Review: Sky City: New Science Fiction Stories by Danish Authors

edited by Carl-Eddy Skovgaard

Afterword by Niels Dalgaard

Science Fiction Cirklen, 2010

242 pages

grab a copy here

Sky City is a hidden gem. With stories drawn from the first two “best of the best” science fiction anthologies published by Science Fiction Cirklen (the Danish science fiction fan association) in 2007 and 2008, this SFT anthology offers Anglophone readers a window onto a fascinating writing scene. Though Denmark is a relatively small country without a lot of cultural reach in the US, its speculative fiction, developed over decades and influenced by its own literary traditions and Western science fiction, is vibrant and varied.

Here you’ll find stories about AI, biotechnology run amok, alien intelligences, dystopian nightmares, space travel, and much more, set in places like Tokyo, Shanghai, the moon Europa, the US, Denmark, and elsewhere). Some of the most haunting (and my favorites) involve characters who feel trapped, either in their hotel, city, or planet, and are trying to find a way out to a better life. Several of the authors translated their own stories for this anthology, while other stories were translated by fellow authors who appear here (i.e. Richard Ipsen, who wrote “The White Bear,” translated Søren Elmerdahl Hemmingsen’s “A Contribution to the History of Denmark”).

The only place I could find a copy of Sky City from my position in the US was on Abe Books for a not insignificant price. It was worth the money, though, given the quality of the stories and their translations. I urge you to borrow or buy Sky City if you’re interested in further understanding the intriguing scope of speculative fiction as it is written around the world and in underrepresented languages.

Below are synopses of each story. Enjoy! And yes, there are spoilers.

The following stories appeared in the first annual anthology (by Science Fiction Cirklen) of the best Danish original science fiction stories, Lige under overfladen (Just Below the Surface) (2007)


“Sky City” by Manfred Christiansen, tr by the author

An AI has been ordered to build a large structure but was never told when to stop, so it kept building with nano-bots until the structure reached out into space and threatened to collapse in on itself. A human woman has to tell the AI that its job is done.


“Departure” by Niels Gjerløff, tr by the author

Two scientists journey to Jupiter’s moon Europa, only for the reader to find out at the very end of the story that they have been genetically altered to have enlarged feet and hands, as well as gills, so that they can breathe under water.


“The White Bear” by Richard Ipsen, tr by the author

Set at some point in the future, two men are sent out by a shadowy boss to kidnap young girls to sell as wives to men living in major Chinese cities. One man decides to give up this “work” after a disastrous job and attempts to set things right.


“Helium Loves Company” by Glen Stihmøe, tr by Niels Dalgaard

One of my favorites of the anthology. “Helium” reads like a dystopian take on The Wizard of Oz, with a ragtag group of humans and biologically altered creatures on a quest for a better life. Here, biotechnology has contaminated the outside world and eaten away at almost everything. A group of survivors follow one of their number, named “Helium,” as she searches for whatever is telepathically calling to her. Eventually they encounter what at first seems like an oasis but is likely more sinister.


“The Last Astronaut” by Flemming R. P. Rasch, tr by Daniel Logan Berg-Munch

In this brief story, a succession of human and robot astronauts land on a barren planet, bringing updated knowledge about the end of humanity.


“The Organism on Maneo” by Morten Brunbjerg, tr by Niels Dalgaard

An alien brought onto a large generation ship (?) is found to transmit data through touch. When it touches one of the humans on board, the flow of data is too much for her to absorb.


“The Tourist” by Patrick Leis, tr by Michael Pilgaard

An interrogation expert learns that the member of the Air Force who have the order to blow up a mysterious sphere in a rural area of the US is actually a time-tourist from the future.


“Know Your Target Audience” by Dan Mygind, tr by the author

A man trying to expose the truth about the Danish government encouraging a terrorist attack is killed after he tells a powerful new station executive about it.


“The Red Parakeets” by Camilla Wandahl, tr by Lars Ahn Pedersen

A fad for turning everything red becomes a forced procedure on humans. One woman who resists this eventually finds out that there are others like her fighting back against the fad. When she tries to join and save someone from the needle, she is violently stopped.

The following stories appeared in the second anthology, I overfladen (In the Surface)

“The Short Arm of History” by Kenneth Krabat, tr by Niels Dalgaard

One of the best stories in the anthology. Here, humans find a series of portals deep underground and, despite not knowing where they are taking them, line up by the hundreds of thousands. One man tries to figure out ways to help people know where they’re going based on other returnees’ experiences.

“A Contribution to the History of Denmark” by Søren Elmerdahl Hemmingsen, tr by Richard Ipsen

An interesting spin on the giant-creature-attacks-city story. A recently-discovered giant ancient reptile has accidentally been regenerated in Copenhagen and goes on a destructive rampage, but that’s just background for what happens next. Those who survived the destruction begin using the event to call for and then implement repressive measures against one another.

“When the Music’s Over” by A. Silvestri, tr by Leah Thume

This is my absolute favorite of the collection. A giant alien spaceship just plops down in the middle of New York’s Central Park and sits there doing nothing for years. Then a series of unexpected incidents occur: music starts blaring out from the ship, another ship lands on and crushes the first ship and someone who looks like Darth Vader steps out, and then other ships land in different cities around the world, spewing out cheap junk at the bewildered populace (literally magazines, posters, prints of famous paintings, etc.). A group of musicians is tasked to make contact with the alien intelligence, and they are told that human media has been providing entertainment to this otherworldly species for many years. But when the aliens tried to use this media to create their own unique forms, they were unable to. Thus, as one alien tells the musicians’ spokesperson: “We propose this: You give us 25 new episodes of Star Trek and in return we give you the recipe for how to extend your lifespan by 50 years. But we insist on it being The Next Generation, we never really liked Captain Kirk.” As one musician notes to the spokesperson, “Raoul, they’ll give us the solutions to many of the great mysteries for the price of the remake of a few old series and remixes of old commercial jingles.” This bargain, while it seems great at first, becomes a depressing trap.

“E-Puzzle” by Nikolaj Højberg, tr by Bente Bernhard Riis

A man who developed a digital “afterlife” program to give the dead a kind of heavenly paradise uses his son’s self-destructive traits (after that son meets a violent end) to perfect the program.

“Leading, Feeding” by Ellen Miriam Pedersen, tr by the author

A crew on a spaceship is dissecting an alien they picked up from a passing capsule when something blows the humans’ ship apart, leaving only the captain alive.

“You are My Best Friend” by Camilla Fønss Bach Friis, tr by Dan Mygind

A woman goes out on the town with her new best friend, who happens to be a very life-like android. Despite this new friend, the woman is still lonely and thinks about suicide. When she whispers something about jumping in front of a coming train, her friend takes it literally and nearly pulls the human woman under the train with her.

“Dreams of Stone” by Brian P. Ørnbøl, tr by Michael Pilgaard

A lonely woman feeling trapped by the gray dullness of the City tries to escape it to a more rural area. And yet, no matter how far she goes, she can’t seem to find her way out of it, and everyone she asks looks at her strangely. She finally does find what she’s looking for, only to realize that construction crews are already turning what’s left of the natural world into more concrete and metal.

“The Green Jacket” by Gudrun Østergaard, tr by the author

This story made me think of the 2023 tv show Silo, since it is set in a tower structure with so many different levels that people can live in one section without having ever visited lower or higher sections. One disgruntled teenager, tired of living in a world of elite conformity and sameness, ventures down several levels to the poorer, grittier section of the tower. Her encounters down there lead her to flee back to her home on the upper levels, though her disappointment at not finding what she was looking for is great.

“In the Surface” by Sara Tanderup, tr by Lea Thume

On an Earth where many species have died and the oceans have taken over, a group of mermaid-like creatures have evolved. One even figures out how to fly for small amounts of time.

“Interrogation of Victim no.5” by Lars Ahn Pedersen, tr by the author

A stabbing victim wakes up in a hospital/lab and is asked a series of questions about her attacker. Eventually she figures out that she is dead and is speaking to an AI only because her biochip is still functioning. That biochip, though, cannot be used to bring her fully back to life.

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