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Boundaries and other Horror Stories from Finland
edited by Matti Jarvinen, translated by Jukka Sarkijarvi
Nysalor-kustannus, 2017, 200 p
Published: August 2017

A new anthology of translated tales in a venture into the unknown on several levels: the stories themselves, the idioms of the language of origin, and the cultural context that makes up the groundwater at the roots of each story.  These ten tales of perplexity and terror were showcased at last year’s WorldCon in Helsinki.  All the authors are living, many are still relatively young; so here are some of the rising voices of Norway.

“The Wheelchair Granny”, by Thomas Saloranta, contrasts the understated, banal horror of living on the streets with the subjective terror of the unknown, the unknowable, and the intangible.  It builds quietly, turning corners as the landscape shifts from mundane to otherworldly, as the protagonist learns the old, hard lesson: some things are better left unknown.

Samuli Antila’s titular “Boundaries” is an achingly, hauntingly effective ghost story that underscores the incompatibility of the realms of the dead and the living, and how dangerous it is to linger in the shadowlands between the two.  The ending is a curious swirl of despair and hopefulness; the writer lets you make of it what you will, but he deftly challenges certain assumptions. 

“Herr Maximillian Dunkelhaus and His Circus” is certainly my favorite title of the collection, and one of my favorite stories.  (I like a writer who regards names as an occasion to indulge in a spot of foreshadowing.)  Taru Luojola writes the story in a straightforward first-person narrative that transitions from the ordinary to the mysterious in quick, only slightly odd phrases — masterfully rendered, artfully translated —adding nuances, complexity, and depth as it progresses: the literary equivalent of a Beethoven symphony.  The story is, at first, simple enough: young man meets a young woman at night.  When the owners of a strange carnival come looking for her, he sets out to solve the mystery of her appearance and disappearance.  As the story unfolds, however, you realize the details have resolved into a dimensional portal, summed up in the ringmaster’s address to his audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, living and dead, welcome to Circus Dunkelhaus!”  If some of the other writers seem influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, I would guess Luojola prefers E. T. A. Hoffmann. 

“Sanctuary”, by Juha Jyrkas, is a sublime marchen in which a journalist undertakes to write about a 1970s rock band named Thunderbird, sort of the Finnish version of Kiss.  If you are familiar with Emma Bull’s War of the Oaks, this story has a certain kinship with that work, portraying song-making as a voice of magic that can counter evil.  It also shares elements with Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Price

“The Last Human?” by Lucilla Lin is SF set in a mechanized future, where the last lingering traces of humanity’s dominance are being effaced and replaced.  Oh, Brave New World….

“The Rice Chest”, by Henna Sinisalo, is a tale of retribution in a style of high fantasy, as a badly-behaved Crown Prince tries to evade his death sentence; a touch of Lord Dunsany here. 

I wonder if there isn’t a degree of historical veracity behind “The Statement of Staff Sergeant Chambers” by Jussi Katajala; I have heard similar accounts from others in the military, about a damnable locus of energies of destruction. Truth? Or urban legend?  Either way, it makes for a very good story; shades of Lovecraft. Toni Saarinen’s “Sold Out” is another Lovecraftian piece, evocative and menacing, about desperate actors, an unscrupulous manager, and a dangerous production. The title is a nice example of multiple meaning.

The penultimate story, Shimo Suntila’s “The Mask of the Pale Witch”, is gloriously retro.  It starts like a Chandleresque yarn, with a private investigator (partner dead or missing), a dangerous dame who raises the hair at the back of your neck while she increases your capillary flow, firearms, and a dubious assignment.  Both the ambiance and the nature of the temptations segue from film noirish to supernatural, then back again.  There is an especially effective reveal near the end, and one of the best endings of any story, ever.

“The Lights of Zrieseholt” is by Anu Korpinen, who also did the cover art.  It starts out idyllically, so that only its inclusion in an anthology of horror primes you for the changeover. When a boy goes missing, the police investigation uncovers a local history of strange phenomena: disappearing children, mysterious lights and the sound of laughter.   It’s almost a modern “Pied Piper of Hamelin”. 

This collection is intense, rich in variety, and indicative of a very high level of imaginative writing in Finland. It will probably inspire you to seek out more writings by these authors ~~ Chris Wozney

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