keeping an open mind.
Both the Soviets and the English have their own separate afterlives. Not everyone has the means to stick around after they die, however, and so a kind of economy is set up. A Meritocracy. Only the deserving can keep from fading away. But what's worse is the fact that the really old politicos don't go away. Ever. The living is ruled by the dead and wars are a fantastic mixture of Ideology (Communism vs Socialism), Religion (or lack thereof), and of course all the other trappings of temporal power, including resources, economics, and all the other things that the living are interested in. :)
I think the novel was fantastically researched and developed. It's more finding reasons to stay with a particular side kind of novel than discovering who might be the bad guy. Or even if there IS a bad guy. This kind of spy fiction is about ideas, plain and simple. And a few great reveals later that paint the whole situation in a very different light.
For me, I have no problems with the novel as it is. Not the characters, the subjects, or the action. I enjoyed getting to know both the main characters from either side of the ideological (and temporal) divide. :)
FINAL ESTIMATION. It ain't the same kind of novel, by a long shot, to his other trilogy! Don't expect it! It's quite an easy read so long as you're fine with your history, too. You know, like the contents of the Spanish Civil War. Or extrapolations of a world that can't get over Queen Victoria WAY past her expiration date.
Double-crosses, mystery, murder, ectoplasm! Dark secrets, darker times... where life seems rather meaningless because life is almost the same after you die! It's all there. And it's pretty fantastic. :)
So why didn't I give this a five star if I'm such a fan? Because I tend to bounce off Oooooldschool spy fiction. It's okay. I just don't usually resonate that well with it. The same is true here. I liked the novel. The characters, all the elements, but something got sacrificed for the sake of being more accessible, IMHO.
I LOVE his wilder stuff. :) Plain and simple. It's not fair to this novel, of course, because it's very much ahead of its competition. I think of Ian Tregellis's trilogy, in particular, which I liked a lot. Also, Larry Correia.
Rajaniemi kills it on the ideological forefront. :)
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