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Reading ‘The Causal Angel’ in Mogadishu

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The book: The Causal Angel, Hannu Rajaniemi

The place: Mogadishu

LOOK AT WHAT MAGICALLY APPEARED ON MY KINDLE TWO DAYS AGO!!! This is one of the delights of e-readers – while it’s true that nothing quite compares to receiving an actual physical book in the post, such pleasures are heavily dependent on having regular access to a physical address. But through the magic of ebooks, you can pre-order something, forget you pre-ordered it, and then one glorious day you will switch on your e-reader and THERE IN FRONT OF YOU is a book that you have been awaiting for (in this case) about a year and a half.

Had you told me two years ago that I would be so excited about a book that is usually dubbed as ‘hard science fiction’ I would have been extremely dubious. Until late 2011 I had read more or less zero science fiction in my life, aside from a tiny bit of John Wyndham when I was young, and a few examples of the sorts of books that are generally snobbishly described as speculative fiction, rather than science fiction (Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, for example). I have roundly repented of my earlier stance; my gateway books were Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, which were recommended to me by so many friend that they became impossible to ignore. I devoured the series in a couple of weeks, and resolved to Read More SciFi.

That said, I probably wouldn’t have read Rajaniemi had he not been so strongly pushed upon me by my friend John when I visited him in Brussels at the start of 2013. The Vorkosigan books are ‘space opera’ – yes, there are spaceships and battles, but the focus is very much on the characters rather than on technology or aliens; Rajaniemi is an actual mathematician who understands actual Hard Science and uses it in his books. Aiiiieeee!

And yet! I burned through The Quantum Thief in a couple of days, and was overjoyed to discover that it was the first in a trilogy and the second was about to come out. I read The Fractal Prince on holiday at the end of February 2013, on a balcony overlooking a crater lake and the Rwenzoris in the misty distance – and then in April 2013 I was on a couple of panels at the Budapest Book Fair and guess who was also present? HANNU RAJANIEMI. Thank you, serendipity. I attended his panel and was even sufficiently emboldened to ask a question (about the extent to which having a proper understanding of the actual science improves one’s enjoyment of the books) and I found out that he had just finished The Causal Angel which is the last book in the trilogy and NOW IT IS ON MY KINDLE WAITING FOR ME TO READ IT. (I have barely started – only read the prologue so far – because I want to savour it.)

Why are these books so wonderful? The characters (always what I go for more than anything else in a novel); the world-building that speaks of a rich and lively and compassionate imagination (if you can read the part of The Quantum Thief that deals with the Quiets without tearing up I am not quite sure what I think of you); the multilayered allusions to literature and culture and myth – and the writing, the writing, the writing. The fact that Rajaniemi isn’t even writing in his mother tongue makes me quite ashamed of myself. (I can, however, count to five in Finnish, so that’s something.) Read these books, friends. Read these books.


Bonus creepy stalker photo of Hannu Rajaniemi (right) at the Budapest Book Fair last year


Bonus non-creepy photo of Budapest being its gorgeous self

Written by Jess

July 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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