Author(s): Hannu Rajaniemi
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: June 26th 2018
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Espionage
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
There’s always something intimately satisfying in picking up a book that jolts your mind with refreshing ideas that only seemed inconceivable at first. Author of the critically-acclaimed Jean le Flambeur trilogy Hannu Rajaniemi returns for a stand-alone espionage story infused with a whole dose of science fiction in Summerland. Pulsating with passion and creativity, this story is the very archetype of what novelty is all about. Far from being a story focused on a typical narrative structure with an exposition that leads to a resolution, this is a story that proudly waves its firm grasp on ideas that could only have been thoroughly thought through by Hannu Rajaniemi himself.
Summerland takes place in an alternate 1938 reality where the afterlife is not a thing of fiction anymore. Following this discovery, the British Empire has expanded their power by creating a metropolis for the deceased called the Summerland. Based on a meritocracy where only those who possess a Ticket before death can access the afterlife, the world no longer revolves around the same principles as it once did. On the brink of what is to be known as the Spanish Civil War, SIS agent Rachel White however finds herself befuddled in front of an unexpected lead regarding a Soviet mole. In order to catch said spy, she will have to go through loops that will force her to do things she never thought she would.
At heart, Summerland is an espionage story set in a world with its own rules, norms and secrets. With a woman as a lead protagonist, you can quickly comprehend the extensive strain put upon her shoulder to always perform and outdo others, while also always having the short end of the stick no matter how well she does. Her gender plays a crucial role throughout the story and is a major element to Hannu Rajaniemi’s story as it highlights the means that she will need to mull over if she wants to reach the ends she so desperately needs to reach. Although her character isn’t easy to connect with, she effortlessly captures the essence of being a spy and the difficult choices she needs to make if she wants to strive in her business.
While the spy story is the foundation of Summerland, I found myself appreciating this novel much more for its jaw-dropping conceptualization of the afterlife. In fact, my immersion was completely due to Hannu Rajaniemi’s unbelievable world-building. The ways he finds to include ectoplasm within his story and to form a whole science behind it is one of the most stunning innovation I’ve read in a while. With a whole system in place to cover any possible plot holes to his creation, he cleverly brings to life a universe where the dead are still alive, and very capable of interacting with the living thanks to ectophones and mediums. Even emotions and thoughts don’t limit themselves to the mind and body as they break loose and become much more malleable after dead, requiring even more mastery of one’s self, especially within the world of spies.
Summerland is an idea given a new lease of life. Despite its story being conventional in the espionage genre, its concepts of afterlife rejuvenates it to offer a stunning and impeccable world that only the mind can fancy. It might not be the most accessible story that you could pick up, but it is without a doubt enthralling and authentic.
Thank you Raincoast Books and Tor Books for sending me a copy for review!