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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Renaten tarina

by
Johanna Sinisalo


general information | our review | links | about the author



Title: Renaten tarina
Author: Johanna Sinisalo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017
Length: 490 pages
Original in: Finnish
Availability: Le Reich de la lune - France
Iron Sky - Deutschland
  • Renaten tarina has not yet been translated into English
  • Based on the Iron Sky film(s)

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Our Assessment:

C : great premise, but cartoon action and cinematically-simplistic

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

[Note: Renaten tarina has not yet been translated into English, and this review is based on the German translation by Stefan Moster, Iron Sky: Renate und die Mondnazis (2019); all translations are mine from that translation.]

       The 2012 Finnish film, Iron Sky, is based on a story by Johanna Sinisalo, and she co-wrote the screenplay; Renaten tarina covers the same ground and story, but is not a direct novelization, as Sinisalo takes a different approach in the presentation. (The film was quickly novelized in 2012, in a (German) version by Ilsa von Braunfels (published in English translation as an e-book, Iron Sky - The book based on the movie), and there's a also a graphic fiction adaptation by Mikko Rautalahti.)
       The novel is narrated by Renate Richter, and takes the form of a sort of diary she begins in 2047: the record is meant for her daughter, Obi, but she doesn't think telling the story directly to her would work well, so she addresses it, as it were, to a 'Kitty' -- as she calls her diary. The form seems almost epistolary -- and she is recounting the past, rather than present; she also includes excerpts from her childhood diaries (and a few other documentary samples). Going back to the beginnings, starting with her own childhood, is an effective way of presenting the story -- with hints from early on about the present-day situation in 2047, and some of what happened along the way. So, for example, we know from early on that she was married to a James (Washington) -- Obi's father -- and Obi's full name is eventually revealed as Obianaju, described as being of Nigerian origin -- hammering home that whatever Aryan ideals there may have been in Renate's community went by the wayside at some point and in some way. But the details of how it came to all of this are only eventually revealed. There are also hints that things have ... not gone well. Really, really not gone well, with a catastrophic war having taken place some three decades earlier.
       The entire premise is a catchy one, with Renate's community being an authentically Nazi one, directly carrying on the old order that was lost on earth in 1945 -- and doing so on the moon. Renate was born and grew up on the moon, a child of a colony that was established there when things went south in the Second World War. Nazi technology was advanced enough to shuttle humans to the moon (from Antarctica) and to build a well-concealed habitat there. Flights between earth and moon only petered out in the 1960s and 1970s, when terrestrial science caught up and made it difficult to disguise the flights, but the Nazis managed to bring a considerable amount of material to the moon before becoming even more isolated. While able to monitor some communication from earth, in the twenty-first century they began to be stymied by digitalization; still, they have a decent sense of conditions on earth -- though remaining firmly convinced of the superiority of Nazi ideology and (their idea of) civilization above all else. And the ultimate goal also remains a triumphant return to (and takeover of) earth.
       Conditions on the moon -- meaning largely underground, so as to remain better concealed -- are of course different from on earth. They have managed to create earth-like gravitation, so that Nazi bodies will be physically capable of handling being back on earth -- their muscles would weaken if all they had to deal with was the moon's much weaker gravity -- and breathable air also isn't a problem. Many things taken almost for granted on earth -- water, paper -- are much more valuable on the moon, and strictly rationed. Hemp is the basis for many of the goods on moon, including most clothing. Animals have proven almost impossible to keep -- they did bring cows at one point -- and even if it weren't part of their ideology, the Nazis have little choice but to be vegetarians.
       One thing they have is Helium-3 -- cheap energy, which they realize will give them a huge advantage when they return to rule the earth, whose world-economy they can see is hopelessly petroleum-based: they don't understand the reliance on this non-renewable resource, and realize they'll be able to completely undermine much of the modern world economy with the introduction of the obviously superior Helium-3.
       Renate begins her story with her childhood, only slowly building up to the great events she wants to discuss. This allows her to begin with her childish understanding of the world she is born into and the ideology she grows up in. Obviously, the story she is told on the moon gives her a very different picture of what the earth her forefathers left behind was and is like. And she's also indoctrinated to believe in the superiority of her race, and, for example, the very different roles of men and women in this world -- with procreation the main purpose for women (and, given the small gene pool available, the understanding that love can't be the determining factor in who couples up: prospective mates are genetically matched, to keep the race as formidable as possible).
       Like everyone else, Renate is convinced of and dedicated to the cause. She knows her place, too, but she is bright and curious -- particularly about earth. She also studies English -- and eventually begins a career as a teacher. The one thorn in her side is Klaus Adler, the son of an important Nazi and a rising star, who wants to marry her, and pursues her relentlessly.
       The arrival of an American spaceship on the moon in 2018 changes everything. Two of its three astronauts are immediately killed, but one is taken alive: Afro-American model (yes, as in fashion model) James Washington; to earth it looks simpy like a tragic lunar accident, but the Nazis realize that it puts them in greater danger, if other crafts follow. They assume it must have been a military mission, too.
       Renate is curious about James, and has an early encounter with him. She and the other Nazis are baffled why the Americans would send a member of -- so their thinking -- a lesser race on such a mission, and interrogation doesn't reveal much. (James really appears to have been just along for the ride, a publicity stunt; Renate also has some difficulty understanding him as Sinisalo has him cringeworthily apparently talkin' something like jive .....)
       What is revealing is James' smartphone -- because of course he took his smartphone along ..... Sure, there's no reception on the moon -- but there are all those pictures he uploaded, and Renate even figures out the camera. They realize the computer-power behind this is far more advanced than their capabilities. And that having more of this would be invaluable in their own work -- especially the super-weapon they're building, the appropriately named "Götterdämmerung". Klaus heads a team that plans to go back to earth and, with a bleached James (yes, they try to turn his appearance Aryan), get their hands on another of these devices.
       Klaus actually has bigger plans -- he thinks his time has come, and wants to take over the whole colony -- but Renate also has some of her own, specifically, also getting to earth. Which she does, as a stowaway on the spacecraft .....
       The adventures on the ground are cartoon-silly, and while they can sort of work in a film, they just seem too ridiculous in this written presentation. There are some amusing bits about trying to adapt to earth -- from eating, their stomachs not used to terrestrial bacteria, to the predictable confusion about a flush toilet (water being too precious to spare for such a thing on the moon), to their appearance and behavior. But they fit all too easily in, cast James all too easily out (and he, bleached white now, can't convince anyone of who he is), and are absurdly hired by the PR person handling the American president's reëlection campaign ..... (In one small historical difference, Obama did not win the 2008 election, but in 2018 a woman is in the White House.)
       The PR dragon, Vivian Wagner, long treats them like hicks from Minnesota, bothered neither by their moon-story nor Klaus' Nazi ideology. Eventually, she gets fully on board (and on board both Renate and Klaus, in turn), while Renate, reconnecting with pale James, begins to see how much she's seen wrong -- and how much danger everyone is in.
       Things come to a head: more Nazis on earth, in a surprise appearance, then war as the Nazis actually attack. Renate and James return to the moon at the last minute -- because of course James can handle the easy-to-fly rocket that they came in ... -- racing to get there in time to prevent Klaus from unleashing the Götterdämmerung-machine. Earth retaliates against the attack on it -- quite effectively too -- and then, in a nice twist, pull back from the final coup de grâce when they realize that there's Helium-3 up there -- invaluable Helium-3. So instead ... well, things don't go well for humanity.
       In its outlines the story isn't bad, and one can see how it sort of works in a film version. But with so little depths to it, the written version is just too sillily simplistic. The science, and the interaction between the lunar beings and the terrestrials is like out of pulp 1940s movies, and the novel would require considerable more (and more realistic) detail to feel anything more than cartoonish. The potential is there, but the realization falls far, far short.
       A lot of the material is promising -- a nice touch are the films Renate is familiar with, edited versions shown on the moon, with her long believing Chaplin's The Great Dictator to be only a few minutes of wonderful Hitler-homage, only for her to eye-openingly catch the entire thing at the Film Forum. But the level of most of what is found here barely rises to formula YA-levels.
       Ultimately, Renaten tarina still remains too close to -- and reliant on the presentation and ways of -- the film. Everything is too condensed and rushed -- including the devastating outcome of the war that took a turn no one saw coming, but which has allowed for a new moon-society to arise (a transition that would have been interesting to hear about but is also only sketched out here).
       It's a great hook, and the basic plot is solid, it's just the presentation that falls short. Renate presents herself as so naïve as a child, but she never really is able to shed that naïveté in her account either: the entire novel comes across sounding too much like a tweenager's richly imagined but implausible-in-its-details (because she doesn't yet understand the functioning of so much around her, technically and otherwise) account.
       Disappointing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 April 2019

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Links:

Renaten tarina: Reviews: Iron Sky - the film(s): Johanna Sinisalo: Other books by Johanna Sinisalo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo was born in 1958.

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© 2019 the complete review

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