35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
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.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2013
One of the reasons I read non-fiction and classics is that they tend to challenge me more than the books I enjoy reading the most. I'll pick up science-fiction or fantasy because I want to escape, relax, and take a break. But too much, and I get bored.
I did not have that problem when I read this book. Not one bit.
Hannu Rajaniemi, though, has found a way to both escape and challenge my mind at the same time. The challenge is such that, as I have seen one reviewer note, I would not recommend Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief trilogy to the "uninitiated" to science fiction. Unlike the Star Wars, or even Star Trek, universes, where the laws of science are as ignored as any swords and sorcery fantasy (and, indeed, Luke Skywalker may have more in common with the questing, sword welding hero than not), Rajaniemi does not ignore physics.
He just finds a way to weld physics to do what he wants.
This is not to say that The Fractal Prince is dry and sodden down by the weight of physics. In fact, quite the contrary. Instead, the writing moves so fast, so quickly, that it is only the sprinkling of labels and jargon that reminds me that Rajaniemi is even thinking about it. What makes it feel real is this very awareness. The Fractal Prince is so far into the future that it is difficult recognizing what humanity has become. A lot of writers decide to slow down the technological progress when this happens to enable them to anchor their story in a reality that is easier to describe, if just because it looks like our own reality, but more shiny, with more space ships that look and move like gravity bound jet craft and laser guns that act more like semi-automatic firearms.
Perhaps it is because Rananiemi's is so cavalier about his ambition to create and remain honest to the setting of his story that his ambition is understated. In the universe of The Quantum Thief --who we might as well just call by name--in Jean de Flambeu's universe, we cannot help but see the characters as foreign, even alien. Gods and goddesses compete with warminds and self-loops, and a dozen other entities, all apparently descended from the race we call humanity, somehow melded by technology and preserved, copied, enhanced, and expanded.
And if that doesn't all blow your mind (at least when you read it), it's probably because you've become lost in the jargon. Rajanamiemi pulls terms from a half dozen languages that are not native to our planet, but totally uncommon to the western reader. I admit that I drew on Google more than once to get the gist for what he was intending with a word, and then even then I had to add to what I found an expanded understanding of what it meant in the context of the Quantum Thief, universe. Russian, Japanese, and Finnish all contribute to the vocabulary.
Pick up the book, though, push through the vocabulary, and you might find yourself a story that is both creative and familiar. Taking place in the space between Mars, where most of the plot in the first book in the trilogy took place, and Earth and on Earth itself, The Fractal Prince takes a page from A Thousand and One Nights . Not only is the setting of the heist a world reminiscent of the pre-Islamic Arabic world, but takes place in a shining city on the edge of a hostile desert, where decay and corruption are hiding just below the surface and where a story is as forbidden as the worship of images in modern day Islam. And yet, like our own world, the forbidden become a currency in themselves...
At its root, under all the science, the fiction, the clever jargon and imaginative settings, this is the story of a heist, and Rajanamiemi lays the pieces in place carefully, hiding strings until the end, letting the reader see them only as the plot comes together to a final denoument that is fully satisfying.
But do not going into it without your eyes wide open. This is not space opera. It's science fiction, and Rajanamiemi does it well. It will both challenge and entertain, and really, that's what good fiction should do.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2012
Some of this bent my mind pretty severely. I would say a re-read of the Quantum Thief is mandatory to fully pick up on everything. Rajaniemi is a ridiculously agile writer and unless you're warmed up and ready to go with the first book under your belt, the Fractal Prince is a tough read to jump into after a two year gap. However, what a book it is.
I'm going to re-read QT and then re-read FP soon. Right now, I really liked FP and thought it upped the stakes very well and brought in some much-needed fleshing out of character motives - along with a healthy dose of "WTF is going on???".
Hannu might be the single most important author to support right now. His brand of agile writing is as if he decided to write an artistic European heist film in the style of William Gibson (specifically Count Zero) and Alistair Reynolds (Chasm City) mashed up with John Clute's Appleseed. It may not hit best seller lists, but damn, it's good writing. Buy, buy, buy, please!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I was late reading The Quantum Thief, waiting for the paperback after reading some rather forbidding reviews. And it was a slow-starting, not especially reader-friendly book -- hey, it was his first novel -- even though I ended up liking it a lot.
The Fractal Prince resolves most of those writing-craft issues, and crackles along, though it's certainly not a page-turner. Best read with deliberate speed, methinks, with a reread not too far down the line.
The author's pal Charlie Stross supplied a wonderful cover blurb:
"Stupefyingly entertaining, like a heist movie for post-singularity, AI-boosted string theorists from beyond spacetime." Not only is this accurate, but it's a fair pre-read test -- if you find the blurb mystifying, so will be the novel. And I certainly wouldn't recommend starting here (though some readers apparently have).
A third book is promised. I'll be reading it.
Two nice lists at Wikipedia, for the first novel:
Glossary of terms in The Quantum Thief
List of characters in The Quantum Thief
-- will also prove useful for readers of the Prince, and, with luck, will be updated for the second and third books in the series.
A good published review, by Niall Alexander :
[links in comments]
Peter D. Tillman
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2013
Thought for a while how to describe this book. This is best I can come up with: Neil Gaiman meets Charles Stross meets the Arabian Nights, with Lovecraft lurking the background. This guy is a real talent.