THE QUANTUM THIEF by Hannu Rajaniemi

Book Quote:

“You never get used to the feeling of hot metal, entering your skull and exiting through the back of your head. It’s simulated in glorious detail. A burning train through your forehead, a warm spray of blood and brain on your shoulders and back, the sudden chill – and finally, the black, when things stop. The Archons of the Dilemma Prison want you to feel it. It’s educational.”

Book Review:

Review by Bill Brody  (JUL 16, 2011)

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi is a tremendous first novel, first published in Great Britain last year and now in the US. It is a wild adventure story taking place centuries from now on Mars. The solar system has been colonized by our descendents, not all of whom get along. Technologies based on quantum weirdness are everywhere. Robotics has progressed well beyond true artificial intelligence. Jean le Flambeur, master thief, is broken free from prison to steal some time. This is what might be called hard science fiction in that the science is an intelligent and informed extrapolation of what we now know or speculate.

The protagonist is an imprisoned master thief, who has been duplicated and resurrected over and over to engage in lethal confrontations where he must cooperate with another prisoner, kill, or be killed only to be resurrected immediately, in endless rounds of the prisoner’s dilemma. His rescuer is a warrior descendent of role-playing gamers, in symbiotic relationship with her intelligent, flirtatious, and extremely capable spacecraft. She needs this particular thief to steal some of the currency of the day, time. He had hidden the majority of his self from himself in a subtly constructed memory palace protected by ingenious encryption so he cannot be compromised by the hell of his dilemma prison.

The story takes place on and near Mars, where the city walks, memories are both external and internal, and the citizens live a prescribed amount of time and then die to be reborn in the Quiet as servants to the common good. The weirdest aspects of quantum theory have been incorporated into everyday technology, including quantum teleportation and other consequences of entanglement of which Einstein once complained of as being “spooky action at a distance.” Robot technology; both macro and nano; is ubiquitous. It is possible to share or withhold all or any part of memories. We are most certainly not in Kansas anymore.

There is an informative wiki devoted to The Quantum Thief with a section devoted to the unusual vocabulary, unexplained in the novel except by context. Some of this vocabulary is Russian in origin, perhaps in homage to the slang devised by Anthony Burgess for his novel, A Clockwork Orange. Guberniya and oblast are used in the novel to refer to administrative units, just as in their Slavic roots. Gevulot, Hebrew for borders, is used to describe the constraints placed on shared memory. Some of the vocabulary is clearly related to quantum theory. There are also literary references, notably the use of the word gogol to mean an artificial servant, no doubt in reference to Nikolai Gogol’s novel, Dead Souls, a story about the traffic in lists of dead serfs or souls as they were also called.

Most hard science fiction is about the relatively near future so the technologies and their social consequences can be examined without much stress to our suspension of disbelief. When dealing with the more distant future, authors generally posit some apocalyptical event that destroys much of civilization leaving technology, people and their institutions recognizable. The Quantum Thief takes neither easy way out. The time is distant and almost everything except human emotion is very different from today. Human emotion is the glue that keeps this novel from being a chain of dei ex machina. In short, the real technology here is one of the oldest; that of language telling a coherent and compelling story. This is an auspicious and important first novel. I can’t wait for the next chapter in the live(s) of master thief, Jean le Flambeur.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 184 readers
PUBLISHER: Tor Books; First Edition edition (May 10, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bill Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Hannu Rajaniemi
EXTRAS: Excerpt Glossary of Terms
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


July 16, 2011 · Judi Clark · Comments Closed
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Speculative (Beyond Reality)