Hannu Rajaniemi's Summerland: a midcentury spy thriller, with the afterlife

Hannu Rajaniemi is the Finnish-Scottish mathematician and science fiction writer whose debut, 2012's Quantum Thief was widely celebrated; now, in Summerland, Rajaniemi delivers new kind of supernatural historical spy procedural, set in a 1938 where the afterlife has been discovered, colonized and militarized.

Rachel White is a spy who is trying to help the British Empire prevail in the global military/political chaos prompted by the Spanish Civil War and the rise of a Soviet Union led by The Presence, an uploaded group intelligence that has subsumed the nation's best thinkers to produce a transhuman mind capable of incredible leaps of reasoning. As a proxy war rages in Spain, both the British and the Soviets are roiled when the exiled Josef Stalin emerges to lead a new faction in the Civil War.

White learns of this even as she is being internally exiled within her spy agency for blowing the whistle on a double-agent, whose protection goes all the way to the top.

Formally, Summerland is really excellent: Rajaniemi has mastered the mechanics of spy-thrillers, with double-triple-crosses, tradecraft and skullduggery for days; the setting, too, is pitch-perfect, a noirish, grim late-thirties Europe filled with period touches and gracenotes.

Add to this a marvelously imaginative, beautifully worked out supernatural element: Summerland — the place where souls go when their bodies die — has become a second front in every war and every political struggle, as the dead and the living haunt one another and as society slips into existential malaise at the thought of perpetual rule by the immortal souls of the elites who have gone on to the afterlife.

It's a very dieselpunky sort of book, with lashings of the spirtualist supernatural, and a smartly turned plot that is full of surprises.

Summerland [Hannu Rajaniemi/Tor]