on October 7, 2012
It with some trepidation I downloaded my copy of the Fractal Prince. The world of the Quantum Thief was brilliantly executed, and so slyly construed as to make a Lupin-style fable possible even in a post-human world that I wondered if Hannu could keep the magic going for another book.
Not only is the Fractal Prince a worthy sequel, I think it might actually top the Quantum Thief -- certainly, the implications of its world have continued to haunt my thoughts (or perhaps I should say, its memes live a life of their own in my mind) daily.
The set piece for this second book is a (dying) Earth, peopled with a post-crisis culture which is consciously evocative of the fables of the Arabian Nights. In his portrayal of a society which is, if not post-literate, at least post-fiction on the edge of a tech-as-magic desert, Hannu pays homage to Wolfe (and in turn Vance), Simmons, in an odd-but-effective dual evocation of mythology from our distant and near pasts.
Hannu's style is consistently minimalist. This has been criticized by those not familiar with some of the tropes of modern science fiction or modern physics, but I think there's enough here for the clever and Googling reader to answer any questions. And besides, the minimalist approach appears to be the right one for a world so far advanced that it is on the edge of comprehensibility. Bare description leads to fertile imagining -- read this book, and you may come to dream of ruined cities ruled by merchant-slavers astride a desert haunted with spirits and memes, or have a nightmare of a pharaonic dynasty with its Founder's boots on the face of (virtual) humanity.. forever. Read it, and see if "Here be Dragons" isn't just a bit more terrifying by the time you're done.
Honestly, I can't get enough of this world and its characters, and have been busily recommending it to all my friends -- and I think that if you like science fiction in the best tradition of "If This Goes On" type stories, I think you'll love it.
on November 18, 2012
I loved The Quantum Thief, which was a challenging, but very rewarding read. One of the amazing parts of The Quantum Thief was that it ran on the knife-edge of sufficient exposition for a complex ecology involving beings that overlapped interplanetary and networked existences. Heady stuff for the reader to keep up with, but well-managed in The Quantum Thief with dazzling effect.
The Fractal Prince, however, fails in this regard. Although the setting is the same as The Quantum Thief, exposition falls short for even the ardent reader, and this shortcoming is compounded by separate story lines that do not clearly converge until late in the book. Heavily used terms are largely explained until past the halfway point of the book, and even then it is difficult to fully appreciate them. The beautifully artful balance of exposition and plot progression that marked The Quantum Thief is sadly lost in this sequel.
I confess that part of my problem may have been that I broke up my reading sessions more in the last half of The Fractal Prince, but this was largely attributable to my disappointment and difficulty with the first half. But, who knows, perhaps a few solid sessions with The Fractal Prince would have alleviated my difficulties, but I doubt it since it is clear Hannu Rajaniemi likes to push the envelope of the narrative. Still, I look forward to his next installment with the hope that he takes more care.
on December 20, 2012
THE FRACTAL PRINCE is the follow-up to Hannu Rajaniemi's THE QUANTUM THIEF, and, like its predecessor, is a complex, fast-paced tale of gentleman thief Jean le Flambeur battling gods in a post-singularity world that only a mathematician or physicist will feel completely comfortable. But this time, Rajaniemi adds a layer of Arabian Nights and the power of stories to this hard-SF tale.
As you can probably guess from that first paragraph, THE FRACTAL PRINCE is not the easiest read. There is a reason all discussions of a post-singularity Earth tend to peter out into statements along the line of "It will be so unlike our current world," or "We cannot imagine that future world." Rajaniemi does an admirable job of trying to avoid such statements and describe a world of humanity with AI-enhanced brains, omnipresent nano-materials, and uploadable consciousnesses. It's a difficult read, and I found myself at times confused and having to go back and re-read portions of the book.
But despite these difficulties, at its heart, Rajaniemi has written a beautiful story about the power of stories and the extremes to which people will go for love, honor, and family. So THE FRACTAL PRINCE isn't so foreign after all. It's just not easy on the readers. That being said, it is also wonderfully written. It's downright poetic at times-a rare thing among hard-SF novels.
In this book, the second of a proposed trilogy (and do not pick up this book without having read THE QUANTUM THIEF), le Flambeur returns to a damaged Earth on assignment from a goddess. With him again is Mieli and her living ship Perhonen. His job? To break into the mind of a living god to steal codes that would allow him to manipulate reality on the quantum level. If he succeeds, he might earn his freedom. But a gentleman thief always has his own ideas, plans, and goals. While on Earth, he meets sisters who are struggling to survive a revolution that may bring about Earth's demise.
THE FRACTAL PRINCE moves quickly, if not smoothly. The book takes place over two timelines that don't meet up perfectly. Subplots are often told as stories within stories, leading to other complications. The ending has an almost epic scale, yet it feels rushed, cramming in so much action and important knowledge. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book. Part hard-SF, part heist, part fairy tale, THE FRACTAL PRINCE will reward the patient reader with a story unlike anything he or she is likely to have read before.
on October 5, 2012
First up, it burns me that the Kindle version of this novel cost MORE than the hardcover version! Crazy stuff...
Equally crazy - but in a good way - is Rajaniemi's follow up to his outstanding "The Quantum Thief".
Now I won't pretend that I understood everything that was going on, or was able to visualise everything from Rajaniemi's fecund imagination, but this is a top notch 'wheels within wheels' sci-fi thriller that combines cutting edge technology concepts with the ages old Persian legend of Hezar-afsana, or the "Thousand Myths".
It is a sequel to "The Quantum Thief" and while some aspects are retold (fortunately, Rajaniemi has the story teller gift and manages to indirectly infuse critical elements without you feeling that you are rehashing a previous novel) you should read "The Quantum Thief" before you launch into "The Fractal Prince".
And if you have already read "The Quantum Thief" then you know what to expect - warring metaminds running on q dot substrates the size of planets; uploaded humans who jealously guard their immortality; made to order military spec bodies with relexes to shame a clowder of cats; and the thread that holds it all together, a very canny thief who is the very embodiment of the ghost in the machine.
If you haven't read "The Quantum Thief" and all this sounds like good stuff, rest assured that it is.
So I'm waxing lyrical, but still, there were some niggling aspects to "The Fratcal Prince".
I personally don't like novels that bounce between first person and third person perspective. Rajaniemi does a much better job than most, but it seems to be cheating to me, when the author literally steps out of a character to provide that God-like narrative viewpoint.
And I really, really, really did find it hard to conceptualise/visualise much of what is going on, esp. on Earth where the very land itself has been transformed into dreaming nanomachines that need to be tamed using a digital version of the magical powers of naming. In this aspect the style reminded me of a China Miéville novel, with its flowing prose and anthiesis of technology being deployed. (And I'll happily admit that my imagination is lacking here, because my failings should not put anyone off.)
Still, this is a novel of such depth that it will reveal more of itself with each read, and there are precious few like that these days. It is rich, and wide and thought provoking and if you like being challenged as much as entertained by a book, then "The Fractal Prince" is one to buy.
on February 10, 2013
I bought The Fractal Prince, a sequel to The Quantum Thief, because I had enjoyed immensely The Quantum Thief, a hugely entertaining, beautifully written and simply fun to read novel. The main defect in The Quantum Thief is that the author uses many invented words which make the novel more difficult to read than it should have been. The book should have come with a glossary, if Mr. Rajaniemi had a little more common sense and less hubris. But still, again, The Quantum Thief is a good novel, it has a recognizable mostly coherent plot and some very likable characters, starting with the hero of the book: Jean Le Flambeur, a very sophisticated thief.
However in The Fractal Prince, Rajaniemi unfortunately seems to have completely lost control of himself with the sheer excess of neologisms (again, no glossary), and his editor does not seem to have been able to control him. The consequence is that far too many paragraphs in the book become unreadable and incomprehensible. Try this one, as just one random example among too many: "She interrogates the gogols in the ship's sensors array who spend their bodiless existence watching the ship's ghost imagers, neutrino imager, neutrino detectors and other sensors. They are on one of the lesser Highway branches, engineered by Sobornost to provide pathways for their thoughtwisp traffic. Apart from old scattered zoku routers... " It sounds beautiful as most of Rajaniemi writing, and also somewhat incomprehensible. The plot is considerably less interesting than in the Quantum Thief. Half of it is not about the thief but rather a more fantasy than science-fiction tale in a far future almost unrecognizable Earth, which seems to have been inspired by the One Thousand and One Nights oriental fairy tales. At the end of the day, in this type of science fiction novels, the science and the technology are assumed to be so advanced and incomprehensible that everything is allowed without any need for rational justifications, the heroes (and the villains) become super powerful superheroes and the science fiction becomes almost pure fantasy, again as a fairy tale would be.
on October 15, 2012
A challenging read with stories inside of stories, lots of magical thinking (any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, etc.) and multiple layers of identity - harder to follow than his first book (Quantum Thief). Not sure I even understood the ending... but apparently there will be a third book, perhaps that will clarify the fates of all the characters and story lines (or perhaps not).
on April 29, 2015
Jean le Flambeur is on a mission whilst being hunted – of course, this calls for deft timing and brilliant distraction all while trying to get in a Schrödinger box to borrow a powerful jewel… or not. So begins The Fractal Prince, the second book the Jean le Flambeur series. (Go here for a review of the first book, The Quantum Thief. Also, read them in order.) The Oubliette is replaced with Sirr, a city on Earth ravaged by wildcode. The European steampunk culture is supplanted by an Arabian culture partially under the thumb of the Sobornost. Meanwhile, a small boy version Matjek Chen (a founder) is roving the beach. Mieli, Perhonen and Jean must figure out how much their trust has grown and how closely they keep within the Pellegrini’s wishes.
For full review: http://wp.me/p2XCwQ-17Z
on September 1, 2014
Quantum foamy fantasy! Charming characters, vivid and wild virtual realities, complex motives, numerous foes, few friends, threats aplenty, and a thief who believes he can navigate it all. I applaud the author’s ingenuity. His love for stories is evident as he draws from Arabian night sources to update jinni’s to quantum codes, religious wars to wars over real and imagined, and political power to quantum code breaking.
It is a rich feast, but I downgraded it one star for each of these three reasons: discursive plotting, inconsistent application of his own imaginings of how the quantum world works, and overuse of unnecessary “jargonese.” This is old fashioned fantasy fables refashioned, blender style, with pseudoscientific explanations and more difficult to follow terminology than a political science lecture.
I was not going to read the second in the trilogy after similar reasons for discounting the first book. I will never know how it all ends in the third book - doubt that I would know even if I read the third book.
on March 22, 2015
I am still thinking about this series. It was wonderful and amazing. Lots of new, fascinating sci-fi concepts regarding what happens next for humans in space and how computers will play a part in that literally and figuratively. Wowza. This series led me to do much research on computers, science, quantum physics, astronomy and even psychology. It was filled with so many big ideas and action and adventure and still didn't neglect deep character development. I can't get this series out of my mind and learned a lot trying to keep up while reading it (look up googol!). Very impressed with this author. Already looking forward to rereading entire series.
on January 16, 2013
"Matter: what kinds of heaps its piled up in makes no difference, he said, when she asked if Sirr pleased him."
Indeed, scoffing at the physical world, and disdainful of meatspace, Rajaniemi's post-singularity caper continues. Of course if you don't like how matter is piled up, having knowledge of some secret names will let you reshape this wildcode desert:
"The Names are the names of the Aun, and by calling them you control the world, access the functionality built into the foglets in Earth's atmosphere, rock and water by the ancients."
Rajaniemi evokes Arabian Nights and biblical parables with passages like 'The Story of the Wirer Boy and the Jannah of the Cannon':
"Before the cry of Wrath rattled the Earth and Sobornost sank its claws into its soil, there lived a young man in the city of Sirr. He was a wirer's son, with a back and chest burnt brown by the sun, nimble in his trade; but when the night fell he would go to taverns and listen to the tales of the mutalibun - the treasure-hunters. Eyes aglow, he sighed and listened and breathed in the stories of hissing sands and rukh ships and the dark deeds that greed summons out of the hears of men."
I've waited too long to write this review, but the overall vibe I got from this book is that it was designed to fill in the world in preparation for a grand finale. Rajaniemi adds more complexity and character to the world created in the Quantum Thief: there are interesting plot reveals, some twists, and we get to know Jean and Mieli better. But I was mostly left with a feeling of anticipation. I also found myself less interested in this desert being mined for gogols than the complex society of the Oubliette.
I await the next installment eagerly.
"Oh, I can fake social niceties perfectly well, but it is just slave gogols moving my face, you understand. My emotions are outsourced. My private utility functions and pleasures are...quite different from yours."
4 stars. Read more of my reviews at g-readinglist.blogspot.com