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News, 12/10/2010

Hannu Rajaniemi aims at world domination 

Hannu Rajaniemi is a scientist, a founder of a think tank that focuses on mathematical problem solving – and now a writer. Rajaniemi’s first novel The Quantum Thief, published in Britain on 30 September, has received excellent reviews. “To me, writing is a form of meditation; it helps me to detach from my demanding job”, Rajaniemi adds up. “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 Customer of the Year award in 1986 by his local library in Ylivieska, North-West Finland, after borrowing all possible books about science. “The Finnish library system is one of the things I miss in Britain”, Rajaniemi remarks.  

Rajaniemi moved to Britain ten years ago and got his PhD from the University of Edinburgh at 28. During the same year, Rajaniemi founded ThinkTank Maths Limited with his colleagues. The consultancy is specialized in solving confidential and complex mathematical problems – and the customers include British armed forces and the BBC.

This autumn Rajaniemi widened his scale even more and became a writer. The Quantum Thief has been described as “the big science fiction debut of the year” and has gathered throughout 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 of 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 in futuristic Mars where memories can be shared and shaped. Another substantial theme in the book is reasoning what will happen to our privacy and identity in the future. “But basically the novel is an adventurous mystery”, he adds.

Rajaniemi ilmoitti kolmasluokkalaisena haluavansa isona teoreettiseksi fyysikoksi. (c) Hannu Rajaniemi

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

“I feel a different person in English and in Finnish – stereotypically, I am probably more extrovert in English. The Finnish translation of TQT, Kvanttivaras, will come out next spring. It was particularly weird experience for me to read Antti Autio’s skillful 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 for 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 now calmer. I can enjoy the writing more and be as excited as anyone of what’s going to happen in the end”, he describes.

Edinburgh: a city of writers and scientists

Rajaniemi moved to Edinburgh from Cambridge and by his own words, accidentally as the university just happened to provide the exact filament research that supported his PhD. Rajaniemi had already written already something at the time he was living in Finland but Scotland inspired him in earnest. Edinburgh is one of the cultural hubs of Britain and is particularly famous for its writers. For example, Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and J.K. Rowling, known for her Harry Potter books, are both from Edinburgh.

Hannu Rajaniemi, if you should name your five favorite places in Edinburgh, what would they be?

“Leith Walk and Dean’s Bridge – a breathtakingly beautiful walk by the channel that is completely hidden in New Town’s stony facades”, he begins.

“Calton Hill has the best views of the city. The unfinished temple of Parthenon, a beautiful National Monument, adds an interesting detail to the hill and tells a lot about the Scottish mentality.”

Locanda de Gusti is a Napolitano fish restaurant where one can get familiar with North Sea delicacies.”

The Cumberland Bar is an excellent traditional pub that serves good pub food, wide range of real ales from the local breweries and, of course, Scotch whiskeys.”

Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park – an ancient volcano that resembles a sleeping lion in a green area that is suitable both for jogging and for Sunday walks.”

Text by Tiina Heinilä, Embassy of Finland

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Updated 12/10/2010

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