Alliance.125: Hirunda is the first in Raita Jauhiainen ambitious science fiction series about a post-war dystopia called Gavialis. The city is broken up into seven circles, the first being the least prestigious, the seventh is the most. It is forbidden for people from the lower-caste circles to travel to the higher echelons of society. This is a sterile world, where children are bred selectively in “artificial wombs,” and the civilization is facing catastrophe because too few girls are being born. Boys grow up viewing women as rare and exotic, and women are followed around by a pair of bodyguards.
The novel begins with Jani 821771, a man with very little ambition from the first circle, tasked with monitoring a prison colony on the moon. Soon he gets a surprise call to visit the sixth circle, an unprecedented event for him, or anyone. During his trip, he visits a museum and learns about this society’s history, an ingenious way to let the reader know what has transpired, because to Jani this is all a mystery to him as well. Unbeknownst to him, he’s the son of a prominent man, a station that will take him outside the confines of the city walls.
The set up of Hirunda is familiar to other dystopian series. A major war has led to a complete restructuring of society (see The Hunger Games, even Star Trek’s utopia started with WWIII). Though this is a familiar trope, Jauhiainen’s universe is completely original, and wildly ambitious. One of the more creative aspects of Hirunda is how the book itself unfolds. As the city of Gavialis is laid out in seven different sectors, each chapter then delves deeper into each sector, i.e. the book and the city are structured the same way. We start with Jani in the first circle, then each subsequent chapter follows a new character in a different circle with an entirely different perspective on the society.
This is what makes Hirunda such a fulfilling alternate world: we inhabit the world along with the characters. Just as Jani is in the dark about what exactly happens in the 6th circle, so is the reader. It can be tough, and often frustrating, to start a new chapter with an entirely different character. It’s like starting the book over again. But with Hirunda it works, and it’s a necessary component of the plot. Author Raita Jauhiainen is planning this series to be at least seven books as well, meaning the entire series follows this same trajectory.
On top of it all, Jauhiainen initially wrote the book in Finnish and translated it herself into English. At times, the language can feel a bit staid and spare, but it actually serves the characters well. As Jani leads such a colorless life, his reaction to this society are somewhat colorless as well. Other characters are more fully emotional because they are a reflection of the circle where they live. One missed mark is a romantic subplot that seems to have a tenor of an entirely different book, as if adding romance would make the book appeal to a wider variety of readers. It doesn’t entirely seem necessary, given the scope of the rest of the book.
All told, an entertaining, visceral, and impressive work of dystopian sci-fi. Winner of SPR’s Full Moon Awards for Science Fiction.
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