Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette
"Baby Doll" was originally published in 2002 in Sinisalo's native Finnish. It was translated to English for the publication of 2007's SFWA European Hall of Fame, edited by James and Kathryn Morrow. The James Morrow writes, in the story introduction,
Writing within the venerable tradition of the SF dystopia, Sinisalo takes us into a nightmare world of assembly-line Lolitas who, unaware of their exploitation by addled commerce and craven adults, can imagine no other way of being in the world.This is where the story begins, with Annette lamenting that she "wrecked her tights" while attempting to remove her boots. The opening presents Annette as a girl focused on image and the status of image. Her older sister is a model and Annette doesn't quite measure up. At school the popular girls (of which Annette is trying to become) are all dressed skimpy and "sexy".
Typical teenage stuff.
We get the first clue that something is off when a reference is made to a present for Ninotska. A "nine-yo present". It's easy to overlook the first time. Maybe it doesn't mean quite what it sounds like. But, Annette's younger brother is referred to as being "five-yo" and the context suggests that means Five Years Old.
It's easy to overlook. Everything else is so hyper-sexualized and faux-adult, like one would expect from young high school. Kids trying too hard.
The horror of "Baby Doll" is the sexualization of children. Not even thirteen and fourteen year olds. Younger. Ninotska really did turn nine in the story, and she's presented as being "worldly". Younger even than the Morrow referenced Lolita.
In all other ways "Baby Doll" comes across as a near-future (set in 2015) story played straight. The sexualization is heightened in a way that reads like a reflection of the "real world", or whatever the real world means to a fairly straight laced 30 year old male. There are echoes of a world twisted slightly like Anthony Burgess did in A Clockwork Orange, though any similarities end there. It's our world, only more so.
"Baby Doll" is a stronger story, a more shocking story because of the young age of Annette and her almost-friends. There is a scene late in the story, a boy pressuring a girl for sex. He asks if she is "planning to hold out till you're fourteen or something?" That's the world of "Baby Doll". That's the horrific nature of the story, that such a world could feasibly be only a decade away from now. The scarier thing is that this does not seem as unreasonable as it might have.
Sinisalo's novel Troll: A Love Story has been translated to English and has been published in the United States. After "Baby Doll" I'm interested enough to check it out if / when I get the chance.