“Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi

September 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Posted in Short Stories | 5 Comments

This week’s story is “Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi from Subterranean Magazine. Despite the rustic name and opening scene, it turns out this is a post-singularity story. Last week Evan complained about characters “straight out of steampunk central casting”, but using stock material doesn’t bother me too much. It’s a good thing, because this story’s plot feels like it’s the only story anyone ever tells about the singularity. Vaguely described transhumans fighting vaguely described self-replicating “plague”, all right out of Fire Upon the Deep. I’m not sure if the story is even comprehensible to someone unfamiliar with the tropes involved. The family connections between the three categories of post-singularity life were a bit of a new twist, but also a twist that felt fairly contrived.

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.

So in conclusion…hmm, give me a minute here…let’s go with number five…so, in conclusion, I enjoyed this story despite my complaints because it didn’t try to do too much (like last week’s story) or too little (like the first two stories). It probably was not as well written as some of the previous short story club stories, but I liked it more. I guess this could just be evidence I have a greater affinity for the setting and tropes involved, but unlike most of the previous stories, this one paired its chosen subgenre with a narrative that had a clear beginning, middle, and end. I think it’s useful to contrast this with last week’s steampunk story. That story was much more expansive in its worldbuilding and the ideas it was trying to work with, but for me, at least, there wasn’t adequate resolution. This story aims much lower, but I came away feeling much more positive.

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5 Comments »

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  1. So in conclusion…hmm, give me a minute here…let’s go with number five…

    Now you must use a different one each week until the short story club is over. :-p

  2. Tempting. Not quite enough, though: nine stories left but only 7 more ways to end a story (Adam’s in the comments doesn’t count).

  3. Well, you could count the multiple variants of number eight as different endings… or come up with your own!

  4. [...] Hilliard on Short Story Club: “A Ser…Matt Hilliard on How to start a review“Elegy for a Y… on Short Story Club 2“Elegy for a Y… on How to Finish [...]

  5. [...] Atlantic a few weeks ago.  Rajaniemi has previously published some short stories (including one I’ve read, “Elegy for a Young Elk”) but this is his first [...]


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