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The blood of angels, p.1
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       The Blood of Angels, p.1

           Johanna Sinisalo
 
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The Blood of Angels


  Praise for Johanna Sinisalo

  The Blood of Angels

  ‘The Blood of Angels artfully combines existential crisis with environmental crisis.’

  – Le Monde

  ‘The Blood of Angels reinforces one’s belief in the power of fiction to debate matters of global significance.’

  – Turun Sanomat (Finland)

  Not Before Sundown

  (a.k.a Troll: A Love Story)

  ‘Blame global warming, but trolls are moving out of legend to scavenge at the outskirts of Finnish cities … Sinisalo’s strange and erotic tale peers at the crooked world through a peephole. The troll comes to life after hours, unleashing glittering desires … Is the troll becoming more human (hurt, jealousy), or does he merely reveal our own trollishness?’

  – Guardian

  ‘Unsettlingly seductive … elegance, authenticity and chilling conviction’

  – Independent on Sunday

  ‘Chillingly seductive’

  – Independent, Best Reads of 2003

  ‘A sharp, resonant, prickly book that exists on the slipstream of SF, fantasy, horror and gay fiction.’

  – Neil Gaiman

  ‘An imaginative and engaging novel of urban fantasy … Overlapping narrative voices nicely underscore the moral of Sinisalo’s ingeniously constructed fable: The stuff of ancient legend shadows with rather unnerving precision the course of unloosed postmodern desire.’

  – Washington Post

  ‘Simple but very powerful … A thoughtful, inspiring and rewarding work.’

  – Gay Times

  ‘A wily thriller-fantasy … Each discovery sounds like the voice of a storyteller reminding us of how the gods play with our fates.’

  – The New York Times

  ‘A punk version of The Hobbit … Sinisalo cleverly taps the fabled legacy of myths while ditching the fairy-tale tone you might expect … Although the book exploits the conventions of the fantasy genre, it clearly transcends them … This smart, droll novel points out the absurdity of consumerism … [and] underscores how our ad-driven culture and its images permeate our lives.’

  – USA Today

  ‘A brilliant and dark parable about the fluid boundaries between human and animal … Johanna Sinisalo creates scenes that make you laugh out loud; 10 pages later you’re holding your breath with anxiety. Such talent is not to be taken for granted.’

  – The Boston Globe

  ‘Sinisalo takes us on a brilliant and sometimes horrifying multidisciplinary adventure through biology and belief, ecology, morality, myth and metaphysics, in a quest for a wild place where trolls can run free.’

  – Creative Loafing

  ‘Sinisalo uses the relationship between man and troll to examine the hidden motivations in human-human interactions … Sinisalo sets up thematic connections between nearly every event in the book, but she handles them with a light touch … this would be Ibsen’s The Wild Duck – if the duck were the main love interest. Granted, Ibsen’s doomed waterfowl never ended up in a pair of designer jeans, but both creatures highlight the uneasy role of feral nature trapped within civilized humanity.’

  – Village Voice

  ‘While trolls in legends and stories often resemble werewolves, changelings and demons, in Sinisalo’s book it’s the humans whose beastly qualities are familiar and threatening. Her in-translation language is marvelous, sexy, enticing … Blood and bone mixes with unique humor and wit.’

  – San Diego Union Tribune

  ‘Johanna Sinisalo has created a strange, beautiful tale, expertly translated, and cinematic enough for movie scenes … Thought-provoking, uniquely imaginative, and brimming with circus-sideshow details … Sinisalo’s story ascends to more than just a freakish attraction by being intellectual and darkly comic all at once. The result is simply brilliant.’

  – San Francisco Bay Reporter

  ‘Told as a modern-day fairy tale … haunted me long after I finished. It has all the elements, including some of the disturbing ones, found in so many of Grimm’s stories, but is nonetheless a truly original novel.’

  – Powells.com

  ‘Offers an ingenious dramatization of the nightmare of blurred boundaries between species, and a disturbing dystopian vision reminiscent of Karel Capek’s classic War with the Newts. A fascinating black comedy, from a writer who has made the transition to literary fiction with a giant’s stride.’

  – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  ‘A sexually charged contemporary folk tale … Sinisalo’s elastic prose is at once lyrical and matter-of-fact … The troll brings out Angel’s animal instincts, representing all the seduction and violence of the natural world.’

  – Publishers Weekly

  ‘The comedy is irresistible, the pages turn themselves, carried along by the quicksilver of an unbelievably imaginative pen … Run to this book … An entertaining variation on the eternal confrontation between man and beast, the light and dark angels which live in all of us.’

  – Télérama (Paris)

  Birdbrain

  ‘Birdbrain is a graphic examination of two very different people and a harrowing allegory of humankind’s problematic relationship with the planet.’

  – Guardian, a Guardian Book of the Year 2010

  ‘A lyrical and occasionally sinister odyssey second only to making one’s own foray into the wilderness’

  – Publishers Weekly

  ‘A startlingly good book’

  – John Clute, Strange Horizons

  ‘A sense of lurking horror that will leave you troubled for weeks’

  – Sam Jordison

  THE BLOOD OF ANGELS

  During the second decade of the twenty-first century the spread of Colony Collapse Disorder, the sudden mass disappearance of bees, reaches the point where much of the world – although not, as yet, Finland – is facing agricultural and ecological disaster.

  Amateur beekeeper Orvo, devastated by the recent death of his ecowarrior son, finds two of his hives deserted and begins to fear that the ‘epidemic’ has reached Scandinavia. Then, in the attic of the old barn, he makes a mystical and frightening discovery: a pathway to a parallel world. Is it a hallucination stimulated by sorrow and loss – or is it something very real and connected with the bees’ disappearance? His research teaches him that in practically every culture bees are viewed as half-supernatural messengers that can travel between worlds and are associated with resurrection and the afterlife. He begins to wonder if this portal could reunite him with his dead son and whether he can himself escape the ecological meltdown of this world.

  The Blood of Angels reworks the Orpheus myth while analysing modern man’s need to deny his mortality and raise himself above the rest of nature, to compare himself to the angels – but at what price?

  JOHANNA SINISALO was born in Finnish Lapland in 1958. She studied theatre and drama and worked in advertising for a number of years before becoming a full-time author, at first writing science fiction and fantasy short stories. Not Before Sundown (2000), her acclaimed first novel, won the prestigious Finlandia Award and the James Tiptree Jr Award for works of science fiction or fantasy that expand or explore our understanding of gender. Also known in Finland for her television and comic-strip writing, she has won the Atorox Prize for best Finnish science fiction or fantasy story seven times and has been the winner of the Kemi National Comic Strip Contest twice. In addition to novels she has written reviews, articles, comic strips, film and television scripts and edited anthologies, including The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy. Her short story ‘Baby Doll’ was a Nebula nominee and Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire nominee in France, and it was published in the Year’s Best SF 13 anthology in the USA. Her work has been translated into twent
y languages, including twelve translations of Not Before Sundown. Three titles are currently available in English, all published by Peter Owen: Not Before Sundown, Birdbrain and The Blood of Angels.

  LOLA ROGERS is a Finnish-to-English literary translator living in Seattle. She holds degrees in Linguistics and Finnish Language and Literature from the University of Washington and trained and interned in translation at FILI Finnish Literature Exchange in Helsinki. She has contributed translations of fiction, non-fiction and poetry to a variety of journals and anthologies and has trans lated numerous novels, including True, by Riikka Pulkkinen, which was a Shelf Unbound best book of 2012, and Purge, by Sofi Oksanen, chosen as a best book of 2010 by the California Literary Review, the Sunday Times and others. Other translations include works by Pasi Jääskeläinen, Johanna Sinisalo and Rosa Liksom. She is a founding member of the Finnish–English Literary Translation Cooperative.

  From the Earth the bee rose swiftly, On his honeyed wings rose whirring,

  And he soared on rapid pinions, On his little wings flew upward.

  Swiftly past the moon he hurried, Past the borders of the sunlight,

  Rose upon the Great Bear’s shoulders, O’er the Seven Stars’ backs rose upward,

  Flew to the Creator’s cellars, To the halls of the Almighty.

  – The Kalevala: verse 15, translated by W.F. Kirby

  When the bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to visit the bee’s house some day.

  – Congolese proverb

  DAY ZERO

  The queen is dead.

  She’s lying in the entrance hole, delicate, fragile, her limbs curled up against her body.

  I would recognize it as the queen just by the elongated lower body and clearly larger size compared with the worker bees, but there is also a little spot of colour on her back – I marked this female with yellow last year when I placed her in the nest.

  Much too young to die.

  And why had she left the nest to begin with?

  I squeeze a puff from the smoker into the hive, but the bees don’t come crawling out. They should be languid, of course, fat and heavy with honey to protect from this imagined forest fire, but there’s no movement at all at the entrance.

  My heart is racing now. I put down the smoker and pry the roof off the nest with a hive tool. I put the roof on the ground and start lifting the honey combs out of the box one by one and stacking them on top of it.

  The workers are gone.

  Every one of them.

  Just a few individual hatchlings crawling over the honeycombs looking befuddled, baffled by the sudden flood of light from above.

  A tight fist closes at the pit of my stomach.

  It can’t be. Not here, too.

  I carefully pick up the queen and put her on the palm of my glove. There’s no reason this particular nest should need a fresh queen. Sometimes the old queen is killed when a colony ends a generation, but even if there were a new administration it wouldn’t cause the bees to desert the nest.

  Are they swarming? No. I’m sure I would have noticed it if the colony felt crowded or larvae had appeared in the queen’s combs. And even if the old queen had evacuated the nest with her escorts to make way for a new queen the nest would have been more or less the same, although the group would be a little sparser and younger at first. It’s also an unusual time of year to swarm; that usually happens in early or mid-spring.

  But I look carefully at the surrounding trees because I certainly don’t want this to be what I fear it to be. In spite of my hope I don’t see any dark splotch, its blurred edges abuzz, in the branches or treetops.

  But they’ve gone somewhere. Vanished as if into thin air. Into nonexistence.

  *

  The queen lies lightly on my gloved hand like a flake of ash, but she feels so heavy that my wrist trembles. I take a breath, take the queen catcher out of my overall pocket and put the female inside. I drop the clip back into my pocket. Maybe I should send it to be analysed.

  I don’t dare to go to look at the other hives. Not now.

  I’ll do it tomorrow.

  I have to take the rest of the frames out of this nest and put them in the centrifuge now anyway. Whatever it was that happened, the honey still has to be collected.

  The sun is low over the meadow, soon it will be just an orange glow behind the tattered edge of the wall of spruce trees.

  *

  Back at the house I turn on the console with the remote. I hadn’t wanted one of those voice-activated consoles with a monitor that covers half the wall; the screen on the wall over the table, smaller than the window, was big enough. There used to be a ryijy rug in that spot on the wall. The console is one Ari bought for me against my will, supposedly as a Christmas gift, me a grown man who supports himself, as if I were a spoiled child. A gift has to be something new, some thing expensive and useless, to keep your offspring content. I guess there was no way to avoid it, although it looks oversized in a little two-room cottage. Now that I’ve finally got used to it they tell me I ought to get a new one. Eero gave my console a nickname to tease me. He calls it my Lada, and sends me links to new fully interactive, high-definition models with the highest available data speeds. As if I needed the most advanced technology possible to watch the news, read my email, do my banking, order groceries twice a week and watch an occasional movie. Oh well – I do read Eero’s blog on the console once in a while. It’s almost like chatting with my son without needlessly disturbing him.

  He’s one to talk – Eero wouldn’t have a wall console if you gave it to him for free. He carries a phone in his shirt pocket, does his work with a real computer with just the software he needs and doesn’t even have an entertainment terminal. Even when he visits here he doesn’t so much as glance at my console. He’d rather sit in the corner with his phone in his hand, wandering around the web looking at television shows and movies the way I would read a book.

  It just so happens that the first message on my list is from Eero. Just a routine message to let me know he’s still alive, some scattered comments about how he is, but his messages always warm me. There’s some news, too. He has a paying customer now, a temporary gig sprucing up the customer feedback page for an electric-bicycle company. He’ll be able to pay his rent for several months now.

  I’m proud and embarrassed at the same time. I agreed to let him move to Tampere ‘on a trial basis’ on the condition that he kept his grades up and paid his own expenses. I had thought that a seventeen-year-old boy would come back to Daddy on the first milk train even if it meant an hour’s commute to school. But no, Eero not only raised his grades – his prospects for the graduate-entrance exams in the spring are looking frighteningly good – he also succeeded in getting a job. At first he worked as a dishwasher and janitor at a vegetarian restaurant owned by an acquaintance, but now his contacts and capability in the world of the free net have started to provide employment. I send a short reply to his message. I can’t resist mentioning that school is starting again soon and it has to come first.

  Another message is from a courier company informing me that the new bee suit I ordered from a bee-keeping supplier has arrived and has to be picked up at the service point in town. They used to call it the post office. It costs extra to get them to bring it all the way to my house, but picking it up isn’t any particular trouble. It gives me an errand to do someplace other than work and is, in fact, a rare opportunity to run into people going about their ordinary business.

  There’s a pitch-thick, stone-cold irony in the fact that my new overalls arrived today of all days; a lot of joy it’s going to give me if …

  Hush. I had to order it, I really did. In spite of washings my old suit has become so saturated with honey that the bees are going to start to think my smoker and I are just a mobile, eighty-kilogram hunk of honey that needs to be brought safely out of fire danger.

  A click of the remote and the news appears on the monitor. The top story is from North America, as it
has been for a couple of months. The situation, already critical for a long time, has once again exceeded the most pessimistic predictions.

  Twenty years ago, when the first wave of Colony Collapse Disorder arrived, I read reports about it with more worry than I’d felt since the days of the Cold War in the 1960s. Back then I was a little boy lying awake in bed waiting for a nuclear war to start. Now I can hear the clock ticking down to Judgement Day again.

  I mentioned the disappearance of the bees to a random acquaintance back in 2006. I brought the subject up mostly to ease my own worried mind.

  The acquaintance said it really was awful, but he supposed he’d just have to learn to live without honey.

  Honey.

  *

  Food riots are continuing all over the USA and now they’re spreading to Canada, too. The US government has once again limited the distribution of certain food products and in some states – mostly those that don’t have their own source of potatoes – they’re serving ‘vitamin ketchup’ along with the cornmeal mush and pasta in the schools because symptoms of malnutrition are starting to appear. Of course, it’s nothing like real ketchup because there aren’t any tomatoes.

  The price of food has quadrupled in a very short time. Not long ago the American middle class was barely keeping up with the cost of mortgages, petrol, healthcare and tuition. Now they can’t afford food any more.

  The world’s former leading grain exporter is reserving its crops to feed its own people, and the trade balance has plummeted. International credit is in shreds. With the rise in food prices, inflation is rampant. The EU banks and International Monetary Fund are making a joint effort to create at least some semblance of a buffer so that the US crisis doesn’t completely collapse the world economy, which is already in turmoil. The dollar is on artificial respiration while we wait for the situation to ‘return to normal’.

  California’s complete collapse is relegated to the second news item because it’s already old news, but that’s where the situation is worst.

 
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