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Single chapter seals three-book deal

By Tiina Heinilä, October 2010

Photo: Zuzana KrejciovaStealing the show: Hannu Rajaniemi wrote “The Quantum Thief” in English, not in his native Finnish, and was offered a three-book contract after showing publishers just one chapter.

Hannu Rajaniemi is the cofounder of a think tank focused on mathematical problem solving – and now he's also a critically acclaimed English-language sci-fi writer.

Rajaniemi's first novel, The Quantum Thief, published in Britain in September 2010, has received excellent reviews. "To me, writing is a form of meditation," Rajaniemi says. "It helps me to detach from my demanding job. Wrestling with scientific problems for a living offers an actual feast of ideas, and in the sci-fi context I'm allowed to go a bit further."

Hannu Rajaniemi, 32, is an interesting person in many ways. While in primary school, he was granted the 1986 Customer of the Year Award by his local library in Ylivieska, northwestern Finland, after borrowing every possible book about science. "The Finnish library system is one of the things I miss in Britain," Rajaniemi says.

He moved to Britain at the age of 22 and received his PhD from the University of Edinburgh at 28. That same year, Rajaniemi founded ThinkTank Maths Ltd with his colleagues. The consultancy is specialised in solving confidential and complex mathematical problems – and customers include the British armed forces and the BBC.

The Quantum Thief has been described as "the big science-fiction debut of the year" and has garnered positive reviews. "I personally enjoyed the comprehensive analysis by John Clute, who is a famous sci-fi critic and renowned for his merciless style," Rajaniemi reveals. "Of course I am a bit nervous about the overall reaction but writing is, above all, a hobby to me, so I try not to worry too much."

Finnish more poetic than English

Rajaniemi describes his first novel as the sort of an adventure novel from the good old days – despite the fact that the story takes place on futuristic Mars, where memories can be shared and shaped. Another substantial theme in the book is contemplating what will happen to our privacy and identity in the future. "But basically the novel is an adventurous mystery," he says.

© Gollancz and GummerusClick to enlarge the picture
Finns translating Finns: Although he's Finnish, Rajaniemi created "The Quantum Thief" in English, so the Finnish version is a translation by Antti Autio.

The media in Britain and Finland have paid attention to the unusual way Rajaniemi got his publishing contract: Publishing house Gollanzc offered him a three-book contract based only on 24 pages, a single chapter, of The Quantum Thief. Rajaniemi writes in English, not in his native Finnish. For him, Finnish is first and foremost a language for expressing personal thoughts and feelings, one which he would love to use more.

"I feel like different people in English and in Finnish," he notes. "Stereotypically, I am probably more of an extrovert in English. The Finnish translation of The Quantum Thief, (Kvanttivaras), comes out in spring 2011. It was a particularly weird experience for me to read Antti Autio's skilful translation – as if it was written by my English self's Finnish double, and not the Finnish me!"

The Quantum Thief will also be published in the US and Germany. Rajaniemi is currently writing a sequel to the book, and for that purpose he's been studying, among other things, cognitive neuroscience and the history of the Soviet Union. "Hopefully I've learned something from the writing process of my first book. The pace of writing is definitely calmer now. I can enjoy writing more, and be as excited as anyone about what's going to happen in the end."

Edinburgh: City of writers and scientists
 

Hannu Rajaniemi moved to Edinburgh from Cambridge, by his own words accidentally, as the University of Edinburgh just happened to provide the exact filament research that supported his PhD. He had already written something while living in Finland, but Scotland inspired him in earnest.

One of the cultural hubs of Britain, Edinburgh is famous for its writers. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, came from Edinburgh, and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling resides there.

 

Links:

ThinkTank Maths Ltd
Tomorrow Elephant, Hannu Rajaniemi's homepage

 

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