Before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo There Was Science Fiction
While Stieg Larsson is most known for his crime fiction, particularly the “Millennium Trilogy,” fans might be interested in knowing that, prior to writing the trilogy, that all of Larsson’s efforts had been focused on science fiction and horror until the late 1970s.
In his early childhood, Larsson devoured science fiction books, and the authors he read became integral to his writing style. His favorite authors included Joanna Russ and Robert A. Heinlein. Larsson looked up to these people as a sort of writing-role models, and embraced many of their themes in both his earlier science fiction work, and eventually in the “Millennium Trilogy.”
While some of Larsson’s earlier works have been saved, it is said that a great number of them have been destroyed by the late author himself. John-Henri Holmberg, an essayist who studies Larsson, says that “[Larsson] discarded dozens or hundreds of short stories and several attempts at novels.” Through studying the existing short stories and essays and by speaking to people who knew him best, one can guess at the themes these destroyed stories had.
In 1972 Larsson published his first story, “The Wax Cabinet.” Larsson’s first published story was actually neither crime fiction nor science fiction: he began instead with a horror story. Larsson’s protagonist, Judy, falls asleep in Madame Tussaud’s, and eventually engages many of the wax figures in a deadly fight. A technique that Larsson was to use later, a third-person epilogue, was first employed here. The reader learns that Judy was in a fight, and then the narration switches, and the police find a body by the guillotine that is supposed to be Judy’s. Larsson used the idea of a twist ending in many other short stories, and the idea of a female protagonist clearly resonated within Larsson’s mind.
The next short story, “The Super Brain,” was published in 1972 in a Swedish fan magazine. This is Larsson’s first science fiction story, and takes place in 2174. This time using a male protagonist, Larsson creates a story in which a great athlete is taken by the government for the use of his body. A scientist who is close to perfecting the technique of brain transplantation is getting old, and the government wants to give him a new body so that he might continue his work. The man, Collins, is informed that his body will be used to house the scientist’s brain. Collin’s last thought is intense hatred of the scientist. In this story, the growing sophistication of Larsson’s style can be noted. The story takes place mostly in conversations between Collins and his wife or Collins and the scientist. While this leaves the story feeling “unnatural or stilted,” it demonstrates Larsson’s interest in strengthening his writing.
Published in 1972, Larsson’s next story was called “Jensen’s Crime,” and again takes place in the future, the year 2036. This story takes place after a world war, in which the people revolt against science, and kill all of the scientists that they can find. Jensen, another male protagonist, is brought to court for performing a cesarean section on his wife. He is found guilty, and burnt at the stake in punishment. The dialog in this story is “significantly stronger” than in the previous story, but the insertion of background information creates a stilted narration.
Also published in 1972 was “The Last.” This story is told in the third person, using only “he” as the subject. “He” remembers when his town was destroyed, and hundreds of his neighbors had been killed. However, “he” was able to crawl away from the scene despite his wounds. In a typical Larsson ending, the narration switches to two workmen. After taking a break, they see a small dead ant, the original narrator. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story was that many of the short stories destroyed by Larsson also included an ant’s narration. Larsson actually wrote many stories from the perspective of an ant, which always ended with a twist.
“The Ninth Life” was published in 1937. This story follows the relationship of Geoffery Holden, a “half-alcoholic amateur author,” who earns his living by translating trashy novels, and Annie, a “telepath.” Holden becomes friends with Annie, who can read and control others’ minds. Holden gives her a cat, which she named Socrates. Annie soon disappears, and Holden receives a message from her that she has died, and that she loved him. Holden calls the operator, and demands to have the call traced. Holden is then put in a mental institution, where all he can think of is wondering what happened to Socrates and asking for help from Annie. While the ending was criticized for being too ambiguous, the characterization between Geoffery and Annie is strong, and definitely evidences Larsson’s growing writing abilities.
The second to last story that Larsson published was called “Rendezvous in Dusk,” which Larsson reportedly wrote drunk after a party. Another male protagonist, Sanders, leaves his wife and son to go to Proxima Centauri. When Sanders waked up from a sleep, a disaster has occurred, and the ship is wrecked. A large being appears in the sky, and asks Sanders to join him. Sander tries to join this being, and he returns back to earth. This story is told in fragments and memories, and demonstrates Larsson’s talented style.
The last story was published in 1983, and was called “The Duel.” This story places Larsson himself inside of the story. Larsson is sitting and reading a science fiction novel, and a man sits down and joins him. This man is reading a medical journal. The two readers engage in a battle of wills, and the two crack their knuckles at each other. In the end, Larsson wins, and the other man walks away. The only other customer in the shop speaks to the café owner’s wife, saying, “Tomorrow, we’ll bring on the Mormon.” This story is “carefully crafted” for reading, and both humorous and tense.
While Larsson is mostly known for his work within the crime fiction genre, his beginnings in horror and science fiction gave him an opportunity to hone his writing skills, which later made the “Millennium Trilogy” so successful.