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REVIEW | The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

For the last couple years there has been a dearth of new blow-you-away Science Fiction novelists. Many of the authors that have been around for 5+ years are doing well regarded work such as Charles Stross, Peter F. Hamilton, John Scalzi, Neal Stephenson, Paul McAuley, and Alastair Reynolds. While they keep packing punches it is only recently that new stars are emerging in Science Fiction area. We've already been inundated by the new school of Fantasy with the likes of Abercrombie, Rothfuss, and Lynch, but where are this generations new Sci-Fi superstars? Well, they've been coming along, but it seems to be taking a little longer. Over the last two years the bright voices have finally been coming out of the woodwork and short story world like Paolo Bacigalupi and Charles Yu. Now we can firmly ensconce Hannu Rajaniemi in that crew of authors sure to direct the future of Sci-Fi.

UK Art by Chris Moore
The Quantum Thief is one of the most fast paced Sci-Fi novels in recent years, which sets the mind afire with culture-building and the highly stylized scientific curiosities including a spaceship that looks like a black spider web as depicted on the UK cover.

 The story begins in a prison, but this isn't a typical space prison in some quiet corner of the galaxy. It is a prison of the mind where each day you must face down a copy of yourself in some sort of battle to the death and than just wake up the next day to do it all over again. Jean le Flambeur is a master thief and he has been imprisoned by the Archons, a super-intelligent race of AIs only someone wants to get him out. The Prison section could have actually lasted longer as we only get a few glimpses of the Archons and how they operate, however they still have pivotal roles.

After Jean escapes things get very complicated and difficult to follow at times as there are some issues that take getting use to. The shifting of first to third person gets confusing as does the identity of some characters. Many have multiple names that are referenced differently as the story progresses and there is another aspect of memory transfer and identify theft that also play in to the confusion at times. I almost wished for an identity key at the end as I might have missed some connects at points. Jean is particularly unknowable as he isn't even sure who he is himself. Is he just a master criminal or revolutionary or simply delusional?

Regardless, The Quantum Thief is a book to re-read just to catch those little nods and clues the author included. There are also issues in empathizing or connecting with many of the characters. They all try to seem distant and superior to one another except for possibly Isidore the detective character who was my personal favorite, especially his chocolate investigation in the beginning. But they do have depth and motivations that ring true.

US Art by Kekai Kotaki
Where The Quantum Thief comes alive is the different groups and how they evolved. Most of the action takes place in a moving city on the face of Mars, which is home to the Oubliette to whom time literally is money and where personality imprinting and memory sharing is common place by touch. They are a group of humans who take turns as a normal person for a life span only to have to devout their minds to the body of strange creatures to help keep the society moving because Mars is a planet still very much wild country. The city is also home to a refuge for the Zoku who are a group of highly evolved former MMO players with incredible technology.

 If anything Hannu suffers from trying to fit too much in too small a page count. Many of the ideas could have been expanded upon and not much if any of the pacing would have been lost.  But The Quantum Thief is a full throttle ride that shouldn't be missed if you're a Sci-Fi fan. Even with some narrative problems The Quantum Thief is one of the most memorable Hard Sci-Fi debut novels that have come around in years. The mixing of detective, caper, and Sci-Fi styles plays well and shows off Hannu's deep imagination. I give The Quantum Thief 9 out of 10 hats. Rajaniemi has left himself plenty of room to grow in not only this universe and characters, but with his own style. I want to read the next book just to see what else Rajaniemi's future holds. It is no wonder that The Quantum Thief is already in its 5th printing in the UK and looks to be a major release in the states come this May.

You Might Also Like:
REVIEW | How to Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
REVIEW | The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
REVIEW | The Quiet War by Paul McAuley


Jen said...

Nice review! I checked and the US edition doesn't come out until May --- but I made a note to check for it around then (and order it for my library). Thanks!

redhead said...

sounds wonderful!! I so need to get my hands of a copy of this, sometime in May, I guess.