Tuesday 4 February 2020

The Bookcase Dimension

If you've ever been disoriented by an IKEA’s cavalcade of showrooms and design arrangements,
Cover design by Carl Wiens.
(Image via Tor.com)
you'll feel at home in the pages of Finna, the new anti-captialist portal fantasy from Nino Cipri.

LitenVärld (Swedish for ‘Little World’) is a fictional big-box chain of furniture stores whose flat-pack modular designs are displayed in faked-up little rooms. The problem is that the set-up is so confusing that shoppers occasionally fall through the cracks and into parallel worlds with alternate versions of the store. Some of these worlds are inhabited by carnivorous Poäng knock-off chairs, others by high-ocean adventurers.

Navigating this multiverse are Ava and Jules, two minimum-wage workers at odds with each other over a recent break-up. As they scour the universe for a lost shopper, they are confronted with possibilities, and paths not taken.

We’ve previously argued that the genre needs more stories about workers and workers’ rights, so it often felt like Finna’s clever lampooning of thoughtless corporate decisions and consequence-blind cost-cutting could almost have been tailor-made for this book club.

Not only does Cipri show the consequences of LitenVärld’s cost-cutting decision to eliminate its wormhole-defense department, they satirize mindlessly cheerful company culture through an evil hive-mind version of corporate-drone Swedes. The book is consistently on-point.
 Almost exactly 20 years ago, in his cult classic comic strip
Bob The Angry Flower, cartoonist Stephen Notley imagined
travelling to dangerous alternate universes while shopping
for a bookcase at IKEA. Until now, we’ve never wished
we could have followed Bob through those IKEA wormholes
and gone on multi-dimensional furniture adventures.
(image via AngryFlower.com)

What makes this work particularly well is Cipri’s deft ability to alternate between moments of high drama, low comedy, and fast-paced action. These changing tones give the book a sprightly rhythm, with the weightier elements made more meaningful by the author’s choices. At a slight 120 pages, Finna never overstays its welcome - several members of our book club powered through it in under an afternoon, deeply engaged in the storytelling.

Nino Cipri’s age is evident in how they write, with a tone that can best be described as “millennial.” The dialogue has a breezy levity to it that feels youthful and fresh. The use of they/them pronouns for one of the protagonists feels both meaningful and natural to the narrative (possibly because Cipri uses those pronouns themself.) One of our book club members said she enjoyed reading a book with a, “millennial voice.”

We approached the book with enthusiasm, and were not disappointed. Finna offers a compelling blend of adventure, relationship drama, and corporate criticism. This is an early favourite for our Hugo ballots in 2021.

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