If there is one book this year that has been pointed to and proclaimed as the science fiction debut of the year then it is this one, Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief. And to be fair, a hard SF novel written by a guy with a Phd in string theory is bound to have some weight to it going in, but this novel’s strength goes much beyond its author’s qualifications as a scientist. Yes, it’s smart, but it also is darkly comic, complex and exhilarating in its action and characters. So yes, The Quantum Thief lives up to the hype every little bit.
Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy - from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to steal their thoughts, to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of the Moving Cities of Mars.
Except that Jean made one mistake.
Now he is condemned to play endless variations of a game-theoretic riddle in the cast virtual jail of the Axelrod Archons - the Dilemma Prison - against countless copies of himself.
Jean’s routine of death, defection and cooperation is upset by the arrival of Mieli and her spidership, Perbonen She offers him a chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self - in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed...
Being the extremely intelligent hard SF novel that it is, The Quantum Thief requires a bit of time to originally dive into. The first part of the novel is heavy with terms and concepts that Rajaniemi throws at you with the implication that you should know what they mean when, of course, you don’t. This can throw some readers off. But for those that can stick it through, The Quantum Thief promises - and delivers - much more. Once past the initial set up, the reader can fully be immersed in the futuristic scene that Rajaniemi has set with it careful technical intricacies, humorous characters and tantalizing mysteries.
The plot is a sort of mix between an SF story, a heist story and an old-style detective story that combine for a novel with the most distinguished of flavors. The characters are amiable if a bit hard to get used to, being post-human and all, and the engage in a complex and engaging race to outsmart each other as Jean le Flambeur and his partners in crime attempt to pull off that one coup de maître. In this way, The Quantum Thief stays focused on the characters and does not get carried away in the semantics of this future Mars that is presented to the readers. At 330 pages it doesn’t have the room to do so, and that is something to be glad of.
So despite the apparent over-complexity of this novel, it makes for a fine read if you’re willing to give it a go. Truly, this one very good book from what up to now appears to be a proficient new writer. The Quantum Thief, I believe (and someone correct me if I’m wrong), is the start to a new series following the offbeat thief you’ll get to love in this book, Jean le Flambeur, so keep an eye out for sequels. The Quantum Thief is already available to UK readers and will be from Tor books in May 2011 for US readers.
My Rating; 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Hannu Rajaniemi's Website: http://tomorrowelephant.net/
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