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Literature / Aniara

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Aniara is the title of an epic poem, written by Harry Martinsson and published in 1956. Aniara details the voyage of the goldonder Aniara, which transports colonists from the polluted and irradiated Earth to new settlements on Mars. During the journey, Aniara is knocked off course and sets a new, irreversible course towards the constellation Lyra, and the colonists, knowing they will never leave Aniara attempt to deal with their impending, inevitable doom and realizations of mortality in various more or less insane ways.

Aniara was acclaimed both by critics and the general public, and is generally considered to be the key factor in Martinsson receiving the Nobel Literature Prize in 1974.

The poem has been adapted for stage several times, most notably as an opera in 1959. In 2018, the movie Aniara premiered at Toronto Film Festival.

Aniara provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Cargo Cult: Most notably the cult that springs up around the mima, but several others pop up as well.
  • Conlang: Martinsson plays with this. For example many of the titles take their roots from a variety of languages. The Captain of Aniara bears the title "chefone", combining the French word for "boss" with the Italian augmentative suffix (in essence the captain is called "big boss") and the narrator is called "mimarob" after "mima", Martinsson's name for Aniara's Master Computer, and the Slavic word "rob" meaning serf or slave.
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  • Deus Est Machina: Many of the colonists take to viewing memories of Earth from the mima to dispel their angst and ennui, and some even take to worshipping the mima as a deity. Needless to say, they don't take the mima's death well.
  • Downer Ending: Everyone Dies. It's stated outright from the start, and there is no Deus ex Machina to make things right.
  • Earth That Was: Aniara left Earth when it was still technically habitable, but on the way out due to radioactive fallout and pollution. however, during the tale, Aniara intercepts a message form Earth, indicating that what was left is now completely destroyed.
  • Future Slang: Daisy the dancer speaks a slang which the narrator finds both a comforting reminder of Earth and completely incomprehensible.
  • Layman's Terms: Deconstructed. After the death of the mima, the narrator is hauled to court to explain what happened... only to find that he can't. He knows exactly what happened and can explain it clearly in the jargon the mimarobs use, but when he tries to simplify it for public consumption his analogies collapse or his thoughts become muddled and incoherent to the point where they have no relation to what happened at all.
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  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Martinsson was, for most of his career, primarily famous for writing working-class critiques of contemporary society and travelogues from his days as a seaman, and had been a published author for 25 years before Aniara.
  • Wagon Train to the Stars: Unbuilt Trope: Aniara is possibly the single most depressing example in existence. It has none of the hope of the rest of the genre; it is implied that the Mars-colonies were a desperate last-ditch attempt to save anything of humanity, and the colonists on Aniara are well aware from the get-go that there is no way for them to do anything other than live out their lives and then travel through nothingness forever.


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