This Hugo-nominated novella doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a multiverse-spanning adventure? Or maybe a satire of our consumerist society? Or perhaps it’s a redemption story of a failed relationship. As soon as the reader thinks he figured out the tone of the story, it abruptly changes. This, coupled with a simplistic language and bad grammar, results in a forgettable experience, which should not have been nominated for the award.
Ava is a chronically depressed woman, living mundane experience and working a dull job in a store akin to IKEA. Today, she feels particularly depressed, due to a recent breakup with her boyfriend Jules, who happens to work in the same store. Despite her best efforts, she meets him at the store. Ava is tasked by her supervisor to find an older lady who got lost in the store. She goes to her last reported location and finds a change in the store layout. When she reports this to the supervisor, she is told that the store, by its very nature as a maze, attracts wormholes to parallel worlds. What she saw was a passage to a similar store in a different reality. Ava and Jules are given a device to locate the lady and sent on a wild chase across the multiverse.
Soon, the two are confronted by flesh eating garden furniture, a universe where people are hive animals, controlled by a queen mother, and finally a universe covered in water where large trading ships cross over to other realities to peddle their wares. Ava and Jules find out early on that the old lady had been eaten by a lawn chair, so their locator device targeted the nearest equivalent person, who could take place of the old lady. They find her in the person of the captain of a trading ship that takes them on board, and she agrees to be taken Ava’s universe. After fighting through hordes of hive people, Ava manages to bring the old lady back, but Jules stays behind. Ava decides to quit her job and goes to search for him.
When I started the book, I immediately recognized IKEA from the initial location, and prepared for a funny or satirical story about their furniture maze. I got it in the form of a slightly amusing description of several differently themed rooms, which was combined by a rather vivid portrayal of corporate drudgery. The briefing on the wormholes was hilarious, and having the wormholes named with a Scandinavian-sounding nonsensical name was just a cherry on top. Unfortunately, as soon as our heroes crossed over, I felt like in a horror book. This continued until they arrived on the ship. Suddenly, I got a sense of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and the entire book fell apart for me. I realized its two major deficiencies.
First, the tone of the story changed multiple times, rather abruptly and without warning. It was as if the author didn’t know what kind of story to write. It just baffles me that the editor did not pick on it and suggested a more homogeneous story. Second, travel through a multiverse had been done many times before, but in general, it focused on one of two things. Expansive stories, such as Endymion by Dan Simmons, focus on worldbuilding: unique worlds, their development and history, which shaped their present unique features. (This book isn’t necessary a parallel universe book, but the protagonists are still traveling through gates to very distinct worlds.) The second type of stories focuses on different characters the protagonists meet in different worlds. These provide small, but often very powerful insights on how their world works. This is why I thought of Neverwhere while reading this book. Unfortunately, Finna does not focus on either. The environmental description is rudimentary, and even though they meet some intriguing characters along the way, these people are never well described, much less developed.
The last element that got on my nerves while reading this novella was the language. It was barely better than the language of message boards; in fact, I’ve read better quality English on various writing-focused subreddits. The author also seemed to be losing track of the main characters, sometimes calling them “they” even when they weren’t together anymore, or only one performed a certain action.
The only redeeming quality of this book is the ending. Ava realized that she was wrong to break up with Jules and goes on to find him. Her thought process in this part is the only thing in Finna that seems genuine and natural. Had the author opted to write the entire story in this tone, it probably wouldn’t have qualified as science fiction, but would have made for much better reading. For me, though, this was a little too late. I already dismissed Finna as one of the weakest works nominated for the 2021 Hugo awards.