SKY CITY: NEW SCIENCE FICTION
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When asked to think of Danish authors, Hans Christian Andersen is probably the first to come to mind, and then, possibly, Peter Høeg or Søren Kierkegaard. Denmark, however, has a thriving modern science fiction community as evidenced by the stories collected in Sky City: New Science Fiction Stories by Danish Authors. The stories were all published in Danish in 2007 and 2008, with this volume, apparently, being their first English translation.
“Sky City” is set in a super-high skyscraper in Tokyo where Romi has been sent to find pottery made by a master potter. The strange setting of the building, which is constantly being rebuilt by nanobots is more intriguing that Romi’s quest, although Manfred Christiansen manages to tie Romi’s job to the skyscraper in a satisfying and unexpected manner.
Niels Gjerløff’s “Departure” is less a story than a vignette, lacking both plot and conclusion as the author follows Irina and Peter as they prepare to leave Earth for Europa. Adding to the slightness of the work is the iffy translation of the story which should have been checked by someone other with a more firm grasp of English.
“The White Bear” offers a disturbing look at Russian gangsters living in China. Although neither of Richard Ipsen’s characters, who kidnap girls from remote villages in order to sell them as courtesans, are admirable, the “White Bear” of the title does understand the code of ethics to their job and must deal with the consequences when his partner breaks that code.
Glen Stihmøe’s strangely titled “Helium Loves Company,” the Helium refers to one of the characters, is a post apocalyptic world in which small groups must try to survive on their own, constantly weary of strangers. The primary group has determined they must move on, nomad style, in order to survive, leading them into conflict with other groups who either fear their encroachment or see them as prey, until they find one of the strangest collections of people on the decimated world.
“The Last Astronaut” is an almost surreal story by Flemming R. P. Rasch which incorporates many of the tropes of science fiction, notably robots and time travel, but little of the underlying logic.
In “The Organism on Maneo,” Morten Brunbjerg describes a group of students excited by the recently discovered alien life form which has been quarantined. Although they understand that as freshman, they won’t get to examine it, their teacher’s connections allow them to study images of the creature and make guesses about its nature. Eventually two of the students are able to learn more in a story which warns, not about seeking knowledge, but rather about seeking knowledge without the proper precautions.
Patrick Leis offers a tale of an interrogation of a US Air Force Colonel in “The Tourist” who was responsible for an attack on his own country. Although the interrogation scenes don’t seem particularly realistic, the main point of the story is the mystery behind the colonel’s actions, which imply he is in collusion with a vast conspiracy. Leis does an excellent job playing with the reader’s and interrogator’s expectations as he introduces various science fictional possibilities.
Dan Mygind reminds the reader that the news business is, in fact, a business in “Know Your Target Audience.” Even as information is uncovered on a decades old conspiracy, the information’s effects are judged prior to any decision about making disclosure of the information or what form such disclosure should take, offering an extremely cynical view of the information which is allowed to be fed to consumers.
“The Red Parakeets” is an indictment of society’s tendency to enforce conformity on its members. Camilla Wandahl’s protagonist has avoided a fad for genetically modified pets which spread to various other aspects of life, a decision which eventually leads to her imprisonment. The satire is narrowly focused and the premise doesn’t particularly hold up, at least to an American audience where diversity may be more acceptable.
Kenneth Krabat’s “The Short Arm of History” is reminiscent of Frederik Pohl’s Gateway. A strange artifact has been discovered which can apparently send people to other worlds. But while Pohl’s novel offered the knowledge that some seekers were successful, Krabat’s story doesn’t offer that glimmer of hope and so makes the reader question the lemming-like volunteers who keep trying out the machine without being able to return data.
Søren Elmerdahl Hemmingsen offers a look at the measures taken following a terrorist attack in “A Contribution to the History of Denmark,” which shows the Danish and American response, both militarily and popularly, to an attack of a giant reptile. The attack and its aftermath are the background to a budding romance between Mogens and Ingeborg. Further complicating their relationship is Ingeborg’s espousal of measures that Mogens isn’t entirely sure of, but is willing to overlook for the sake of his infatuation.
“When the Music’s Over” posits a strange alien invasion of Earth in which spacecraft flood the world with representations of human music, television, and art. A. Silvestri not only looks at the human response, militarily, artistically, and scientifically, but also explores what it means to be creative and what the cost of creativity can be.
“The E-Puzzle” looks at Thomas Smith’s attempts to map personality traits in an effort to perfect a means of recording people’s minds, memories, and personalities, one of many recurring themes in this anthology. When his drug-abusing son, Adam, is murdered, his need to perfect the process is made more urgent. Nikolaj Højberg’s portrayal of Smith is as a cold, calculating businessman who doesn’t trust the personality and personal relationships of the people around him, even as he works to extract them.
Built around a team investigating the death of an alien, Ellen Miriam Pedersen’s “Leading, Feeding” seems more intent on exploring the personalities and relationships of her characters than the alien that brought them together. An unnecessary metafictional introduction to the characters breaks the rhythm of the story early in the narrative and it never fully recovers.
Anonymity and seclusion is established early in Camilla Fonss Bach Friis’s “You Are My Best Friend” when she fails to give either character a name. The two characters are apparently enjoying a quiet afternoon together, talking and getting coffee. Nevertheless, there is a strange vibe given their apparent closeness and, at the same time, a distance between the two. Friis provides indications of a reason without spelling out the situation.
Brian P. Ørnbøl takes up the theme of isolation with “Dreams of Stone,” a nihilistic story of a woman living in an apparently world-spanning, intensely populated city, but does not have a connection to anyone. Dreaming of seeing a natural setting, when she decides to leave the city, she does meet up with, but still fails to connect with, others who can offer her scant help, demonstrating an astounding lack of knowledge including geography despite the presence of GPS units in the world. Eventually she elects to just drive south through the never-ending urban environment in search of something she has never before experienced.
“The Green Jacket” mirrors the conformity theme of “The Red Parakeets” in Gudrun Østergaard’s story in which Ivara, a thirteen year old girl, rebels against the need to stay in her own area and wear only the latest designated fashions by hiding the titular article of clothing even after it became “dated.” Ivara manages to escape from her elite ghetto and discover that other people can live their own lives, but the dangers and uncertainty of such a life scares her back to a more comfortable conformity.
“In the Surface” offers a pessimistic view of the ecological future from Sara Tanderup, in which fish are dealing with the results of climate change and ecological disaster. It is a short piece, but one filled with anxiety, as well as turning a blind eye to the negatives if there are any positives that can be found in a situation, ultimately resulting in a disturbing tale.
Perhaps the strongest story in the book is the final one, Lars Ahn Pedersen’s “Interrogation of Victim No. 5.” Opening as a police interrogator questions a woman who apparently suffers from some form of amnesia, the interrogator is able to work closely with her to remember an attack as she walked across a park. The emotions and situations feel quite real, and the interrogation scene reinforces the feeling that the similar scene in Patrick Leis’s story doesn’t quite feel right. Pedersen’s science fictional elements are chilling, showing how things can work out even when they go dreadfully wrong and leaving the reader wondering about the story’s aftermath even as the story feels complete in itself.
|Manfred Christiansen||Sky City|
|Richard Ipsen||The White Bear|
|Glen Stihmøe||Helium Loves Company|
|Flemming R. P. Rasch||The Last Astronaut|
|Morten Brunbjerg||The Organism on Maneo|
|Patrick Leis||The Tourist|
|Dan Mygind||Know Your Target Audience|
|Camilla Wandahl||The Red Parakeets|
|Kenneth Krabat||The Short Arm of History|
|Søren Elmerdahl Hemmingsen||A Contribution to the History of Denmark|
|A. Silvestri||When the Music's Over|
|Nikolaj Højberg||The E-Puzzle|
|Ellen Miriam Pedersen||Leading, Feeding|
|Camilla Fønss Bach Friss||You Are My Best Friend|
|Brian P. Ørnbøl||Dreams of Stone|
|Gudrun Østergaard||The Green Jacket|
|Sara Tanderup||In the Surface|
|Lars Ahn Pedersen||Interrogation of Victim no. 5|
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