The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Finna' by Nino Cipri Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Finna' by Nino Cipri Review

Alexander Wallace gets lost in the wormholes.
This article is one in a series reviewing every nominee for the 2021 Hugo Awards for novels and novellas. The full list of nominations can be found here.

There is something strange about department stores, with their high ceilings and low shelves. They feel both so full and so empty as you walk around trying to buy things you hope to only buy once. They’re ruthless commerce with a friendly sheen haphazardly painted over them; working there, by all accounts, is soul-crushing. Such is the premise of Nino Cipri’s novella Finna, set at a massive store that is clearly IKEA with its serial numbers filed off, down to being a Swedish company.

The novella is very good at balancing the human and the supernatural, something that relatively little speculative literature ends up doing well. In human terms, you have recent ex-lovers Ava and Jules, both employees at this department store, who are by circumstance required to work together. In supernatural terms, you have the occasional portals that open up within this department store that end up sending people to places they never thought they’d end up working in a dead-end job like this.

The two strands are rammed together when Ava and Jules are sent to find a grandmother who gets lost among the vast labyrinths of the department store’s portals. You are brought to so many strange places that lurk within what seems so quotidian, and to describe them in too much detail would ruin the experience. I will say that Cipri is very clever in choosing what recurs throughout these various places and how they reflect, in one way or another, the realities of a massive department store. It’s a sort of magical realism that reminds me of The LEGO Movie, of all things, and it is endlessly clever.

But lurking behind all that fun and adventure is a very real anger at modern work culture. Both Ava and Jules are very aware of the fact that they are putting themselves in danger in a surreal multiverse because their boss ordered them to. The two are not qualified for this task; the specialist team designed to handle this was disbanded in the 2008 recession. They are ordered around by the FINNA, the novella’s namesake machine that directs them where to go and what to do; they are in one instance confronted with a decision that is an affront to basic human decency. That, ultimately, is one of the major philosophical points of the novella: the dissonance between corporate diktat and treating people like people.

A smaller but very much present aspect is the challenging of cultural assumptions, particularly about gender. Jules is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns; they are persistently irritated by their boss’ refusal to use any pronouns around them. They are irked when inhuman blobs in an old training VHS (as that’s how little their employer cares about accuracy) are assumed to be heterosexual. Cipri, also nonbinary, passes what I call the ‘Crossley Test’ after Robert Crossley’s afterword to Octavia Butler’s Kindred: they have good storytelling, not just good issues, and the result never feels jarring.

The 2021 Hugo Nominees: Reviews
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Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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