Giants at the End of the World is a nifty artifact, its subtitle “A Showcase of Finnish Weird” telling part of the story, and the headline of the back jacket text “Worldcon 75 proudly presents” telling the rest. The slender and compact collection of 11 stories was a present to attending members of the 2017 World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, and it is a fine glimpse into the worlds of strange fiction by Finnish authors.
Eight are translations from Finnish; two first saw publication in this volume, although one of those, “Summerland,” is the first chapter of a novel of the same name that was published in 2018. The editors introduce each story and author with a one-page note about their person and their works, and they round out the volume with eleven pages listing of contemporary Finnish SF/F available in other languages, a listing that is by no means confined to English. I was particularly pleased to see one novel that had been translated into Georgian, but larger and smaller languages, from Albanian to Vietnamese and French to Japanese were present as well.
The stories are, of necessity, shortish, and true to the subtitle tend toward the strange and fantastical, rather than toward the science fictional. Peculiar things simply happen, and the authors are typically happy to let readers try to interpret the occurrences rather than tipping their hand with an explanation. What is the proper perspective for viewing “The Haunted House on Rocketworks Street”? Why and how did the exiles of “Undine” wind up where they are? Is the first-person narrator of “Snowfall” coming unstuck from reality, or is she possessed of greater insight than the mundane people around her? Those questions and other are left satisfyingly unanswered.
Though the subtitle proclaims a geographic unity of the collection, the stories wear their Finnishness lightly. One features elements from the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic; some are explicitly set in or near Helsinki; others describe natural landscapes that are recognizably Finnish but could plausibly be in other places sufficiently far north. Some, too, are set in fully imaginary realms and do not have an explicitly Finnish connection at all. The editors have chosen their showcase to present a wide range of weirdness, and all of it is deliciously strange.
“The Bearer of the Bone Harp,” by Emmi Itäranta, is a case in the Holmes mode, with added elements of music, magic, and menace. It originally appeared in an anthology of short stories about the composer Jean Sebelius, and it left me wanting to find out more about the world it is set in and those particular characters. “The Skinner,” by Anne Leinonen, was creepily dystopic. “Summerland” also left me wanting to discover more about dueling NKVD agents in 1938 London with hints of magic emanating from rival Summer and Winter Courts. The title story closes the volume nicely with a story of travel and secrets, and giants at a place that may actually be just the beginning.
Giants at the End of the World is probably not generally available, but some of the authors are undoubtedly present in a book advertised in its endpapers — Never Stop: Finnish Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, selected by Emmi Itäranta.