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Review: The Quantum Thief

October 24, 2011

Author: Hannu Rajaniemi
Title: The Quantum Thief
Published: 2010
Pages: 336

The Quantum Thief is the debut novel by Finnish writer Hannu Rajaniemi. It follows three characters: first is Jean le Flambeur, a post-human criminal. At the start of the novel he’s in the Dilemma Prison, which is based on the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. He’s broken out by Mieli, a post-human with bags of advanced weaponry like nano missiles. She breaks Jean out of jail and asks for his services for a job. Yet, first Jean must find his memories which he has hidden. The third character is Isidore, a detective who works with the tzaddikim on the moving city on Mars.

In the beginning, there is definitely a period of having to acclimatise yourself to the novel’s bewildering array of technological tricks and treats. You soon get the hang of the bombardment of jargon littering the pages, mainly because of the fast pacing. The whole aspect of post-humans is nothing new in the world of SF but there is a certain panache that I enjoyed. And yes, at times, it can feel like a fantasy but remember what Arthur C. Clarke said about science and magic. In fact, strip away the hard SF and you’ll end up with a heist/detective novel; not a particularly great one but one nevertheless. The major problem with the book is that the sheer volume of the jargon being thrown at you you end up being dazzled by the pretty lights and don’t notice that some of it doesn’t gel.

As a bit of genre flirtation with detective fiction it never quite gets going, mainly because Rajaniemi never really shows Isidore figuring anything out. He’s either thrown into a situation or he’s suddenly got the answer. And with Jean, I wanted a bit more time with him searching and figuring out how to retrieve his hidden memories but they’re handed to him, for the most part. Also the writing is decidedly average, it’s serviceable and it handles the weight of the plot rather well but nothing stands out. It’s like a guitar wielding shredding maniac who has never left the world of garage bands and low rent pubs.

Yet, for all it’s problems, I really enjoyed the novel. There’s next to no exposition or any kind of explanation for the tech featured so, for some, that could be a problem but I went with the flow and very much enjoyed. I liked it for the sheer unwillingness to slow the pace down and explain what the jargon means. Instead of info-dumps it’s more techno-dumps, sure it can be confusing but I have to applaud Rajaniemi conviction of going for it. And I loved the sheer whirlwind feel of it all.

I will definitely be reading the sequel and I hope that while it expands the world it adds a little finesse and time for the characters to breathe.

In the end, The Quantum Thief is a dazzling technological SF thriller that is awash with ideas but, unfortunately, the characters are somewhat lacking.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 1, 2011 1:54 pm

    I’m tempted, but I generally like a bit more character than it sounds like this has. I’ll keep it in mind though should I find myself in the mood for a fast-paced brain cady sort of read.

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